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There was a time when the horror film was a respected genre. It provided thrills and scares to the delight of the audience. Then this genre was all but taken over by new independent film makers. They surely have nothing but good intensions but in many respects they have diluted the genre to one of the corniest in cinema. The reason why so many new directors gravitate to this type of film is simple. Modern horror flicks are relatively easy to make. All you need is a whole lot of fake blood, phony guts and a few young ladies who are willing to take off their clothes for SAG scale. The budget can be amazingly small with a rapid fire shooting schedule. With sales to DVD better than ever these flicks are sure to return a profit so they are constantly being made. Fortunately for the die heard horror fan there is another influence that DVD and its high definition brother Blu-ray. The studios are bringing back some of the all time classic horror films so all can remember the way this genre should be treated. One of the latest to find new life on Blu-ray is ‘Carrie’. This 1976 film was one of the first set of movies to make it to the then new format of DVD and there has been several re-releases over the years. With this latest MGM edition fans can watch it with high definition video and audio; better than ever before.

This is a horror movie that seems to break the standard that other films have set. The first thing is the source of all the terror. Most of the times a horror film has some terrible creature straight from nightmares ready to slash and devour its hapless victims. This is story the one with the power to kill is a slight built teenaged girl, the titular Carrie (Sissy Spacek., She is pretty but not by the standards held in her high school. Carrie is shy and retiring not interacting much with the other students. Little does anyone know Carrie has telekinetic abilities of unimaginable proportions. This is one of the best sorts of themes possible for this type of movie. The horror is something familiar to the audience. The chances of some undead creature attacking you are next to nothing. Just think back at how many times you passed an unassuming and mousey girl without giving her a second thought. As with most truly great horror film this one goes beyond just scaring the living daylights out of the audience. It provides a deeper look into the dark side of the nature of humanity. Carrie may ultimately rack up a body count that rivals any horror flick monster but she is the real victim of the story. She is constantly taunted by her mean spirited classmates. Her mother Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is a religious zealot who emotionally and physically abuses her daughter. Carrie just wants what any of us crave; love and acceptance. It just happens that when she gets upside people have the tendency to die; horribly.

At this point in time there is not a horror fan that does not know the name Steven King. He has been turning out books, novellas and short stories in this genre for longer than many users of the internet have been alive. Many of his stories have been turned into major movies. This one is special in such illustrious company; it was his first book to make it to the big screen and it put him on the map with his literary works. ‘Carrie’ is the epitome of a King story. It displays many of the elements that would be explored in subsequent works. One is the part that religion plays in how people deal with each other. While religion can be a positive force for some it becomes an all consuming addition. They see the only right way is their specific interpretation of the Bible. This is the case with Carrie’s mother. She finds evil in every corner of the world. The first confrontation between Carrie and her mean girl classmates is in the showers after gym class. Carrie’s mother never had that special talk between mother and daughter so when Carrie gets her first period she is sure she is dying. The girls begin to throw tampons at her as she cringes naked in the corner. At home mom is not at all sympathetic instead she screams at Carrie that she is now a woman with dirty pillow, breasts, and is inherently sinful in her lust. Entwined in this theme are the actions of the classmates. The girls, lead by Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) defines mean girls in a most extreme way. The boys are not much better. Chris’ boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta) is willing to do anything she wants in hopes of getting to third base. This shows King’s persistent theme of peer pressure and the caste system found in closed communities like small towns and high school. An inherent and ill rational fear and hatred of anyone perceived as weaker or outside the clique is formed. In this case the victim was more than able to fight back. The last favorite King theme is the psychological aspect of terror. The human mind may inquire into the deepest mysteries of the universe but it will never be able to fully understand itself. For King the best things to terrify an audience are the mundane things and people we see each day. The little old man down the block may actually be a Nazi war criminal or that harmless clown a creature of darkness.

The director, Brian De Palma, is a fan of Alfred Hitchcock. This is obvious in most of his work but it hits you over the head in Carrie. The high school is the Bates HS. Every time Carrie uses her powers you hear the violin cord from ‘Psycho’. The mother going after Carrie with a knife cast the same shadow as ‘Mother’ in Psycho. Even the camera angles are the same as the Hitchcock classic. Still, the very experimental mind of De Palma got its start in movies like this and it is interesting to see how he initially emulated Hitchcock’s style and later transformed it to his own. This was far from his first film but it was the one that made De Palma a top shelf Hollywood director. The acting is great. It represents a collection of soon to be famous actors such as Amy Irvin, Sissy Spacek, Nancy Allen and John Travolta. Add to this some ‘adults’ such as Piper Lauire as the over the top mother of Carrie and Betty Buckley as the sympathetic gym teacher and you got some really good acting. Nancy Allen is great as the pretty, popular Chris. She is snotty, manipulative and vindictive and every action, moment and word of dialogue shows it. Typical of early Stephen King the horror in this film is not the supernatural abilities of Carrie, the evil stems from the innate rotten nature of Chris. It takes an actress like Allen that can play over the top without going into unbelievable to make this work. Spacek is a diamond in the rough here. This was here first big movie and it allowed her to demonstrate great talent. She makes you feel sorry for Carrie. Your heat goes out to this slip of a girl that is so humiliated at school and unable to find a safe haven at home. You want her to get back at the in crowd and are glad when she does. With everything considered this was ultimately able to stand the test of time and become a defining film in cinematic horror. it concentrated on the psychological impact of the events on Carrie eschewing the then growing popularity of the slasher films.

MGM has been re-releasing some of their older titles to Blu-ray of late. This one is typical of their trend and exhibits excellent transfers that will delight your eyes and ears. The video is 1080i with crystal clarity. The original mono sound track is here for those that prefer the theatrical experience. There is also a DTS HD re-mix that is done well but won’t fully demonstrate the quality available to this uncompressed format. This is a classic that demands to be part of any serious collection.

Posted 10/11/08

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