Movie Project #30: Carrie [1976]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Carrie [1976]

Carrie [1976]
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Lawrence D. Cohen (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen
Running Time: 98 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of my biggest horror blind spots.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress), Golden Globe nomination (Best Supporting Actress), #46 on AFI’s 100 Thrills

It appears that I watched Carrie at the best possible time, and not just because we are rapidly approaching Halloween. No sooner than the very next day after finally seeing Brian de Palma’s seminal 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, I was forced to watch the trailer for its upcoming remake. Not only did the trailer give away the entirety of the film’s plot (complete with multiple shots of the penultimate prom scene), but it just reinforced the idea that a remake is entirely unnecessary.

I knew the general plot going into Carrie, and I had seen clips of it over the years, but I was surprised at just how sad of a tale this is. While still a horror film, it’s not really what I expected of the genre, as it plays out as more of a drama/thriller.

Sissy Spacek (in an absolute jaw-dropping performance) stars as Carrie White, a timid and awkward 17-year-old high school student. She is an outcast at school, almost entirely due to the extreme religious views her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) forces on her at home. Poor Carrie is forced to learn about puberty on her own (i.e. her first period, which horrifies her and is shown in the very first scene of the film), and her mother dubs her a sinner for this. The 17-year-old is constantly bullied at school, further making her life miserable.

Carrie [1976]

However, things start to look up when one of the girls, Sue (Amy Irving), has a change of heart, feeling guilty about her role in the bullying. She convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (William Katt), one of the most popular guys at school, to invite Carrie to prom. Reluctant at first, fearing this to be a joke, Carrie eventually accepts his offer. Everyone appears to be genuine in their attempts to help Carrie; well, except for two students. Chris (Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta, in one of his earliest roles) just want to torment her some more, and they set out to ruin her evening.

Oh, and there’s one other slightly important bit that Carrie is discovering about herself: she has telekinetic powers. Her effects are subtle at first, such as moving a small object, but as she learns more about them, she begins to realize that hey, maybe she can fight back on the constant abuse after all.

Carrie [1976]

The film itself is a bit of a slow burn before reaching the chaotic final act, but it still presents itself as a fascinating character study. We can’t help but empathize with Carrie, and her character is a strong encapsulation of the life of a teenager (albeit a bit more extreme than most). All of the praise given to Sissy Spacek’s performance is well-deserved — those eyes will haunt me forever — and Piper Laurie is also terrific as her religious nutjob of a mother.

Carrie truly does stand the test of time, and while the fashion may be dated, the tale itself is not. This is a damn good horror film and one of the finer de Palma works that I have seen. It’s a shame that the remake will likely be the next generation’s introduction to this classic story.

8/10

Movie Project #4: The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The Hustler [1961]
Director: Robert Rossen
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

I am ashamed to admit that I know very little about Paul Newman. I know the story of Newman’s Own, and I have seen him in a couple of films (Slap Shot, Road to Perdition), but outside of that my knowledge is extremely lacking. After watching The Hustler, I can’t help but feel that Paul Newman was the fucking man.

Seriously, this is one hell of a character study that just so happens to use the game of pool as its backdrop. Newman is just amazing, as are the rest of the main cast: Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie.

As a small-time pool hustler, “Fast” Eddie Felston (Newman) has one goal: to beat the best in the game, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). After a quick meet-and-greet, the two square off in an epic battle. Eddie gets the upper hand early, almost effortlessly swindling thousands of dollars from his opponent. Several hours and countless drinks later, Fats takes control and wins back nearly dollar that he had lost earlier in the evening. Defeated and now flat broke, Eddie has seemingly hit rock bottom.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

It is at this point that Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), an alcoholic college girl who is full of her own problems. An unlikely duo, the two of them hit it off and build a relationship. However, when fellow gambler Bert Gordon offers to take Eddie on the road, things get rocky and the true colors of all involved start to come out. As much as the movie is about Fast Eddie, the stories of the other three main characters are just as important. With such great performances from all of them, it’s hard not to get attached to their characters no matter how flawed they are.

I enjoyed The Hustler quite a bit. Pool wasn’t as big of a focus as I thought it would be, and in fact the movie is just a fantastic piece of storytelling. I thought the first half of the film was a little slow, but once it got into fleshing out the main characters it became rather enthralling.

Two things I determined after watching this movie: 1) I need to watch its sequel, The Color of Money. 2) I really need to see more of Paul Newman’s work. He really blew me away here.

8/10