Carrie (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (15th December 2017).
The Film

Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1977)

Seventeen year old Carrietta White (Sissy Spacek) experiences her first period in the school showers after a physical education class. The event takes place in front of Carrie’s classmates, and she is mocked ruthlessly by her peers. It soon becomes clear to Carrie’s teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) that Carrie’s repressive upbringing by her evangelically Christian mother has led to Carrie being deeply unprepared for both her changing body and the social rituals of adolescence. However, as Miss Collins is reminded by the headteacher of the school, the school practises a policy of non-interference in the religious beliefs and principals of its students’ families. At home, Carrie’s evangelical mother (Laurie Piper) rails against the sins of the world and suggests Carrie’s maturing body is an index of her association with sin, cruelly locking Carrie in a closet where she must pray and atone for her perceived sins. However, Carrie soon begins to evidence telekinetic powers, which she researches and which begin to escalate.

Meanwhile, at school Carrie becomes besotted with the school football star Tommy Ross (William Katt), after their English teacher reads out a remarkable poem by the ‘jock’. Tommy Ross is the boyfriend of Sue (Amy Irving), one of Carrie’s tormenters. In the next physical education class, Miss Collins chastises Carrie’s classmates for their cruel treatment of Carrie, handing out a class detention and suggesting that if she had her way, they would all be banned from attending their upcoming prom. One of the ringleaders, Chris (Nancy Allen), reacts petulantly to this, refusing to obey Miss Collins. In response, Miss Collins slaps Chris angrily, Chris telling Miss Collins, ‘You’ll get canned for this!’

Sue comes up with a plan and enlists the help of her boyfriend Tommy. Chris also begins plotting and uses her sexuality to persuade her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) to help her. At school, Tommy asks Carrie to the prom, but Carrie is reticent, believing that ‘they’re just tryin’ to trick me again’. Miss Collins, however, tries to convince Carrie otherwise, giving Carrie confidence in herself and showing her how to prettify herself by applying makeup and dressing differently.

Predictably, Carrie’s mother responds angrily, and when Carrie demonstrates her newfound telekinetic abilities, Carrie’s mother accuses her of being a witch who is possessed by Satan. Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to restrain her mother, thus allowing Carrie to go to the prom with Tommy.

At the prom, Carrie and Tommy have a good time, Tommy treating Carrie kindly and with respect. The couple are nominated for, and win, the titles of king and queen of the prom, but above the stage is a dreadful surprise: a bucket of pig’s blood that Chris and Billy have placed in the rafters, a rope leading from it to beneath the stage where the couple wait for Carrie to take her place before releasing the blood upon the unsuspecting teenager’s head. This causes Carrie to unleash her telekinetic powers upon the staff and students congregated in the hall.

Carrie is one of a number of 1970s pictures that focus on a theme of telekinesis and psychic phenomena – from fairly expensive mainstream features such as J Lee Thompson’s The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1976) and Jack Gold’s The Medusa Touch (1978) to low budget exploitation pictures like Ray Danton’s Psychic Killer (1975) and Robert Allen Schnitzer’s The Premonition (1976). Carrie also contains some similarities with ‘bad seed’ films which focus on deviant children, including Mervyn LeRoy’s 1956 picture The Bad Seed (based on William March’s 1954 novel of the same title) and Robert Mulligan’s The Other (1972): during the 1970s, ‘bad seed’ films like The Other came increasingly to draw a connection between the ‘bad seed’ and supernatural phenomena, a trend most commonly popularised within the spate of films about demonic possession of young people (mostly young women) that followed the success of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in 1973 and Richard Donner’s The Omen in 1976.

The film opens with Carrie being excluded by her classmates during a volleyball class. Carrie is framed apart from her peers, Chris cruelly telling Carrie ‘You eat shit!’ as she walks past her on her way to the changing rooms. From here, De Palma takes the audience into the changing rooms and showers, where the easy nudity of the young women is photographed in almost fetishistic slow-motion and accompanied by Donaggio’s soft, sweet score. This moment of peace is undercut abruptly when, in the shower, Carrie notices blood flowing down her legs. ‘Help me!’, she pleads as her classmates throw sanitary products at her, laughing and chanting ‘Plug it up!’ With this sequence, De Palma foregrounds his film’s focus on the terror and cruelty of adolescence. Even the teachers are ambivalent in their response to this incident, Carrie’s physical education teacher, Miss Collins, expressing shock to the school headteacher over Carrie’s lack of awareness of her physical development. However, the school has a policy of tolerance and non-interference when it comes to the religious beliefs and rituals of its students’ families, the headteacher reminding Miss Collins, in reference to Carrie’s repressive upbringing, that ‘We can’t interfere with people’s beliefs’. This principle of tolerance and non-engagement on the part of the school authorities is something De Palma subtly criticises and is encapsulated in the headteacher’s refusal to remember Carrie’s name (he refers to her as ‘Cassie’), which symbolises this figure of authority’s disinterest in Carrie and her experiences. Meanwhile, Miss Collins admits that ‘The truth is, […] I knew how they [Carrie’s tormenters] felt. See, the whole thing made me want to take her and shake her too’.

At home, Carrie’s repressive mother rails against the sin of the modern world, telling a neighbour that ‘The children are wandering through the wilderness of sin these days’. Carrie’s mother’s eccentricities are tolerated by neighbours and the school, but the inside of Carrie’s home is bedecked in religious paraphernalia, and when Carrie returns home after the incident in the school shower, her mother chastises her: ‘You’re a woman now’, she asserts angrily before paraphrasing the Book of Genesis, ‘“And God made Eve from the rib of Adam. And Eve was weak and loosed the raven on the world. And the raven was called Sin” [….] Don’t you know I can see inside you? I can see the sin as surely as God can’. Carrie’s mother rails against the ‘curse of blood’ that afflicts women and suggests women are either saintly, sexless Madonna-like figures or deceiving whores who lead men astray with their bodies and sexuality: ‘After the blood come the boys, like sniffing dogs, grinnin’ and slobberin’ and tryin’ to work out where that smell comes from’.

Carrie’s mother’s angry response to Carrie’s developing body is pathological, superficially motivated by her betrayal by her husband (Carrie’s father), although the film suggests Carrie’s mother’s ‘problem’ predated her relationship with Carrie’s father. Carrie’s mother reminds Carrie that ‘He [Satan] entered your father and tempted him off’ with another woman, though she also tells her daughter, proudly, that she and Carrie’s father only had intercourse twice: ‘I should have killed myself when he put it in me’ the first time, she asserts. Their marriage was one of repression, Carrie’s mother refusing to have sex with her husband; ‘But sin never dies’, she tells Carrie, recounting a night when Carrie’s father, despite his promise to never touch Carrie’s mother again, returned home and forced himself upon Carrie’s mother: ‘He took me […] He took me, with the stink of the roadhouse whisky on his breath… And I liked it! I liked it!’, she raves. Ironically, however, in its depiction of Chris and Billy’s relationship the film suggests that Carrie’s mother’s deeply puritanical perspective has some degree of accuracy: Chris blatantly uses her sexuality to lure Billy into helping her humiliate Carrie at the prom, performing fellatio on him in his car whilst mumbling ‘I hate Carrie White’, this act precipitating the entrapment of Carrie that leads to the carnage which takes place during the film’s climax. Carrie’s mother’s criticism of female sexuality is therefore depicted as to some extent legitimate, though Carrie’s mother is misdirected in her ire. The relationship between sex, sin and blood, a theme foregrounded in the rantings of Carrie’s mother, is consolidated in the sequence in which Chris and Billy sneak into a pig farm at night, Billy killing a pig brutally with multiple blows which De Palma intercuts with close-ups of Chris face, bloodlust writ large across it, as she yells, ‘Do it! Do it!’

Carrie’s story places emphasis on Piper Laurie’s role as Carrie’s overbearing mother, repressing her child’s development into adulthood in a manner comparable with Norman Bates’ mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho. Both mothers turn their respective children into outcasts and killers. The similarities with Psycho that were inherent in Stephen King’s source novel seem to have been consciously foregrounded by De Palma, with Pino Donaggio’s score going so far as to appropriate part of the shrill ‘stabbing’ violin leitmotif from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the Hitchcock picture. Herrmann was reputedly De Palma’s first choice to score Carrie, but when Herrmann passed away in December of 1975, Donaggio was drafted in to complete the music for the picture (see Leitch, 2010: 255). Where in Hitchcock’s film, this leitmotif was used to underscore the pivotal shower scene, in which Norman – disguised as ‘mother’ – murders Marion Crane, in Carrie De Palma uses Donaggio’s shrill violins as an aural backdrop to Carrie’s telekinetic outbursts. De Palma also ‘borrows’ the staging of the shower sequence from Psycho during Carrie’s opening sequence, in which Carrie experiences her first period in the showers of her school’s locker room.

For most of the film, Sue and Tommy’s plan is depicted ambiguously: we question this young couple’s motives in Sue refusing to go to the prom and asking her boyfriend Tommy to invite Carrie instead. Are they plotting to humiliate Carrie? Is Sue being genuinely selfless and Tommy being truly kind? The manner in which De Palma intercuts their plotting with that of Chris and Billy suggests their motives may be similar to those of the more overtly sinister couple, but De Palma undercuts this in the prom sequence with the revelation of Sue’s shock at the trick Chris and Billy play on Carrie. Tommy and Sue, it is revealed, were genuinely trying to help Carrie and atone for the class’ cruel treatment of her. De Palma subtly anticipates the bond that Tommy and Carrie will share at the prom when, during a literature class, the teacher reads out a poem that has impressed him deeply before revealing unexpectedly that it was written by Tommy, the ‘jock’. Carrie calls the poem ‘beautiful’, and the teacher mocks her cruelly; in response, Tommy quietly mutters ‘You suck’, and when challenged by the teacher insists he instead said ‘Aw, shucks’. De Palma frames Tommy and Carrie together, Tommy in the extreme foreground on the left-hand side of the screen and Carrie in the background on the right-hand side of the frame; De Palma keeps both characters in focus through the use of a split dioptre lens, his employment of this technique establishing a connection between Tommy and Carrie.

The prom sequence is a tour-de-force of technique, De Palma filming the build-up to Carrie’s humiliation with the help of primary coloured gels on the lights (reds and greens, predominantly) and high-angle shots. Chris and Billy behave like pantomime villains, hiding under the stage with the rope that, when pulled, will cause the blood to spill upon Carrie. Upon being declared king and queen of the prom, Carrie and Tommy ascend to the stage in extreme slow-motion, De Palma’s use of this technique emphasising the significance for Carrie of this moment of acceptance by her peers; and when the bucket of pig’s blood is dropped upon Carrie by Chris and Billy, the moment of shock and realisation that is followed by Carrie’s unleashing of her telekinetic powers is depicted using split screen techniques which juxtaposes Carrie with the mayhem her telekinesis causes, the device foregrounding the relationship between actions and their consequences that is at the heart of the story and is the dilemma faced by Carrie, her mother, her peers and her teachers.


Video

Taking up approximately 27Gb of space on the Blu-ray disc, Carrie is presented in its intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p presentation uses the AVC codec. The film is uncut, with a running time of 98:09 mins.

This new Blu-ray presentation of Carrie is based on a 4k scan from the film’s original negative. The film’s photography makes much play with depth of field, via De Palma’s characteristic use of split dioptre lenses. This sense of depth and play with depth in the compositions is communicated excellently in this presentation. Detail is excellent, with a very pleasing level of fine detail being present in close-ups. Colours are communicated very well too, skintones being naturalistic and De Palma’s use of more vibrant and expressive colours (eg, the vivid reds and greens used on the lights in the prom sequence) being expressed with depth and consistency. Bearing in mind that many sequences make use of diffused light, contrast levels are rich and evenly-balanced, midtones having a strong sense of definition and blacks being deep; the film’s many low light sequences fare well. Finally, a strong encode to disc ensures the presentation retains the structure of 35mm film.





Audio

The disc includes two audio options: (i) a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and (ii) a LPCM 1.0 track. Both tracks are clear with dialogue audible throughout. The 5.1 track adds some immersive sound separation but is arguably redundant, and purists will want to watch the film with the LPCM 1.0 track. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included, and these are easy to read and accurate.

Extras

The disc includes:
- Commentary by Lee Gambin and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Gambin and Heller-Nicholas offer an extremely enthusiastic commentary for the picture, exploring some of the major themes and considering Carrie’s place within the career of De Palma and the other personnel involved in its production, and in the evolution of the horror film more generally.

- ‘Acting Carrie’ (42:42). This featurette was produced in 2001 for Carrie’s DVD release. It examines the process of casting the film, exploring the now-famous joint casting sessions held by De Palma and George Lucas, who was casting Star Wars at the same time that De Palma was casting Carrie. The actors talk about their performances in the film and how they developed their characters. The featurette has input from De Palma, Amy Irving, P J Soles, William Katt, Nancy Allen, Betty Bucklet, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Jack Fisk and Priscilla Pointer.

- ‘More Acting Carrie’ (20:19). This new featurette focuses on the film’s cast and contains input from Allen, Buckley, Katt, Laurie, Edie McClurg and P J Soles. The participants talk about De Palma’s approach to staging scenes and directing actors, reflecting in-depth on the casting process.

- ‘Visualising Carrie: From Words to Images’ (41:33). In a featurette made for the film’s 2001 DVD release, De Palma, writer Larry Cohen, Paul Hirsch and Jack Fisk discuss the process of adapting Stephen King’s source novel and translating Cohen’s script to the screen.

- ‘Singing Carrie: Carrie the Musical’ (6:24). Another featurette from the film’s 2001 DVD release, ‘Singing Carrie’ looks at the stage musical version of Carrie.

- ‘Writing Carrie’ (29:07). In a new interview, writer Larry Cohen talks about his approach to adapting King’s novel into the film’s script.

- ‘Shooting Carrie’ (15:22). The film’s cinematographer Mario Tosi reflects on the film’s photography.

- ‘Cutting Carrie’ (25:09). Editor Paul Hirsch discusses the challenges he faced in editing the film.

- ‘Casting Carrie’ (16:03). Harriet B Helberg, the casting director on the picture, discusses how she came to be involved in the picture and talks about the casting process.

- ‘Bucket of Blood’ (23:53). Pino Donaggion talks about the music for the film. His comments are in Italian, with optional English subtitles.

- ‘Horror’s Hallowed Grounds’ (11:25). This featurette examines the locations used for the film.

- ‘Comparing Carrie’ (20:43). A new video essay by Jonathan Bygraves, this compares the three screen adaptations of King’s novel to date: De Palma’s 1976 picture, the 2002 TV movie by David Carson, and the more recent film adaptation by Kimberly Peirce (from 2013).

- Alternate TV Opening (3:31). This alternate television-friendly opening sequence omits the nudity that is present in the opening titles sequence of the main feature.

- Gallery (45 images).

- Trailer (2:06).

- TV Spots (3:11).

- Radio Spots (1:29).

- Carrie Trailer Reel (6:09).

Overall

Blood, and the colour of blood, is the key paradigm within Carrie, a leitmotif which carries with it connotations of the religious mania of Carrie’s mother; a mania which leads to the symbolic crucifixion of the mother during the film’s final sequence. Rituals and rites of passage, both religious and cultural, are one of the film’s major subjects, Carrie struggling to steer a safe course between these. The picture arguably represents the pinnacle of De Palma’s use of some of his favoured techniques (slow-motion, split screen), which in some of the director’s later films feel forced and arch in their application. Here, in Carrie, De Palma’s ‘showy’ techniques are in synch with the material, the methods De Palma uses to tell the story reinforcing it rather than working against it. The prom sequence takes up almost a third of the film’s running time but De Palma manages to maintain our interest via the use of light, colour, framing and sound; these techniques render this sequence in a manner that may best be described as phantasmagoric. Even the slightly clichéd staging of the film’s final scene ‘works’ thanks to De Palma’s handling of it.

Carrie is a film that has been imitated and parodied so many times that its narrative is recognisable even to those who have never seen De Palma’s picture. Arrow’s new Blu-ray release offers a presentation of the film that easily surpasses the previous UK Blu-ray release from Fox, whilst porting over the special features from that disc and adding a significant number of new examples of contextual material. This new Blu-ray release of Carrie is without a doubt the definitive UK home video release of the picture and is an essential purchase for fans of De Palma.

References:
Leitch, Thomas M, 2010: ‘How to Steal from Hitchcock’. In: Boyd, David & Palmer, R Barton (eds), 2010: After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality. University of Texas Press: 249-70

Full-size screengrabs (click to enlarge):
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