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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/31/00
updated: 9/5/01


reviews by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Carrie: Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Special Edition - 1976 (2001) - United Artists (MGM)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/A

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 49:39, at the start of chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, Acting Carrie documentary, Visualizing Carrie documentary, Carrie the Musical featurette, animated photo gallery, Stephen King and the Evolution of Carrie production notes, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 mono), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Carrie Carrie
1976 (1998) - United Artists (MGM)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/D

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens with sound and animation, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Carrie is a shining moment not only in 1970s horror, but also in director Brian De Palma's career. His exaggerated and highly stylized method of directing doesn't often leave room for real human emotion. But thanks to a sensitively written script by Lawrence D. Cohen (who would later go on to adapt two other best-selling Stephen King novels) and two incredible performances, Carrie rises above its potentially cliche material to become a classic of its genre.

We all went to school with someone like Carrie (Sissy Spacek). She's painfully awkward and equally introverted. The first time we see her on-screen is just about as painful as it gets. At seventeen years old, she's unaware of what a menstrual cycle is. When she gets her first period in the locker room showers, she completely freaks out. The other girls torment her and pelt her with a barrage of sanitary napkins and tampons. Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), her understanding and sympathetic gym teacher, sends her home for the day.

But things aren't any better at home. Her mother (a very scary Piper Laurie) is an obscenely devout, bible-thumping Christian who instills in Carrie the belief that every change in her body is a result of her sinning ways. Even worse than that is Carrie's telekinetic ability which, according to her mother, is a direct act of the Devil. Sissy Spacek delicately balances Carrie's two worlds (school and home), and manages to provide Carrie with just a little bit more freedom at home than she is allowed at school. Her scenes with her mother are at times open and honest and other times fearful and foreboding.

One of Carrie's popular classmates, Sue (Amy Irving), is so shamed by her own actions in taunting Carrie, that she convinces her equally popular boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom. The events that lead up to the unforgettable prom scene establish Carrie as a tormented daughter and teenager, who wants so badly NOT to lash out at the world that holds her down. She's so excited to actually be going to a social teenage event that she completely forgets that she's the laughing stock of the school.

Part of the reason for the endurance of Carrie is that it becomes something different with each subsequent viewing. There's a lot of shock in the film (right from the very start), but there's a lot of humor in the movie as well, aimed at some of the insipid things we do as teenagers to fit in. If that isn't enough to make you laugh, those outfits surely will. Check out those flattering gym socks and shorts! The ending of the film is still somewhat creepy, but what at first is scary is now at a different level - Carrie has become a camp classic. Piper Laurie does an incredible job of being simultaneously frightening and unintentionally hysterical, and the extended slow-mo sequence in the finale is something most film makers now wouldn't dare to do unless the desired outcome were laughs.

MGM's original DVD version of Carrie revealed a tremendous lack of effort. While not a horrible presentation, it doubtless could have looked a lot better had they given it anamorphic treatment and taken some time to clean up the print a bit. There was a fair amount of scratching on the hazy-looking print, most evident during the opening credits, where there was a purple scratch right down the middle of the picture. There was also a distracting halo at times, the result of edge enhancement, along with a slightly grainy look to the film throughout its running time. Colors were rendered faithfully however, with warm, accurate flesh tones and nice (if occasionally spotty) black levels.

All things considered, the then-new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix wasn't that great either. Most of the audio action was confined to the front half of the sound field. Dialogue was appropriately maintained to the center speaker, without ever sounding hollow or tinny. Good bass level added some depth to the new soundtrack, and there was some nice separation between the left and right sound fields. But the lack of use of the rear channels was a major disappointment. Use of the rear channels is especially crucial in horror movies for the zinger moments, when you're supposed to be scared out of your seat. Nothing like that could be heard in this mix. The rear channels did get some use for portions of the soundtrack, but there was no split channel separation or sound effects present in this portion of the sound field at all. These are also instrumental in creating a well-defined sense of space, and a proper 5.1 mix would have done this nicely.

Apart from some respectably lengthy notes in the booklet and the movie's theatrical trailer, there was a spectacular lack of features on the original disc. Still, I have to admit that I get a big kick out of the trailer. It ranks pretty highly on the cheesy/camp value scale. But while I like the trailer, that's hardly enough to keep my interest, especially when you consider that the previous laserdisc release had an audio commentary track.

Thankfully, MGM has revisited Carrie as a brand new special edition DVD, to replace the subpar original version (which is no longer available). The new anamorphic transfer looks better than the previous release, but is also affected by the same print issues as the non-anamorphic transfer. They're both culled from the same source print, and therefore show the same problems - the same purple blemish is right down the middle of the shower scene, and the blacks are still gray at best. The relative low budget of Carrie is evident in its grainy film stock, and this grain is most apparent in those not-so-perfect dark scenes. Flesh tones and color reproduction are once again accurate and are one of the transfer's better points. The added detail afforded by the anamorphic transfer is a welcome addition to the disc, but again, more effort on the part of MGM to clean up and restore the print would have resulted in a much nicer picture.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the new disc is the same one present on the first edition. New to this disc are the film's original mono track and a new Spanish mono track. I highly recommend checking out the foreign language tracks just so you can hear "After the blood come the boys" in Spanish. Scary indeed.

MGM has also given Carrie a nice little make-over in the extras department. There's no De Palma commentary, but they've proven that with a good set of bonus features, you're not necessarily going to miss the audio commentary. Frequent film documentarian Laurent Bouzereau put together two great documentaries (both around 40 minutes long) for this new DVD. Acting Carrie boasts interviews with the film's entire primary cast (minus John Travolta), as well as De Palma, production designer Jack Fisk (that's Mr. Sissy Spacek to you!) and scriptwriter Lawrence D. Cohen. The detailed focus here is obviously on the film's wonderful ensemble work. There's so much good information in this piece that not a minute of its running time is wasted. Nancy Allen (so good in her role as Chris, the hyper-bitchy bully) talks about almost giving up on Hollywood, only to be cast in the film at the very last second. The interviews with Spacek and Laurie are remarkably insightful as the two discuss in great detail the methods behind creating their characters. I was surprised to learn that Spacek almost didn't get cast, as De Palma had his eye on another young actress. And when Laurie was being courted for her role, she initially expressed very little interest in coming out of her semi-retirement to do a horror film. You'll also hear from Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Priscilla Pointer, P. J. Soles and William Katt. In all, Acting Carrie provides a very warmhearted look at the film. It sounds like I'm giving a lot away here, but trust me - if you're a fan of the film, there's tons more to be discovered here (including an interesting connection to Star Wars). This is one of the best, most thoroughly entertaining DVD documentaries I've seen in the past couple of years.

The other documentary, Visualizing Carrie, outlines the look of the film with the help of De Palma, Fisk and the film's editor, Paul Hirsch. Carrie is a highly stylized film and employs many different camera techniques (including split-screen, slo-mo and the split di-opter lens) that help to transport the viewer into Carrie's very dreamlike world. A lot of work went into creating the unique look of Carrie, and you'll learn all about it here. You'll also hear about the ups and downs of Karo syrup pig's blood and how not to make a half-sized house cave in on itself. It's more technical in nature than the Acting Carrie feature, but in many ways, it's just as enlightening. The disc also includes a short featurette on the notorious, short-lived Carrie: The Musical. If you're looking for clips and sound bites from the musical, you'll be disappointed. But the musical itself has gained a fairly large cult following, and Cohen and Buckley (who played Margaret White onstage) take a few minutes to discuss the good and bad (very bad) of the Broadway production. A 6-minute photo montage video is set to a piece of Pino Donaggio's hypnotic score, and features many behind-the-scenes photos and promotional pieces. Topping off the disc are a few pages of rather informative notes on adapting Stephen King's novel for the screen (and the major differences between the book and the film), and the theatrical trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Carrie is an entertaining, near-perfect drive-in/date movie, that has retained a following throughout the years. Its great blend of scares, drama and humor is anchored by the dynamic performances of Laurie and Spacek. It's not often that a horror movie made in the last twenty-five years allows viewers the opportunity to get to know and indeed like the characters they're seeing on screen. This part of Carrie makes its horrific climax all the more devastating. The final moments of the film will, without a doubt, give you one good final jolt to remember this poor girl by. Got a date for the prom? If not, spend a night at home with Carrie… the new special edition DVD, that is.

Dan Kelly

Carrie: Special Edition

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