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

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]
Director: Aaron Schneider
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Don’t let the title fool you — this is not a film about Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz.

Get Low tells the tale of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a reclusive mountain man living in 1930’s Tennessee. One day he receives word that a past acquaintance died due to old age. This gets Felix to think about his own life and how he is near the end of the road himself. On a rare venture into town, he stops by the funeral home and makes an odd request: he wants to have a funeral for himself while he’s still alive. The funeral’s owner (Bill Murray) and his ever-ready understudy (Lucas Black) are dumbfounded by this question, but agree to throw him a “funeral party.” Bush’s goal for this party is for people to tell stories about him (since he has developed quite the reputation because of his living habits), and to finally tell the secret as to why he has been a recluse for the last 40 years.

I found this to be an interesting plot concept, and apparently it is based on a true story. However, I was initially intrigued by this movie largely due to its cast. Seriously, there are some masters at work here. Robert Duvall is excellent as an old hermit, effortlessly portraying a man who strikes terror to those who only know the urban legends, yet also showing a polite and witty man to those who get to know him. Bill Murray is also on the top of his game as the shady funeral director who will do anything for a quick buck (i.e. perform a funeral for a living man). Although there are questions about his character, the funeral director comes across as a likable guy, which is very much to Murray’s credit. I haven’t really seen much from Lucas Black before, but he holds his own against the legends, and I’m sure he had the time of his life on set with them. A couple other greats have small roles as well — Sissy Spacek plays an old flame who knew Felix way back in the day, and Bill Cobbs is a reverend who is perhaps the only person who actually knows Bush’s secret.

While the acting certainly shines, the movie itself is slow and takes its sweet time to really get anywhere. This isn’t a huge problem since it really is a delight to watch these actors on screen, but the script could have been livened up a bit. As one would expect, the party is hyped up throughout the movie. The funeral director spends significant time marketing the event and trying to get a large turnout, even getting Felix to appear on a radio show to help bring in people to tell stories about him. Unfortunately, by the time the party actually comes, it is a bit anticlimactic. The movie hypes up what will happen at the event, but doesn’t deliver on everything promised. I couldn’t help but feel a tad ripped off in the end.

Still, even with its shortcomings Get Low is a good first effort from director Aaron Schneider. A stronger script could have taken this movie to another level, but it does just enough to get by thanks to its fantastic cast.

7/10