Dirty Pillows & Devil’s Dumplings … CARRIE Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

There was a time (and such a fine time it was) when Brian De Palma and Dario Argento  were bracketed together as whizz-kid master thriller technicians, heirs apparent to the Hitchcock crown, et al, but both careers have declined since then… hardly surprising for directors who have been plying and polishing their trade since the 1960s. Their respective declines, though, have been relative… for De Palma it means that a higher proportion of his regular output has become more Hollywood formulaic / less auteurial and no doubt he cries all the way to the bank, clutching his big pay check, on account of this… for Argento it means trading on past glories with Mother Of Tears, cranking out such banalities as Giallo and Dracula 3-D and struggling to crowd fund a film starring Iggy Pop. Having just had the memory of Dario’s recent screen misadventures knocked right out of our heads by the restored Suspiria, here’s a timely reminder for all of us that De Palma was once a bit special, too.

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I’m assuming that the viewer is already familiar with the plot of Carrie… ugly duckling turns beautiful swan and is doused with pig blood… which really sets the telekinetic cat among the pigeons… topped off with the mother of all shock endings. The film also marked De Palma’s own transformation from vaguely lefty underground film maker to Hollywood player, ready to flex the dazzling technical chops he’d built up on the innovative but obscure likes of Dionysus In ’69 (1970) before a mainstream audience… and didn’t he do well? Dazzlingly deploying every tool in his armoury – virtuoso tracking, crane and “figure of eight” shots, slow motion, multi-focus lenses, split screen, you name it – De Palma, for my money, out-Hitches Hitchcock here, with sequences of sensuously strung-out suspense that will still perch you, agonised, on the edge of your set, no matter how many times you’ve seen them before. Coincidentally of course, the success of De Palma’s movie put a rocket under the career of the guy who wrote its source novel, a certain Stephen King.

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Piper at the Gates of Hell…

To add to the strength of his material and his own cinematic virtuosity, BDP could call upon the contributions of a team of stalwart collaborators, just about all of whom are acknowledged and celebrated and get to have their say somewhere in the mind-bogglingly generous supplementary material with which Arrow have stuffed this set. Here, I’ll just mention his cast. De Palma held a joint casting session for the film with George Lucas, who was looking to fill the roles for Star Wars. Seems like Brian got George’s cast-offs but can you imagine anybody topping the ensemble playing that he got in Carrie? The Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek in the title role and Piper Laurie as her religiously fanatical mother were almost unprecedented for a “mere” horror film. Amazingly, the director considered swapping Spacek and Amy Irving in their respective roles (has Irving spent a single second in her life looking dowdy?) and took a lot of convincing to have Nancy Allen in the film at all (thereby nearly depriving us of the most mouth-watering Bad Girl in screen history… never mind Carrie White burning in Hell, I wanna know what mischief Chris Hargensen is getting up to down there!) De Palma did insist on Betty Buckley slapping Allen (his soon-to-be wife) repeatedly and for real during the PE detention scene. Armchair psychologists may make of this what they will… and no doubt they will.

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The 4K restoration looks a tad grainy to these eyes but they’ve been a bit spoiled recently… it was probably a bad idea to watch Carrie (or anything, for that matter) right after CultFilms’ staggering release of Suspiria. The good news is that the film sounds great in 5.1 surround sound and as previously mentioned, Arrow have really gone to town on the extras, here… De Palma, writer Lawrence D. Cohen, DP Mario Tosi, composer Pino Donaggio (for whom Carrie was also the Hollywood breakthrough… he talks about George Lucas jumping out of his seat at the end of his first exposure to the finished film), editor Paul Hirsch (who had his work cut out for him, assembling the split screen footage), casting director Harriet B. Helberg and art director Jack Fisk (Spacek’s real life husband) talk at length about their participation in putting Carrie together (much is said, for instance, about the aborted “raining stones” prologue). All of the major thespian participants (with the exception of John Travolta, whom everyone agrees was a sweetheart) speak about the film in documentaries made at various times over the years… it’s interesting to see how they’ve aged.

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Homecoming Queen… the return of The Repressed

As well as the expected galleries, trailers, TV and radio spots, you get a brand-new visual essay, courtesy of Jonathan Bygraves, comparing the various screen adaptations of Carrie over the years. There’s an “alternate” (should be “alternative”, right?) title sequence created for network television screenings to obliterate any sightings of lady bits or direct references to menstruation (to put this in perspective, it’s only in recent months that UK TV has allowed commercials for sanitary products to feature red rather than blue blood!) Betty Buckley, who plays Miss Collins in the film, talks about her stint as Carrie’s mom in the riotously received theatrical flop Carrie – The Musical and in an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, some refugee from Green Day takes us on a present day tour of the movie’s iconic locations. He’s kind of irritating but I occasionally cracked a smile on account of his gonzoid presentational style.

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I haven’t had time to check the commentary track by Lee Gambin and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, nor the opportunity to peruse the 60-page booklet, which features a new appraisal by Neil Mitchell, who wrote the Devil’s Advocates entry on Carrie, a reprint of a 40th anniversary fanzine, and an archive interview with De Palma. I’m unlikely to see that now, given that last time I checked this limited edition set was selling out all over the place.

If you do manage to get your hands on a copy… well, we can burn it together and pray for forgiveness!

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Sorry, couldn’t resist another shot of Satan’s favourite cheer leader…

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