"Carrie" is considered one of the finest big-screen adaptations of a Stephen King novel. It has been called a classic horror film. The film currently possesses a score of 7.4 on the popular Internet site IMDB.com. Released in 1976, "Carrie" quickly found commercial and critical success and helped further the careers of director Brian De Palma, star Sissy Spacek, supporting actress and former wife of Steven Spielberg Amy Irving and marked the theatrical debut of a then little-known actor by the name of John Travolta. The film has been a strong catalog title for MGM and a poorly received sequel and television remake have both seen the light of day over the past decade to capitalize on the film's success. With the high definition revolution upon us, "Carrie" is released to reign terror once again on the Blu-ray format.
While I won't deny that "Carrie" is a vintage and important entry in the horror genre, I've always considered the film to be more of a drama and character study than a horror film. There really aren't any scary moments in the film and the only surprise may be the very final scene when the final resting place of the main character is visited. What occurs in the film can be called horrific, but "Carrie" spends more of its time getting the audience to feel sorry for its title character and less time having the audience caring much of anything for the victims that add up during the climactic scene. Sissy Spacek earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and Piper Laurie was nominated for Best Supporting actress for their involvement in the film and this is testament to the film being more of a dramatic character-centric movie than being a fright fest.
The Stephen King adaptation begins with Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) struggling in gym class during a volleyball game. It is quickly established that the other girls view her as a loser and below them in social standing. After she misses an important shot in the volleyball game, they move to the shower where director De Palma shows that 1976 was not shy of providing a decent amount of gratuitous nudity. While showering, Carrie begins to menstruate and finds herself with a handful of blood. She panics and the more knowledgeable girls, including cheerleader Chris (Nancy Allen) quickly ridicule the backwards girl and throw tampons at her and laugh hysterically at the misfortune they are witnessing. Gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) consoles Carrie and sends her home to regroup her emotions.
Next it is established that Carrie's mother Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is a heavy handed bible thumper that is so obsessed with sin and her interpretation of the Bible that she has kept Carrie isolated from most of the world and never informed her of getting her first period. In fact, Ms. White firmly believes that the first menstruation was a result of Carrie having sexual desires and unclean thoughts and after some shouting and mistreatment, Carrie is locked into a closet and forced to pray and ask forgiveness for her sins. However, the result of the cruel treatment by her classmates, her principle and her mother has uncovered a special ability that Carrie was as unaware of as she was the forces of nature which caused her to bleed. Carrie has telekinetic powers and can move things with her mind.
The prom is quickly approaching and one of the girls who has ridiculed Carrie in the past, Sue (Amy Irving) has asked her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt, "Greatest American Hero") to ask Carrie to the prom. Carrie first refuses Tommy, but after talking to Miss Collins and Tommy putting in extra effort and telling Carrie he was asking her to go because she liked his poem, Carrie agrees to go to the prom. Of course, this is greatly against the fanatical religious wishes of her Bible thumping mother and Carrie is subjected to more screaming and abuse from her mentally disturbed mother and has Ms. White believing Carrie is cursed by Satan. While all of this is going on, Chris enrolls the help of her boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta) and her best friend Norma Watson (P.J. Soles) to set up an elaborate trap that will further embarrass poor Carrie.
The movie moves into its terror stages once the prom begins and the trap is put into action. I won't spoil the fun and while I would assume most people are familiar with the plot of "Carrie," I'm trying hard to not reveal too many spoilers. Rumor has it that somebody out there did not know that the Titanic actually sunk and I wouldn't want to cause any distress by revealing the horrific things that Carrie unleashes upon the student body or the unfortunate final encounter between Carrie and her evil mother. The trap itself was intended to have Carrie remember the horrible embarrassment she suffered during the shower during gym class and between that embarrassment and what she unleashes upon both the innocent and the guilty, Carrie does become a villain, but a villain of circumstance; not unlike Harvey Dent in the recent "The Dark Knight."
I enjoy the film "Carrie" and consider it an important entry in the horror genre. It isn't scary and you can see everything coming well before it happens except for the final scene, which is more of a cheap jump scare than something truly horrifying. The film blends what is good and what is evil by suggesting that an overly religious woman is the true evil behind the film and that the killer is forced into her evil acts by too much religion and an overbearing matriarchal figure. Some could watch the film and not realize that Sue and Tommy are also good people and not part of the desire to ridicule Carrie. By thinking that Sue and Tommy are also bad people is just a reminder that "Carrie" is a film that wants its audience to not easily deduce what is good and what is evil. However, it doesn't take too much thought to realize that the true victim of the story is Carrie herself.
Both Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek earned their Academy Award nominations for their performances in "Carrie." The film largely succeeds because of the characters of Margaret and Carrie White. Laurie is frighteningly convincing as a woman that is a little too driven and blinded by religion and does such a wonderful job of portraying an overbearing nature that I have zero difficulty in finding a dislike for the character and ultimately sorry for the upbringing and mistreatment that forces Carrie to act as she does. Spacek, on the other hand is perfect as a young woman who has been too secluded from the world to properly fit into society and understand how the world turns. I've known people like Carrie and they have a backwardness that is difficult to describe, but Spacek puts this naïve nature on display in an award worthy performance.
"Carrie" isn't a horror film, but it is an effective drama that one could take as a solid argument as to the evils of religion. However, that is an argument that I'm not going to touch upon, but I will say that this film features wonderful characters and fine performances that looks at a poor girl who has been kept from the world and when she awakens, there is hell to pay. Director Brian De Palma has made many very good films in his career and this remains as one of his classics and is considered one of the best Stephen King adaptations for good reason. This is one of those movies that is an easy film to sit down and watch after you've already seen it a couple of times and that just goes to show how much of a classic "Carrie" really is.
"Carrie" is one of a number of catalog titles released recently on Blu-ray that is a marked improvement over the previous DVD releases, but when compared to the detail and clarity that the format is capable of producing, it falls short. The 1.85:1 film is cleaner than I can recall seeing it previously, but the source materials simply do not possess the coloring or detail that makes watching "Carrie" on Blu-ray feel like a high definition experience. The film is marred with heavy film grain that gives it a definite film-like appeal, but this limits the amount of detail possible and darker scenes do suffer as black levels and shadow detail are below average. The movie looks murky and while it is cleaner than my old DVD release, it hardly impressed me with the striking visuals I've come to expect from Blu-ray.
Twentieth Century Fox and MGM have been providing English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio mixes for their releases and "Carrie" is another film culled from mono source materials that just doesn't expand well into the modern multi-channel surround formats. The original mono mix is provided and this 5.1 mix hardly improves over that. Higher treble notes come across harsh and I witnessed the same effect on "Young Frankenstein" and "Amityville Horror." There is some stereo separation between speakers, but it feels forced. Dialogue is clean, aside from the harsher sounding higher ranges. This is just another example where the source materials don't provide much room to grow and "Carrie" sounds quite dated on Blu-ray. Spanish Mono and French 5.1 Dolby Surround are also included and subtitles are included for English, Spanish, French, Korean and Cantonese.
If I had a soap box right now, I would be standing on it. I've noticed a disappointing trend lately on Blu-ray where features seem to be disappearing. Twentieth Century Fox and MGM are the latest culprits and "Carrie" is lacking bonus materials that have long been available on DVD. They aren't the only studio guilty of this. Universal has released Blu-ray releases missing bonus features that were on the HD-DVD release. Seriously, if studios want consumers to step up to the plate and start buying next-gen Blu-ray titles, then they need to provide a superior product that shows the benefits of the new format. This disc is placed on a 25GB single layer. Was cost the deciding factor in whether or not to include the bonus features? I see no reason why a 50GB platter couldn't have been used and HD-DVD could easily have stored the film and some bonus materials on 25GB. Anyhow, this release is missing some very nice feature and only the Original Theatrical Trailer is provided.
"Carrie" is a classic film, but Blu-ray is not the way to go with this film. The sound and video are both very muddy and the source materials do not allow the film to move too far beyond the technical capabilities of the DVD release. It is an improvement, but the complete lack of bonus materials tells me that somebody felt like releasing an inferior product onto an audience that would still buy the product because it would erroneously be perceived as superior. The fact is, "Carrie" is only a marginal upgrade in high definition and with the bonus features missing I recommend searching out the older DVD release if you want to purchase the film. It will be cheaper and probably look just as good through any upconvert player; which Blu-ray players should all have the capability of doing.