Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

DePalma's Carrie Outdated? As If.

I suppose it's relative to every generation. The new devours the old if they have the stones and the means to do so. It's the natural order of things within a predatorial habitat, whether you're referring to the Monolithic period, the Dark Ages, The American Civil War, Prohibition or the new Renaissance of tech which has now fossilized much of life as we've known it since Ronald Reagan took office.

The brash declaration of youth's arrival in society is countered by a stubborn wherewithal of their elders to compromise to the new order which subliminally changes every seven or eight years. The term for senior folks who resist change is being "stuck in one's ways." Some older generations are savvy and courageous enough to adapt to altering climates and mores because time waits for no man, so it's said. Still, I find often there's bravado up-and-coming generations possess which reeks of arrogance and disrespect, even when there's a rooted respect prompting their actions in the first place.

In this case, I'm referring to Stephen King's Carrie, moreover, Brian DePalma's revered film adaptation from 1976.

I recently read about the intent for another bloody hike down Carlin Street in the fictitious town of Chamberlain, Maine. A new version of Carrie for a new generation that has already ripped off its ancestors of every single horror standard that existed in a time that was not theirs. At the core of their heralding, you have to smile and give thanks the youngsters appreciate what we had, but it's been a bitter pill to swallow watching Generation Tech reboot, revamp and regurgitate with nearly no conscience to what they're doing. They were babies (if even on the planet at all) when Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers pillaged and dismembered countless teen victims from our era. Ditto for a time when Smurfs, G.I. Joe and Transformers ruled the toy stores and VHF television.

Now, I'm not so much of a dandy prick to wholly dismiss Generation Tech's attempt at recreating our favorite terror zones for their own. I mean, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man have been reincarnated every decade and will likely continue after all of us have joined Mother Earth. I will give props to the recent remakes of Dawn of the Dead and I Spit On Your Grave for having the fortitude to make their own nerve-chewing renditions of legendary splatter lore. Moreover, there was that respect I mentioned.

Though we're still awaiting details of the new Carrie venture, I'm already dubious just by statements I've read indicating the new filmmakers feel King's debut novel should be revisited for the third time (not including the embarassing "sequel" Carrie 2: The Rage) because they feel it needs an update. The word "outdated" (uttered from other parties) has been cast against Brian DePalma's visionary masterwork and I find that absurd and more than a little bit crass.

Yeah, Steven R. Monroe and Lisa Hansen indicated their reason for taking on one of the most nefarious flicks ever shot, I Spit On Your Grave, was it needed updating. One of its promoters said the same exact thing to me directly before sending me a promo copy for review. Well, really, Meir Zarchi had already set an uncouth bar with his original geek film from '78 and he not only blessed the remake but oversaw it. Props to Zarchi (if you feel like giving them) for letting some new blood recharge an already sadistic premise highlighted by even nastier business--in particular Sarah Butler's brutal revenge tactics. In a way, Butler outdid Camille Keaton to the point we will soon begin remembering Butler ahead of her predecessor, despite all the physical grief and exploitation Keaton endured the first time around.

Will the same be said of Carrie? How in God's name can anyone outclass Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie? They tried it in a made-for-television jaunt with Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson and it hardly measured. We're not even going acknowledge Carrie 2: The Rage again after this sentence. Spacek and Laurie were both nominated for Academys following their gruelling onscreen duel. Sissy Spacek testifies what outlandish lengths she went to undercut another female lead in the auditioning process and win her prized role as Carrie White. Amongst these, dressing in shabby rags and nailing her lines to the cross, pun intended. Spacek is sympathetic and better, she's flat-out beautiful in a flaxen country girl demeanor. The dynamics she fused into Carrie White's skittishness, inhibitions and growing wonderment at her telekinetic powers is exhilirating to watch.

Nobody and I mean nobody will ever outdo Spacek in the shower sequence. Spacek has already established Carrie's nervous lack of self-esteem in the opening scene at the volleyball court. As PJ Soles and Nancy Allen spurn and curse Carrie White for losing the game on their side, we're already on Carrie's. It's almost a stunner we find Spacek showering in full frontal to a height of strange eroticism. This is a young flower with the oppportunity to blossom, save for the fact she's hated in school and her zealot mother abuses the tar out of her. It's heart-breaking when Spacek injects deplorable fright into Carrie's face when she gets her first period and has no idea what such a thing is thanks to her bible-whumping mama. Even worse when Carrie's classmates can't see the shock and dismay before them and they pelt the aggrieved lass with tampons and maxis. If you're not rooting for Carrie White at this point, you will be once she inadvertently bursts a bulb in the girl's locker room from her terrors, as you will once she lashes out at the school principal for his lack of attentiveness to her name. As you will once she derails a snotty young boy who taunts her with "Creepy Carrie! Creepy Carrie!" from his bike. All using this strange new gift that has started to rise inside her with budding hormones and the arrival of her first menstrual cycle.

I just can't imagine anyone of this day with the same measure of commitment and the rare gift of both fracture and assurance which Sissy Spacek threw into her role. By the time she finally stands up to her domineering mother, you're clenching a fist in her favor and you're praying that Tommy Ross has genuinely noble intentions about taking her to the prom. You already know other parties are at play in skunking Carrie's big night out, but with that knowledge, you want the poor girl to have at least one dignified moment first.

Of course she does, and both Sissy Spacek and William Katt deliver a believable connection to what appears suspicious and awkward at face value. Amy Irving's Sue Snell goes to such implausible lengths as to deliver her boyfriend as Carrie's shining knight, yet this gesture is purported to be guilt over Carrie's wicked chastisement in the girl's shower. In the real world, you might have to question if anyone holds the capacity for such honor, but DePalma and Irving made it work. Sue Snell skipping out on her own senior prom to make amends for a girl she never has dialogue with was something that needed skill to sell, from DePalma to the actresses.

Spacek exhibits Carrie's glow she's kept hidden from her peers as she and Tommy Ross are voted prom king and queen. Again, Spacek reveals both the shattered id inside of Carrie White and the exuberant superego which has so desperately needed nurturing through the entire film. She's been too busy getting walloped upside the head with the bible from her mother and accused of harlotry when "the curse of blood" strikes her as it would any teen girl. At least Spacek and Katt sell their newfound bond, so much you don't even balk at Tommy Ross for succumbing to the moment and kissing Carrie. DePalma's brilliant usage of the rotating camera angles ignites the sudden connection between Carrie and Tommy and it's inherently more erotic than the shower sequence. Somehow you don't feel Tommy and Carrie are going to become a long-term couple (sex is most definitely out), but their right-there moment of teen zen and silly puppy love is gleeful and endearing. I defy anyone in a future version to outmaneuver Katt and Spacek.

Spacek trooped through the entire pig's blood scene at the prom and even did three takes of the dousing. Knowing it was coming, Spacek still conveys a gut-tearing facade of shock, degredation and ultimate fury as she turns on the entire school and raises Hell, literally. To this day, I've never seen a more pissed-off teenager onscreen or off than Sissy Spacek's Carrie.

Likewise, I've never seen such tumultuous, destructive anger suddenly turn into a waif-like implore for coddling. All throughout DePalma's Carrie, Spacek and Laurie go at each others' throats to such extremes not even the balls-out horror underground of today dare tread. Of course, we'll see how daring the new proposed Carrie will tread, but it certainly won't have Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie masterfully engineering a horrific peek inside a suburban hellhole dicatated by a craven Jesus freak.

What bothers me about any renunciation of DePalma's Carrie using the "outdated" lingo is the fact those who utter it aren't looking past William Katt's Frampton-like goldilocks, they aren't looking past the girls' Fawcett-esque waves and they're put off by some of the occasional jokey synth music that is straight out of the pre-disco seventies. When they arrive, they goof all over the tension-breaking scenes of jocularity and are still a gut-buster today--for the right reasons. Listen to the rest of the movie score by Pino Donaggio. I've already discussed the harrowing music of this film in a prior post, but nothing that's been attempted around the dark noir of Carrie White following DePalma's classic remotely taps into the raw skeins Donaggio does. His music is filled with childish xylophones symbolizing innocence held and innocence about to slip away. The Psycho-esque violin shrieks keeps the film on a teeter and the plight-filled piano ostinato escorting Carrie White down those steps of doom in her house can hardly be replicated. Donaggio's tributizing score is rhapsodic, alarming and tragic, worthy of anything Bernard Herrmann composed for Alfred Hitchcock.

The music at the prom is indeed reflective of its time, sure, but is that an excuse to dismiss it? Nobody with a soul bombs Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz for their gusty scores ringing triumphantly of a decades-old Hollywood that's been lost forever. I still think Katie Irving (the sister of Amy) singing over "I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me" puts the viewer into a full presence of where Carrie White is at that moment in the prom and how much awful shit she's had to endure to get there.

We can't believe what's happening before our eyes, but we're soaking it up before Nancy Allen pulls that godforsaken cord to the bucket of blood and licks her lips lasciviously, knowing she's humiliated her once-defenseless nemesis one final time. You halfway cry for Carrie, but you're already digging into your palms, suspecting she's not going to stand for it this time. The split-screen sequences DePalma utiilzes escalate the danse macabre that is Carrie White's revenge. When the stage ignites into flames, we know it's real. This is 1976 and there's no CGI to cheat through it. Sissy Spacek didn't settle for a stunt double. Within ten feet of her back, that conflagration turns Spacek into a phoenix and Carrie White into one of the most fearsome characters in horror history. Spacek is submerged into her craft and Carrie's vengeance is more eerie than spectacular. If that's outdated, then, well, Jesus wept.

It's DePalma's cast (which also includes the gritty Betty Buckley and a still-green John Travolta) which is hard to recast, as are the primary sets. Carrietta White and her demented mother live in a setting nearly as cryptic as an abandoned monestary. That awful statuette of Saint Sebastian in Carrie's praying nook is just as scary as anything else in this film. Frightening that the throwback White home stands amidst the modern (for 1976, anyway) suburbs like a spook house. Its governness, we learn, is capable of insidious heresy and abject lunacy. The carrot chopping scene is disarming, the outrageous amount of candles lighting up the house when Carrie returns from the prom is funny, but not in a ha-ha way. It's messed up. Worse, Margaret's catatonic state behind the bathroom door is one of the most shivery images the genre's ever cued up. Once that house comes crashing down in the bloody finale, only then do you breathe a sign of momentary relief.

The imposing prescence of Margaret White on one of her public crusades is nowhere near as devastating as the Margaret White bapping her daughter in the face with The Book of Wisdom, demanding in an evil gravel voice that Carrie recite Eve was weak, Eve was weak... It's a lasting impression that haunts after every viewing, as much as Carrie's telekinetic crucifixion of her mother in self-defense. Then there's the notorious final jolt in Sue Snell's dream sequence. Amy Irving looks both virginal and carnal in that scene before DePalma capitalizes on her devastated guilt to drop the hammer upon his audience one last time. Admit it, you flew off the couch and knocked something over the first time you saw that ending. It wasn't how Stephen King wrote it, but it was off-the-cusp genius.

I get why other producers and directors want to try their luck with Carrie. King's story at its basic level appeals to the mistreated outcast teen of any generation, moreover his or her thirst for revenge when acceptance isn't possible. That's an ethos that will ring loud and clear until this planet dies out. Carrie White without her otherworldly powers represents the downtrodden, the scared and the hopeless. With those powers, she's hell in high heels. It's a flashpoint resonance that prompts us to root for Carrie White, at least until her blind rage spells mass murder.

For all this, Brian DePalma's stellar interpretation of Carrie is now considered outdated? Yeah, sure. I give the youth of today more credit than that, but if they do subscribe to this mandated tripe, then I'll just stay stuck in my ways, thanks.

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