Given that Stephen King publishes about two new stories a month and a week later they're made into motion pictures, it may seem surprising that King's earliest film adaptations, "Carrie" and "The Shining," are still the best film treatments of his works. Or maybe not so surprising when you consider what "Carrie" has going for it. It is not only suspenseful, scary, and humorously cunning by turns, it boasts superb acting, excellent pacing, good production values, and, something most thrillers don't have, serious characterizations and a thought-provoking premise. It's a potent combination that easily elevates "Carrie" to the top ranks of all-time great horror films. It was only fitting that MGM celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary with a bonus-laden DVD Special Edition.
Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, an innocent and naive high school senior who is treated as an outcast and mercilessly taunted by her classmates. And it's no wonder her fellow students find her odd; Carrie's mother is a sexually repressed religious fanatic, wonderfully played by Piper Laurie, and Carrie lives in a house worthy of Norman Bates.
But Carrie has a secret that puts her one step ahead of the dimwitted crowd that surrounds her--she has telekinetic powers, the ability to make things happen by will of her mind alone. It's a power she discovers coincidentally upon reaching womanhood. In a misguided effort to be nice to her, one of Carrie's friends (Amy Irving) resolves to help her "fit in" by getting her own all-star boyfriend (William Katt) to take her to the school prom. But when a couple of cretinous teens (John Travolta and Nancy Allen) decide to pull a horrendous joke on her at the dance, Carrie gets even with terrifying results. The last thirty minutes of the picture are as frightening as anything ever filmed.
"Carrie" owes its spiritual parentage to Hitchcock's "Psycho." As a homage to the master, director Brian De Palma does everything but resurrect Hitchcock himself. The cinematography, camera angles, sets, themes, motifs, and most especially the music (by Pino Donaggio) are taken almost directly from the older film; but not without credit and not without their own effective twists. Needless to say, knives play an important part in the story. Even Carrie's school is slyly named Bates High. De Palma would go on to make a number of other good films, but none so clever or so hair-raising as "Carrie."
For their Special Edition MGM appear to have remastered the film, but from the same print they used in their previous DVD release. The picture is presented in 1.74:1 ratio, as usual a little less wide than its original 1.85:1 theatrical dimensions. The screen preserves most of the film's images pretty well, but the overall picture quality, while being a bit deeper and richer than before in this new transfer, is still slightly soft and grainy, with the same age spots and occasional vertical lines appearing in the same places. The colors are vivid and stand out, yet they are not quite so well defined as on many more-recent films.
As for audio, it, too, is as before, a two-channel stereo soundtrack remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1 with productive results. Most of the time the sonics are kept sensibly in the front channels, but when things begin to heat up, literally, the rear channels make the experience all the more startling.
Another reason to consider this reissue is, of course, its new special features. They include a wide assortment of goodies with only a full-feature audio commentary missing. The first and most important item is a recently produced forty-three-minute documentary called "Acting Carrie." It includes a multitude of interviews with the director, crew, and stars; in fact, the only major participant not here is Travolta. The second item is an equally impressive, forty-minute documentary called "Visualizing Carrie." It is mostly concerned with the film's adaptation from King's book and contains a load of information about the script from the screenwriter Larry Cohen as well as from the director and stars, info on the film's location shooting, and behind-the-scenes facts about the film's special effects. It even includes some deleted moments that are fun to imagine if put back into the film.
Did you know, by the way, that the famous ending for "Carrie," the hand business, was inspired by the ending in the movie "Deliverance"? That's what the filmmakers admit. Then, there's a six-minute series of interviews concerning the Broadway version of the story, a featurette titled "Carrie the Musical." Next is a six-minute animated photo gallery and then a text delivery about the transition of the book to film, "Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie." MGM also include the same eight-page booklet of trivia and production notes enclosed with the previous edition, the same thirty-two scene selections, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. English, French, and Spanish are now the spoken languages provided, with French and Spanish for subtitles. Everything is now tied together with a good-looking, animated menu design.
"Carrie" offers a well-dimensioned portrait of a teenage misfit, something we all probably felt like to some degree and at some point in our youth. Both Spacek and Laurie were nominated for Academy Awards, an amazing accomplishment considering that horror films haven't always gotten a lot of respect from the Academy, and the other cast members I've mentioned give further proof of the movie's fine dramatics. With so much going for it, it's apparent why it's become a horror classic. MGM's new Special Edition DVD makes an obvious recommendation for that niche in one's DVD library devoted to a gravely overlooked genre.