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Carrie (Special Edition) (1976) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 August 2001

Carrie: Special Edition

MGM Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, John Travolta, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, William Katt
release year: 1976
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Some movies age so gracefully that they might have been made at any time between the present and the invention of sound and color. "Carrie" is one of the rare films that fits this category – hairstyles and clothing may have changed, but the agony of being an outsider in high school, feeling like a freak, warring with an uncomprehending parent and imagining what could happen if thoughts had immediate physical consequences are all timeless. Writer Stephen King tapped into something profound (not to mention launching the mother of all horror fiction careers) when he penned his first novel; the cinematic translation by director Brian DePalma and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen takes King’s work and makes it sing – and scream.

For those who somehow have missed it since its 1976 theatrical debut, "Carrie" tells the story of high school senior Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, in a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance), who is tormented by her classmates for being clumsy and unworldly, and virtually tortured at home by her religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie, also Oscar-nominated). Carrie has realized that if she concentrates – or loses her temper – she can cause objects to move by themselves, but she’s less concerned with exploiting her telekinesis than she is with just fitting in. When a remorseful fellow student (Amy Irving) tries to make up for past injuries by seeing to it that Carrie is invited to the prom, there seems to be hope on the horizon. Nobody reckons with a terrible prank – or Carrie’s spontaneous reaction.

DePalma is at the top of both his own game and that of the genre here. The tone moves from ominous to comedy to tenderness to black comedy to full-throttle nightmare without any noticeable shifting of gears – "Carrie" flows as an organic whole. Spacek is breathtakingly dimensional; the trapped-animal side of Carrie that so provokes her "normal" peers co-exists organically with the intelligent, curious young woman who just wants a life. Laurie makes Carrie’s unhinged mom larger than life but still tragically credible – she shows us what we fear is the hidden side of a woman who in public is overly cheery and bubbles over with platitudes. Betty Buckley stands out as a compassionate gym teacher whose motives are sadly misinterpreted. The percentage of young "Carrie" cast members in prominent roles who went on to notable further careers is fairly staggering: Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, William Katt, P.J. Soles and of course John Travolta all figure largely in the proceedings.

The "Carrie" DVD has been remastered in 5.1 from a mono original (the latter is offered as a sound choice in English, along with the Spanish and French tracks). The Pino Donaggio music score, with its Bernard Hermann "Psycho" homages (there’s a shower scene sting as early as Chapter 1) comes off consistently well, although the dialogue has a tendency to sink in the center channel. There’s a temptation to turn up the volume to more easily catch what’s being said, but this risks piercing levels on the big music cues, which are hefty enough to make you jump before you touch the dial. For the most part, the soundtrack doesn’t try to use directional or surround effects, although there’s a good thunder rumble in Chapter 17 and a charming effect in Chapter 22, with ‘70s prom music dominating the center, then swirling out to the mains to make room for some strong, clear dialogue in the center, accomplished very smoothly. In Chapter 27, when the horror action takes off in full swing, the sound becomes more consistently solid and there’s an increasing use of directional effects from this point on, most notably in Chapter 30, when objects appear to break and fall in front of and behind us.

The print of "Carrie" is for the most part extremely clean (only one scene has a few noticeable white marks), but the color quality is erratic. Some scenes are vivid and bright, with some very pretty ambient lighting effects coming off handsomely in Chapter 22 and a superb rendering in Chapter 25 of ceiling light gleaming off a hidden character’s eyes. In Chapter 27, there is excellent distinction between yellow flames and the blue of the night. At other times, though, the print shows signs of age. DePalma intentionally employs a lot of red hues in many scenes, but in Chapters 12 and 13, the tendency of film prints to redden as they grow older seems to have swamped this artistic color choice.

The DVD comes with two 40-minute-plus documentaries, "Acting ‘Carrie’ " and "Visualizing Carrie," both of which consist of recent interviews with DePalma and Cohen. Key cast members, including Spacek and Laurie, speak up in "Acting," while a number of crew people talk about "Visualizing." The six-minute segment on " ‘Carrie’ the Musical" features writer Cohen and actress Buckley discussing the project although, disappointingly, there is no footage of the actual stage production. All of the above are in warmly present two-channel sound.

In terms of picture and sound, "Carrie" displays caring restoration work – many films from the ‘70s don’t arrive on DVD in nearly such good shape. As a film, it holds up brilliantly – it is still funny, moving, tragic and scary. Everything it has to say in both metaphoric and realistic terms about what it’s like to be an outsider, and how good and bad intentions can collide to produce catastrophe, still feels as true as ever.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo Surround; English Mono; French Mono; Spanish Mono
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1, Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
special features: "Acting ‘Carrie’ " Featurette; "Visualizing ‘Carrie’ " Featurette; " ‘Carrie’ the Musical" Featurette; Animated Photo Gallery; "Stephen King and the Evolution of ‘Carrie’ " Notes; Theatrical Trailer; Chapter Search; English Closed-Captioning; French Subtitles; Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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