Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: The Mist (2017)

Aaron: Well, the roll-out of exciting Stephen King news continues, with the release earlier this week of a full trailer for Spike's serialized adaptation of King's 1980 novella, The Mist, and it looks like there might be a bit to talk about in there.

For years The Mist topped the list of most wanted King adaptations, the one title that would pop up again and again when I had conversations with people about Stephen King movies. It seemed like such an obvious choice that it's a little bizarre to think that 27 years passed between the novella's publication date and the eventual Frank Darabont adaptation. Perhaps Hollywood just needed to get wise to what the rest of King's constant readers had known for years, that The Mist is a gut-punch of a story with a multitude of monsters fans would love to see on screen, and great potential for filmed interpretations. And now here we are, a mere decade later, with a new version of The Mist heading to our televisions.

Take a look at the full trailer below, then keep scrolling to read our initial thoughts...

Right off the bat, I can admit that my enthusiasm for this project is not nearly as high as some of the other upcoming projects. The idea of doing The Mist as a television series is actually a pretty great one, because the novella is open-ended enough to allow for not only continuation, but a wide variety of stories set within its world. The trailer seems to suggest a few major changes to the novella, most notably the idea that the mist seems to have a malevolent presence beyond just the monsters that hide in it. In fact, looking at the trailer more closely, are we sure there even will be monsters in it? Everything we see implies that the only monsters are human. There's a quick shot that at first looks like a monster bursting through a car's windshield, but look carefully and you'll see it's actually a moose someone crashes into while driving. I'm not opposed to anything I see in the trailer, but I also see nothing in it that really excites me in the way the It trailer did. I also have nothing by which to judge the behind-the-camera talent, as the show was developed by Christian Thorpe, who seems to have had a healthy career in Danish television, but whose work I have not heard of previously.

The show seems to have an interesting look, the cool grey-blue of the mist and the warmer yellow tones of what could either be flashbacks or merely just interior shots. The series seems to be changing a lot, and inventing a lot of new characters, which is a necessity when adapting such a short story into an ongoing series. I know some people are going to be upset by the changes, that's just the nature of these things. Myself, I'm a fan of diverging from the source material. If a movie or TV show is too faithful, I start to wonder what the point of it was, because I could always just read the book again if I wanted the exact same story. 

Rik: And yet, we often gripe if an adaptation adds too many new characters and ignores the original ones, or veers away too, too far from the source material, or (and this seems to be the worst offender for many people) doesn't include their very favorite scenes or dialogue in the final product (even if those "very favorite scenes or dialogue" were extraneous to the actual plot of the story or were throwaway lines meant to fill space). Damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I agree with you that I don't mind veering from the original, but the approach has to feel organic to me, like it could have been included in the original product if the author had seen fit to turn that direction with the characters. Just creating new characters and locations for the sake of creating new characters and locations makes me wonder why they purchased the rights to such a property in the first place. Why not just create an entire new story (apart from the obvious marketing possibilities of using a name brand like Stephen King)?

I am going to say that I am as excited for the new series for The Mist as I am the new It adaptation or the upcoming Castle Rock series. That is, it is still too early to tell much of anything from a mere trailer that isn't roughly the length of the one for that stupid looking movie about the lonely teen boy who lives on Mars coming back to Earth to get busy with a girl (though in a completely wholesome way, of course). You know, the sort of trailer that lays out the entire story to you in strictly chronological fashion, with every beat of the script hit along the way. Here, with The Mist trailer, we don't get that, thankfully, as it is but a taste of what potentially lies within the show. As a result, I am going to withhold judgment on the characters that may be in the new series (honestly, I last read the novella over 25 years ago, and don't really remember anyone in it either, just the mist itself). 

I am also going to not comment on the look of things either, because scenes in trailers are often shown in altered or (more often) incomplete form from the finished product, whether due to effects shots or post-production not being completed, or cut scenes or scrapped footage being added to flesh out the trailer a bit, or filters being overlaid on the product as well. Trailers are often the very worst way to judge a finished film or series because of all these factors. 

The main question for any trailer is this: Did it pique my interest in the property, even a tad? Yes, a tad. I really enjoyed the Darabont version of the story (reminding you yet again that I had not read the story recently even then), and for all I didn't remember about the original work, it really didn't matter because the film was constantly engaging, frightening, and thrilling by turns. That is really what you want from such a film, whether it is adapted from a popular novella or not, and I got that result. Does it look like I will get it from The Mist series? Too soon to tell. I would rather get a couple of episodes into the series, and then maybe we should have a discussion about where we think it will take us from that point. 

Until then, It... Castle Rock... The Mist... even The Dark Tower adaptation... I am eagerly awaiting them all equally, but they will each have to do some heavy lifting to win me over ultimately.

Aaron: I think we're in general agreement about this: intrigued but withholding judgment until we actually get to see the show. I will reiterate that I'm less excited for this than I am the other upcoming projects. Castle Rock is exciting for its mystery and J.J. Abrams pedigree; the show at this point could be anything, and it comes from someone with a proven track record in this arena. It is exciting because, not to jump ahead too far, the source novel is one of my all-time favorites. The Dark Tower is interesting because it seemed like such an impossibility for so long that I'm curious to see how they'll tackle the sprawling series of novels (and, if you have read the books and have read any news about the movies, some really exciting and intriguing changes have already been teased). The Dark Tower series eventually ties in to almost everything Stephen King has written, and one of the aspects I'm wondering about is how they'll handle that. With the various novels of Stephen King licensed to various competing studios, will The Dark Tower films be allowed to cross over into the world of The Stand (which is pretty integral to the plot for awhile)? The Mist, on the other hand, just doesn't inspire the same curiosity. Perhaps it's Stephen King overload in 2017 (perish the thought!), perhaps it's the fact that some of the changes in the trailer (the implication that the mist itself is sentient) don't fill me with wonder, or perhaps it's just that the movie is so recent and was itself such a solid adaptation. 

But let's not kid ourselves here, I will no doubt be watching this once the series premieres on Spike on June 22nd. Or, to be honest, once it makes its way to Hulu or some other streaming service.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: It (2017)

Aaron: Despite the lack of visible activity on this blog (we're working on it, we swear!), 2017 continues to promise a veritable smörgåsbord of high quality Stephen King adaptations. On the television front, we not only have the mysterious Castle Rock project for Hulu (previously discussed on this very site) but we can also look forward to Mr. Mercedes, a series based on the first book in a trilogy following retired police detective Bill Hodges, and a television adaptation of The Mist, previously brought to the big screen (and fairly successfully at that) by Frank Darabont. Yet the big news still belongs to the big screen, as two of Stephen King's most high profile titles and most long awaited adaptations are nearing their release dates in theatres: The Dark Tower, and It. And, uhm, something called C.U.J.O.: Canine Unit Joint Operations, which is a title I don't even want to begin to parse at this time.

It was previously filmed in 1990 as an ABC mini-series that not surprisingly lost a lot of the depth and history of the novel, while The Dark Tower has long been considered a fan's pipe dream: something that no studio in their right mind would ever greenlight in a way that would adequately convey seven books (along with several novellas and spinoff novels) into a feature film, or series of films. The Dark Tower has been in some form of production for a few years now, with Ron Howard moving the ball forward with an ambitious plan to release a series of tentpole feature films with a television series to fill in the gaps between theatrical releases. I think everyone pretty quickly assumed that would never happen, and I know for myself I immediately assumed the project would fade back into development hell. And yet here it is 2017, and The Dark Tower is now in post-production, featuring a pretty exciting looking cast and a fairly eye-catching poster:

Today's big news, probably already known by people visiting this site, is the release of a teaser trailer for It. This is news that was actually announced yesterday, with a short "teaser for the teaser," because that's how advertising for a movie works on the internet these days. The teaser doesn't offer much, but it is full of all the classic It signifiers: the sewer, the talk of clowns, "we all float down here".

Promptly this morning the full trailer was released to the world, and it's full of everything you could possibly want from an It trailer: 

It's hard to imagine many people being disappointed by what's on display here, as it looks to be a supremely faithful, and supremely creepy, adaptation. I understand many fans were upset about the updating of events for the movie, changing the two settings from the 1950s and 1980s to the '80s and present day, but for several reasons that doesn't bother me. I know '80s nostalgia is all the rage these days (as it has been for, seemingly, three decades), and it could seem like cheap nostalgia, but that's pretty much the same argument that could have been made about the '50s when the novel first came out. Beyond that, it allows the segments following the characters as adults to take place firmly in the recognizable present.

Rik: I will say that I was not aware previously that there are supposedly going to be two separate films – one focusing on the kids experience in the '80s and the other based on their adult selves dealing in the present day – but watching the trailer, I noticed how it was all kids, all the time. Made me wonder where the adults were, and the notion that maybe they were doing two films crossed my mind. Their omission from the trailer does not automatically mean that the adult versions of the children are not in the film itself, and it is also likely that the producers were just attempting to cash in on the current success of Stranger Things. But also likely is the fact that the grown-up versions of the kids will mostly be played by some recognizable name talent, to help put butts in seats beyond the King crowd, and so if it were nothing but a self-contained, single story film, anything more than a brief glimpse of the second half of the book would have the trailer speed-flashing through a series of worried adult faces somewhere deep in its running time.

The problem is that I am having trouble finding a more current article than summer 2016 (Variety) and a couple of also not current mentions on the Wikipedia pages for both the film and the book that the two-film production is still a thing. To be fair, I have not dug really deep into my normal research style, because the truth is that I have a lot of bigger fish to fry right now (which is part of the problem of why this website has not updated as frequently as we would wish, including the last couple parts of the ALL CARRIE coverage we promised back in October).

One other thing... about that poster for The Dark Tower... all I can think about when seeing it is... Inception. But then again, that is what I was thinking when I first saw the trailer for Doctor Strange.

Aaron: I also flashed on Inception when I saw that poster, but what quickly replaced my initial feeling of familiarity was enjoyment at how the negative space in the poster makes an image of the Tower itself. That, and if you look closely you can see a tiny Matthew McConaughey walking upside down. 

I was also unaware of the two film plan, though I think I, too, read something about it awhile back. I tend to not read a lot of press materials these days, or read casting announcements or interviews detailing plots. Not that I'm worried about spoilers, I just prefer to discover these things as I watch the film, and then go back later to find out the behind the scenes details if I'm still interested. What I did find most amusing about the time frame is that Finn Wolfhard (who played Mike in Stranger Things and will play the young Richie Tozier in It) is apparently having trouble escaping the '80s.

One more note, because we really should save this for when we actually cover the book and movie, is my initial thoughts on Pennywise. Pennywise isn't actually shown very much in this trailer, beyond a couple quick glimpses, a white glove with claws coming out, and that jump-scare shot at the end, but here's a full image of what he's going to look like:

It took me awhile to come around on the costume, and I'm still not entirely sold on it. I'm also still not sold on Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, who I primarily know from his work on Hemlock Grove. That may not be the best work to judge his abilities on, though, as I imagine it would have been impossible for even the greatest actors to make that show compelling. But this trailer has gone a long way towards allaying my fears about the tone of this film, so I'm willing to go with it and say that I am solidly optimistic about this film.

Rik: I must say, having avoided Hemlock Grove on your advice (which doesn't mean I will necessarily avoid it in the future if I am bored, and other friends take note... Aaron is one of the few people in the world from whom I take movie or television recommendations. At least, seriously...), I have looked into Mr. Skarsgård's fairly short filmography and found that I am severely lacking in having seen anything he has ever done. This is something I cannot say of either his father Stellan or his brothers Alexander and Gustaf, though I can say it of his other brothers Sam and Valter. (But not of his brother Darrell or his other brother Darrell...) As a result, I have nothing on which to base an opinion of him, though as you mentioned, he is barely seen in the trailer.

As to the costume, I rather like it. It has an older European circus aesthetic to it, and may be a good choice since our country is littered with fake (and potentially real) evil clowns dressed in what has become acceptable as de rigueur in American clown cosplay. Pennywise is fine and all (and the only reason I even like Pennywise from the merely decent to only OK mini-series is the fact that Tim Curry played him), but what I am more interested in anyway – being a non-human monster guy – is what the spider will look like. Give me a call when that is revealed...

I will say that this trailer has me excited about the finished product. I am not the biggest fan of the book, mostly owing to the creepy and tone-deaf child orgy scene (my opinion, but it is what took me out of the book for the remainder of the story, though I did finish it). As a result, I was only slightly excited to see the mini-series. I remember that I almost missed out on recording it at the time of its airing but one of my friends reminded me of it the hour before it aired. And as I mentioned in the last paragraph, my opinion of the TV version runs pretty lukewarm except for a couple of excellent performances in it. I am looking forward to giving the book another shot, this time with even more mature eyes and brain, and think it is pretty swell they are (potentially) breaking the film up into two parts to give the story and characters room to breathe and grow.

Aaron: I have plenty to say in response to your revelations within those last two paragraphs, but I think they'll have to wait for now. What I will point out is that Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with Janie Bryant, the designer of the new costume, and she goes into great detail about her intentions in designing the new look. You can click here for the link, but be warned that the EW website is a huge mess. One takeaway I enjoyed was the idea that a lot of choices in the profile of the costume are to suggest the shape of an insect's cephalothorax. I do have to admit that some of my uncertainty about the look comes from how... bizarre and wrong it all feels. Our collective thoughts on the two It films will certainly be shared later this year when the film hits theatres; we wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves. And yet all these announcements have us pretty excited for at least one aspect of 2017. We hope you'll stick with us as we bring this site back up to speed and join us on all the creepy good times ahead.

[One final note: It, directed by Andrés Muschietti (who previously helmed the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Mama in 2013) will arrive in American theatres on September 8th.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Who Will (probably) Watch: Castle Rock

Anyone reading this blog, not directed here personally by one of the authors, is undoubtedly aware that Stephen King and J.J. Abrams recently announced a new project together. In typically cryptic Abrams fashion, the news was teased with an odd image tweeted out from Bad Robot, Abrams' production company.

The tweet led to a youtube video that turned out to be a teaser for a new program on hulu entitled Castle Rock, a name that should be familiar to even the most casual Stephen King readers. Castle Rock is a town in the King's fictional version of Maine, the setting for many of his stories, and referenced in much of the rest of his works. It is, also, the name of a production company started by Rob Reiner after the success of Stand By Me, an adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Body.

Stephen King himself was a bit more direct in his announcement of the news, posting the video to facebook with the simple statement "JJ Abrams and I want to invite you to take a trip to Castle Rock. Soon. Be afraid."

As you can see from the video, details are fairly scarce. This being an Abrams production, we now have more questions than answers. What we see primarily amounts to a bunch of character and place names from Stephen King works (and also Richard Bachman, his occasional pseudonym), overlaid with snippets of dialogue culled from those same stories. This doesn't give us a whole lot to go on. Is Castle Rock a series about Stephen King and his works? If so, the dialogue would presumably come from the previously released films, but everything said in the trailer is a new recording. So is it an anthology series pulling from Stephen King's entire career? Possibly, but the interlocking strands we follow, eventually forming a roadmap of Maine, seem to imply that everything is connected. So will this series be a shared-universe style adaptation of the works of Stephen King, a travelogue of his fictional Maine? That seems like a promising concept, but I'm not sure I'd put money on that right now. And what about the prominent inclusion of references to The Shining, which takes in Colorado (where, incidentally, a real-life Castle Rock can be found)?

The involvement of J.J. Abrams, noted Stephen King fan, is at least a promising sign. Their previous collaboration, 11.22.63 was a superlative adaptation of one of King's best works, an adaptation that knew what to keep, what to change, what to excise, and what to add in order to fit the serialized format. I'm fairly certain this show will lean more to that side of the spectrum than, say, Under The Dome (which boasted its own Lost alums in creative roles) or SyFy's Haven, which I've written about before and was possibly even more tenuously related to Stephen King than The Lawnmower Man.

As of this moment, Castle Rock does have an imdb page, but it is conspicuously free of any information. According to Stephen King, our questions will be answered soon. But that just brings up one more question: how soon?

UPDATE: Between the original writing of this short announcement and my actually getting around to posting it, Bad Robot put out a press release that may answer some of the questions I brought up. You can read it on several other sites, if you so desire, but I'll highlight some pertinent information.

The press release makes reference to the Stephen King multiverse, and says that "Castle Rock combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King's best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland" and "an original suspense/thriller - a first-of-its-kind reimagining that explores the themes and worlds uniting the entire King canon." I'm still unsure how The Shining will factor into this, but perhaps that was used primarily for name recognition in the teaser.

We also get the names of the showrunners, who will be guiding the show while King and Abrams produce. Sam Shaw, who has written for Masters of Sex, and serves as writer/producer/creator of Manhattan. He'll be joined by Dustin Thomason, another producer/writer on Manhattan and Lie to Me.

The press release actually makes it sound like the show might not have been filmed yet, but whenever it appears (remember, King said 'soon') it looks like we'll have at least 10 episodes of Stephen King goodness to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Aaron Lowe: And we’re back! Throughout the past couple months we’ve been discussing Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie (1974), and the various filmed versions that resulted from it. So far we’ve discussed the original novel and De Palma’s 1976 movie. Most people are aware of that adaptation, and the more recent remake from 2013, but there are also a pair of lesser known films in between that seem to have made no waves at all. When we decided to cover Carrie as our first novel, I was actually most excited to finally catch up with these forgotten films. I made no assumptions as to their quality, but I was sure the movies would have some interesting facets to explore.

And so, without further ado, let’s get straight into our discussion of the 1999 theatrical release, The Rage: Carrie 2.

The Rage: Carrie 2

Aaron: As I said above, I had never seen The Rage before last week. Not only had I never seen it, but I had mostly forgotten about its existence. This is actually a bit odd for a pretty big-budgeted film ($21 million, for a horror film, in 1999!) given a nationwide release from a big studio (MGM). It’s also surprising for a film based on a book by one of my favorite authors, and a direct sequel to a beloved horror film. I vaguely recall seeing trailers for this film back in 1999, but it quickly slipped out of my awareness. I worked in a video store for years, and every time I’d come across the DVD case it was like seeing it for the first time. “What? They made a sequel to Carrie? Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” And yet I never watched the film.

It does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it? A Carrie sequel in 1999? I’m not sure why the idea to do a sequel was put forward when, at that point in time, a remake would probably have made more sense. The Rage: Carrie 2 came out twenty-three years after the original film, a film in which all of the primaries, including the title character, are killed at the end. Of course, not every character died at the end of the original, and Sue Snell’s survival provides the tenuous connection between the De Palma film and this one, which for all intents and purposes is otherwise unrelated.

So, Rik, I’m curious as to your history with this film. Had you seen The Rage before, or like me did it fall off your radar? And what do you think of the very idea of a Carrie sequel in the first place?

Rik: Nope, it did not fall off my radar. In fact, I was not only aware of the film when it came out, I actually saw it in a theatre. I will likely get into some of my specific reactions to seeing it later in this discussion when we touch on story points, but it will not be surprising to find out that I was disappointed, even though my expectations were not great in the first place. Instead of being mad that I spent the money on a movie ticket, I owned my purchase from the start, knowing that I was probably not going to see anything decent.

Since then, I did see the film again on video a couple of years later when I decided to watch both films back to back in conjunction with the 2002 television adaption being released (which we will get to in our next edition). I watched the film, for no real reason at all except that I had pretty much forgotten it, for a third time in 2010. (Hooray for film diaries and Letterboxd!)

There is another connection between the films, and even though it is supposed to be a big reveal in the film at a certain point, knowledge of this connection was widely used in the film’s promotional materials. Otherwise, how would you answer the question, “How is this film connected to Carrie?” Rachel Lang, the main character in this film (she is not named Carrie), and Carrie White from the first film are supposedly half-sisters, because the man who impregnated Margaret White, Ralph White, also got Rachel’s mother, Barbara Lang all knocked up before the events in this film take place. It is also not a surprise that the ultra-fundamentalist Ralph ends up with two women with basically the same whacked-out viewpoint on what is going on with their daughters, and treats them both in an equally shitty way. (He apparently has no problem sleeping around, despite the supposed morals espoused by his religious fervor. Oh, temptation…)

Truth be told, the film could have existed without any such trumped up connection and just had it be the tale of another case of a person with telekinesis whose powers are unleashed under tragic circumstances. The film didn’t even need Sue Snell, but it is interesting to find out that actress Amy Irving, who played the role in both films, sought the blessing of Brian De Palma before taking the role in the latter film. I know Hollywood is in love with sequels and remakes, and they don’t trust original stories or for films to stand on their own feet at all, but I think the half-sister connection is too much of a stretch. I would have rather seen a film, if it had to have any connection to the first film, that saw Sue Snell just move on to another school as a counselor a number of years after the incident, meet a girl who reminds her eerily of Carrie White, and then do everything she can to avoid another similar tragedy. That is essentially what we get here, but the filmmakers have to trick it out to force a double connection.

How did you feel about the Ralph White connection, Aaron?

Aaron: Well, this is awkward, because your entire statement covers, almost to a T, the exact same sentiments I had prepared to continue this piece. How do I feel about the Ralph White connection? Well, the man certainly had a type, didn’t he? It also suggests other sequels. The timing is a bit odd already; Rachel in this film is roughly the same age as Carrie was in the previous film, which means there’s at least a 22-year gap between the births of his daughters. What about the intervening years? Could Ralph White have been hopping from reclusive religious zealot to reclusive religious zealot, staying just long enough to father telekinetic children before leaving the harried, ill-prepared mother to deal with the consequences? Twenty-two years; we could have over a dozen films about telekinetic teens causing havoc in high schools.

In all sincerity, the half-sister revelation is wholly unnecessary, as you say. I had the same thought you had; a superior sequel to Carrie could have been made by focusing on Sue Snell and her attempts to deal with lingering PTSD while also trying to atone for her part in the original film’s tragedy by helping a kid in a similar situation. We get glimpses of that film here, as that roughly describes Amy Irving’s arc, but she is in the end a fairly minor character. Sue Snell shows up a handful of times to pretty much remind the audience of what happened in the first film through the use of some helpful flashbacks.

Unnecessary is a word that could very well describe the entire film. I’ll admit that I didn’t hate this movie quite the way I expected to, but I also didn’t think it made a very good case for its existence. I normally dislike that type of critique, because I don’t think a movie always needs a “point,” and it certainly shouldn’t need one that fulfills our preconceived notions. And yet, I kept asking myself “Why a sequel to Carrie?” as I watched The Rage. I think this movie would have been improved if the connections to the De Palma film had been lessened. The Rage does nothing to deepen or extend the original in any meaningful way, and instead tells a similar story with an updated setting.

While The Rage is not exactly a carbon copy of Carrie, we can still use your tongue-in-cheek synopsis of the original to accurately describe this film: the wrong teenagers pick on the wrong girl with the right superpower at the wrong time. There are some fairly large differences between Carrie and Carrie 2, most notably in the demeanor and social standings of the two films’ main characters, but The Rage: Carrie 2 still feels awfully familiar. Rachel and Carrie both get a taste of popularity through flirtations with popular football players, which serves to further the anger felt by those who seek to punish them. Both films feature a scene in an English class where the aforementioned football players get a chance to prove their soulful sides. And both films have a scene where the heroine bashfully tries on lipstick in a department store while a disapproving clerk looks on.

Those are just surface similarities, while of course there are the broader similarities inherent to stories about a social misfit running afoul of some popular kids and exacting her revenge through the use of telekinesis during a party at the end of the film. But The Rage lacks a central metaphor as rich as the menstruation/puberty metaphor in Carrie, which increases the feeling that this film is a pale imitation of the original. I’m not even sure if there is a central metaphor to The Rage, other than the typical “high school sucks” attitude most teen horror films adopt.

Rik, this film was originally titled The Curse, which seems more thematically relevant to the first film, although it would of course have fit for this one. I kind of see the title change as one of the many indications of when this film was made in the late nineties, as part of the trend to label all youth oriented marketing as “extreme” in some way. There are a lot of wonderfully stupid details that mark this film as dated to a very particular time period for me, including the lead being a cute goth girl (or goth-influenced, we should say), the random black and white moments in the film, and the fact that someone is killed with a stack of flying CDs. As someone who spent his entire teen years in the nineties, these moments were equally endearing and annoying. How did they strike you?

Rik: Obviously, I couldn’t relate to them in the same way, since my teen years started the year after the first Carrie came out, but I did recognize them as being of their particular time. They were neither bothersome or endearing to me, merely details in what I found to be a rather by-the-book affair. The fact that it is that way is not surprising to me, given that the director is Katt Shea (sometimes credited as Katt Shea Ruben). The Rage: Carrie 2 probably represents what was supposed to be her highest point in her filmography, after having a small critical (but not financial) success with Streets in 1990 (with Christina Applegate in what was supposed to be a breakthrough dramatic role) and then some decent notice with a Drew Barrymore thriller, Poison Ivy in 1992. Neither film really thrilled me at all, being what I considered fairly average films, though I am slightly more fond of the films with which Shea started out her career “stripper thriller” subgenre: Stripped to Kill (1987) with Kay Lenz, and even better, Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls, with Maria Ford. (Because of Maria, I was definitely more fond of Stripped to Kill 2 when it played on Skin-emax and other cable channels a zillion times over back in the day. Not sure if I would be into her today though. Tastes, as well as tassels, change...)

I think the most striking difference between the films (apart from quality) is the fact that Rachel and Carrie are not similar at all in social status. Carrie was, almost by complete force of her mother’s will, an outcast amongst her peers at school, whereas Rachel not only seems to be fairly well-liked by many, she even obviously has her own complete group of friends. Sure, those friends tend not to be among the actual “popular” set at the school, i.e. jocks, cheerleaders, and rich kids, but what I am saying is that she is not hurting for friendship and attention amongst her peer group. At home is another matter, where her mother – nearly a clone of Margaret White – has been institutionalized (rightly) and she lives with foster parents (the father is played by John Doe of the punk rock group X, one of my all-time favorite bands; he is not that great here as the foster dad though, but pretty stiff, though he is fine in other parts, especially Border Radio and on TV’s Roswell).

Rachel is especially tight with Lisa, played by Mena Suvari, who frankly looks better in this film than most of the ritzier, more popular girls at the school. (While The Rage was released in the same year as both films, Suvari was just breaking through in 1999 with her appearances in both American Beauty and American Pie). Rachel and Lisa even have matching tattoos on their arms to show their bond, so naturally you know something horrible is going to happen to Lisa to make Rachel go bonkers. This is where The Rage gets any real drive it has, as the boys on the football team are involved in an unseemly game with dire emotional consequences and crippling physical abuse. And, no, I am talking about far beyond just the sport of football itself. The football players keep a “notebook” (I’d call it a diary, but they would probably try to beat me up) in which they assign an arbitrary point system each time one of them sleeps with one of the girls in the school. Since they pretty much dump each girl once they tag her, hearts and minds are broken but the team thinks it just great fun. For Lisa, once she becomes yet another victim of the game, it will drive her to suicide fairly early in the film, when she walks right off the surprisingly easily accessible roof of the high school. (Suvari’s relatively small role would be considered barely above a cameo had she already been famous when The Rage was released). Lisa splats into a car window below, and one of the jocks is even brazen enough – and quite settled into being completely unafraid of any repercussions from their “prank” –  to mock her openly in front of the shocked crowd that gathers.

The filmmakers apparently based the game on a real life incident that made the news in 1993 when a group that called themselves “the Spur Posse,” pulled an exactly similar stunt on teenage girls in their hometown of Lakewood, California. In watching the film again with the Trump “locker room talk” conversation in the air everywhere, the discussion and playing of the points game added an even grimier layer of filth to the proceedings for me than it did the first three times I saw it. It was already there and creepy enough as it was, but current circumstances can often alter one’s view of information already gained. How did this section of the film play for you, Aaron?

Aaron: That’s an interesting question, and one I’ve actually been pondering since first watching this film. I’m not surprised to hear the jocks’ game of scoring their sexual partners was based on a true story, as I’ve come to realize that in the vastness of the world and human history, everything under the sun has been done, and human cruelty knows no bounds. Surprisingly, however, this view of the jocks was not at all in line with my own high school experience, so I found it to be one of the more tone-deaf aspects of the film.

I have always been a bookish and not particularly physically gifted individual, and yet for a few years I was, strangely, involved in the world of organized competitive athletics. In junior high and high school, I was on both the swim team and the cross-country ski teams. Admittedly that crowd is a far cry from the football team, but I still spent time in the company of people who did play football and other more popular high school sports, and I will say that none of them behaved as unconscionably as the kids we watch in The Rage. The “jocks” I socialized with or shared science class with were, almost uniformly, polite, intelligent, and friendly. There were a few outliers, of course, as with any large group, but they tended to experience an inverse popularity and were not immediately granted acceptance due to their sports aptitude.

Likewise, I feel that the guys who would behave this way would not have been so popular with the ladies. The girls I knew in high school would, I believe, not have been fooled by the guys in this film. Before you accuse me of romanticizing my high school years, it should be said that this is not a time in my life that I view through rose-colored glasses. I think it’s entirely likely that there were some fairly piggish discussions I was not around for, and certainly my own views of women could be far from enlightened at that age, but I’d say it was just your standard, ill-informed and ignorant talk among adolescent boys with limited experience when it came to the opposite sex. Whatever Mr. Trump would like people to believe, what he said would not be considered locker room talk in the real world, although it would not have sounded out of place coming from the mouth of one of the football players in this film. There’s a brazenness about the boys in The Rage, a shamelessness and entitlement that made it all worse (taunting a girl dead from suicide is a case in point).

Honestly, my first impression of this aspect of the film was that it was all way too over the top. It all seemed to be a bit of “broadcast news expose” fearmongering. “Do you know what your daughters are doing with the captain of the football team?!” Hearing that it was based on true events doesn’t erase my initial feelings, but I will admit that the film effectively made me hate every single one of The Rage’s villains. Very early on it got to the point where I couldn’t wait for Rachel’s ultimate revenge, but I also couldn’t understand why she was buying into their facade. As you pointed out, Rachel is not without friends, she has a job, a fairly stable home life, and seems generally to be well-adjusted. She certainly doesn’t seem like someone who’s always admired the “in crowd,” so I’m not sure why she suddenly gets so excited when she’s invited to parties with them. On top of that she already knows her best friend committed suicide because of one of the football players, and is in possession of proof of the boy’s involvement, proof that could get the boy charged with statutory rape. Why isn’t she more suspicious when all of the football players, and their girlfriends, suddenly start being nice to her?

This is all facilitated by Rachel’s own burgeoning relationship with one of those football players, Jesse (Jason London), again a development she really should have been more suspicious of. But their feelings are real, as Jesse befriends Rachel out of guilt for his own behavior, and a genuine attraction to her. But that presents another problem for me. Jesse is the male hero of this film, the love interest that is meant to break Rachel out of her shell, in an echo of Tommy Ross from the original. And yet his involvement in the notebook game, and the fact that he sleeps with his girlfriend in front of, and for the amusement of, his teammates is fairly repulsive. Jesse treats his girlfriend, Tracy, pretty coldly after he’s done, and it’s supposed to be because he feels shameful and is turned off by how he’s going along with his teammates just to fit in, but he just seems like a real dick. He’s ostensibly one of the heroes of this film, and I get it, you do what you have to to survive high school. During those years your judgment is not the best and you do some bad things that, if you’re a decent person, you will eventually regret, but I found it hard to overlook his shitty behavior just because he felt real bad about it.

You mentioned that a lot of this film was re-contextualized for you when viewed in light of Donald Trump’s disgusting comments (and actions, let’s not forget about those) about women and his sense of sexual entitlement. I agree with your sentiment, but there’s another instance of real world events changing perceptions of this film that I’d like to discuss. The Rage: Carrie 2 was released on March 12, 1999. One month later, on April 20, two students would walk into their high school in Colorado and exact their own revenge on the classmates they felt had wronged them. It’s hard to remember now, after 18 years of school violence and increasingly common mass shootings, but the cultural climate in early 1999 was very different than it is today. In early 1999, it was acceptable to have a black-clad, industrial music-loving, social misfit kill a large number of their classmates, but by late 1999, this film would not have been released.

The Rage cannot be held responsible for Columbine, even indirectly. At the risk of opening up a huge can of worms, I’ve never agreed with the argument that onscreen violence causes real life violence. Possibly I’m biased, because I watch a lot of horribly violent movies and have never been in a fight in my life. For all the pitchfork rattling regarding onscreen violence in the months and years after Columbine, it is interesting to see that apparently no one thought to include The Rage in those condemnations. I don’t mean to completely derail this piece, but it is a sad truth about our lives these days, and I believe it should at least be mentioned here. Of course, Carrie movies did get released after 1999, two of them, and I believe they will each entail their own discussions about American culture as a whole. I’m just wondering if this knowledge affected your viewing of Carrie 2 in a way that maybe you didn’t process when you first saw this in 1999, before schoolyard violence had become such a prevalent part of daily life in America.

Rik: I certainly thought about the film briefly post-Columbine, because I had seen it only weeks before, and when the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode titled Earshot started up a controversy a few months later, I do remember scenes from the original Carrie being used in news reports on the air, but do not recall any scenes from The Rage being shown in a similar way. This is not to say they weren’t used as examples of school violence in movies at that time, but just that I really just recall Carrie being served up because it is a far more memorable and famous film, and therefore more jarring when scenes from it are used to perhaps overdramatize a point on a news program.

I think that from all the evidence collected from the Columbine case that The Rage: Carrie 2 was never mentioned as a possible trigger for the killers. It is my guess, although the film came out just a few weeks before, that the murderers never saw the film. I saw the film in a theatre (because I am a dope), and a couple of my friends who were with me, but it seems nobody else did. With worldwide figures added in, The Rage came close but did not quite make back its $21 million budget (though that figure is not taking into account marketing and print costs, which would drive it up even further; why these are not added from the outset to the final budget figure is beyond me).

There are a couple of aspects of this film that I do really like. The first is Emily Bergl’s performance. It is a thankless task to be brought in for the sequel (albeit 23 years later) to a film where the actress who played the title role was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. I don’t want to make this a “Oh boo hoo, poor pampered Hollywood actress gets an opportunity for which most people would kill” scenario, as it really wasn’t that. The part of Rachel was not only Bergl’s very first theatrical role, she only had one other credit on television previous to this film. She was a babe in the woods. While I have problems with the way her character is handled late in the film (some of which Aaron mentioned above), I think Bergl’s performance is about as good as you could hope under the circumstances. She has an appealing presence, enough so that it is hard to believe that every single person in that school isn’t in love with her (or at least has some secret crush on her) in some manner. That may be a failure of casting, if that wasn’t the intent, but it is not Bergl’s fault. When I first saw the film, Bergl seemed to remind me of somebody else, and I eventually figured out it was Carrie Hamilton, Carol Burnett’s late daughter, who appeared in Tokyo Pop (a film that I, at one point, had some familiarity).

The other aspect that I did enjoy is the relative bloodiness of the film, in a way that far surpasses the original film (not counting that bucket of pig’s blood, of course). The filmmakers seem to take a small delight in its violence, whether having Lisa throw herself off a roof through a car window and then have everyone gawk at her or adding the gratuitous detail of having Rachel’s beloved dog run over in the middle of the night. (Don’t worry… the dog lives; he’s just a device to get her together with Jason London and to lead to all the sex stuff.)

When Carrie had her big prom meltdown, there was a real sense of otherworldliness to her, as if her soul had transported out of her body, and she was just pure vengeance unleashed. There was supposed to be a disconnect between when she used her powers and her real self, so even when the violence is unleashed on those who have caused Carrie great pain or torment (even her mother), while the audience takes great satisfaction in seeing Carrie take her revenge, it seems less personal to Carrie herself. The prom scene is (for the most part) exits being barred, hoses being moved about and sprayed at people and musical equipment, people getting shocked from the meeting of water with electricity, the gym catching on fire, and then Carrie flipping and blowing up Billy’s car. The only scene (besides Miss Collins getting crushed) that seems overly gratuitous is the final battle with her mother, where Carrie thankfully impales the psycho with every sharp object in the kitchen.

With Rachel, while she too seems to go into a sort of trance while exhibiting her great power, it almost feels like the revenge is a lot more personal. Let’s say the stakes are amped up anyway on the embarrassment level: being ridiculed over a lack of knowledge of one’s own feminine hygiene and then tricked into being prom queen where blood is dumped on your head versus having your best friend and yourself tricked into having sex with jocks and then getting mocked publicly about it (and with a suicide resulting in her friend’s case). I think Rachel really has it all over Carrie in the “Need to Get Revenge” department, and I think the results show that Rachel, despite her trance, seems to take a little more delight in her executions.

After we see another example of the “X-treme” culture influence (and CGI effects) on the film – where Rachel’s arm tattoo grows and lengthens down her arm to her hand before her attack, like a loyal snake or a vine – the attacks starts out with the party crowd being sprayed with shattering glass, which even beheads one victim. Naturally, a fire will break out and consume many of the guests, but mixed in there is a harpoon that Rachel manipulates and whirls around looking for a victim, finally embedding through a jock’s head but also through the front door where it goes through the peeping eye of one Sue Snell, effectively killing the only original Stephen King character left. 

Unlike the De Palma film, this film delights in seeing the blood splattered everywhere and dripping down from wounds. One of the big moments occurs when Rachel uses her power to pick up an entire stack of CDs from near the stereo, fans them out in the air, and then shoots them across the room like so many shuriken into the heads, faces, and chests of several partygoers. It would be a real nifty trick if the Cenobites hadn’t already pulled this gag first (and with far more gore) in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth back in 1994. Finally, there is a bit where one of the most obnoxious jocks who has ended up in the pool has the pool cover closed slowly over him by Rachel and then we see long shots of him trying to fight his way out of being trapped before he finally gives up the ghost. For a girl who is surrounded by chaos, fire, and screaming victims, and who seems so intent on murdering everyone within range in her blind rage, it is a decidedly dedicated amount of time to spend on one victim, no matter what he has done.

Aaron: You mention that the stakes for Rachel – with her best friend driven to suicide and then heartbroken and publicly humiliated by the people responsible – are higher than they were for Carrie – mocked for her ignorance and then embarrassed publicly at Prom – but I actually felt like they were lower. Carrie was a true social misfit, someone who was so far outside of society that she was effectively an alien species walking through high school life. The brief taste she gets of normalcy is so intoxicating, so foreign and earth-shaking, that to have it pulled brutally out from under her understandably destroyed her grasp on sanity for awhile. In The Rage, Rachel is just too normal for the film’s own good. She’s socially adept, and despite the stigma of a mother in a mental institution, and probably some deep-seated psychological issues stemming from her childhood, she seems remarkably well adjusted. I kept expecting her home life to be the source of some tension, because movies tend to only show adoptive parents when there’s going to be some abuse involved, but that development never came. Sure the foster parents seem a bit strict at times, probably not the most loving couple, and maybe a bit flummoxed by Rachel’s teenaged attitude, but they don’t particularly seem like monsters who mentally or physically abuse Rachel. They seem like a pretty normal family to me.

Rachel has a small group of friends at school, a regular job, and a stable home life. In other words: she is a normal teenage girl in middle class America. This normalcy works against the film’s goals, because I never quite bought the Rage of the title. Rachel doesn’t seem to be harboring any vast reservoir of pent up aggression, aside from a few scenes where she experiences her powers. I can certainly empathize with a spectacular explosion of anger after what she goes through, but I didn’t quite feel like the depth of her rage was proportionate to what we had seen of her behavior so far. Of course, high school is a time of extreme emotions, and sudden outbursts of rage are to be expected, but the film doesn’t quite set up the extremity of the finale. Carrie White in the original film was an avatar of rage, taking her revenge to biblical levels. Rachel Lang goes bloodier, more brutal, more creative with her telekinetic powers, and I didn’t feel the film had earned that. Although, I also believe that it is to Katt Shea’s credit that she never tries to match, or outdo, the tour de force finale De Palma masterminded.

There was one pleasantly dark surprise for me in the finale, which you already mentioned above: the sudden and gory death of Sue Snell. Throughout the film Sue had been trying to help Rachel control her anger and her powers, and had finally struck on the idea of reaching out to Rachel’s mother. It is here that Sue, and the audience, learns of Rachel’s parentage, which gives Sue the idea to smuggle Rachel’s mother out of the mental institution in the hopes that some maternal love could help avoid a catastrophe. Arriving at the party, Sue chooses the exact wrong time to look through a peephole and meets a shocking end. This effectively echoes the journey of one Dick Halloran in Kubrick’s version of The Shining: a character who seems poised to become the deus ex machina that swoops in to save the day, only to be killed in a hilariously perfunctory manner. This does have the unfortunate effect of highlighting just how unnecessary Sue Snell was to the film, but it did make for a memorable moment.

In the end the rampage is stopped by Jesse arriving to the party and admitting he loves Rachel, which she disbelieves until she hears him saying the same thing on the sex tape that is still playing (filmed from an angle strategically chosen to not show genitalia, which was awfully considerate of those football players). Rachel saves Jesse as he’s about to be crushed by a falling beam, but is crushed in his place. She uses the last of her powers to push Jesse to safety before dying herself. What follows is an odd echo of the first film’s finale, as Jesse looks up from his studying a year later to see Rachel has climbed in through his dorm’s window. Before anything can be said, she kind of burns up and fades away before Jesse jumps awake. I’m not sure how I feel about this ending. On the one hand it underlines a point the film fitfully made, which is that trauma will haunt a person for their entire lives, but on the other hand the film failed to set this up or imbue it with any real emotion. Had the film focused more on Sue Snell, or at least developed that theme more fully, I think it could have been pretty effective. Once again I find myself imagining the movie this could have been, and that’s a little unfair to the movie that we did get, so I’ll leave it off at that.

Rik: While Carrie has been now remade twice more (one for TV and a recent theatrical remake), The Rage: Carrie 2’s failure at the box office seemed to have destroyed any thought of continuing the original series at a ridiculous Children of the Corn pace (thankfully). We will get into those other versions of the story in future installments, and whether they were worthy attempts or not, but I have to look at The Rage: Carrie 2 and say that they really fumbled the ball with this one, despite the couple of high points that I mentioned and the fact that they did try to coax a more modern and perhaps reflective story from the source material. The chief problem is that Rachel’s actions do not remain consistent late in the film to what we had seen earlier, and it therefore makes her character ultimately annoying. I would have rather seen her become more self-aware and in control of her powers, and then use them to not just gain her vengeance but to play the boys all along. (Yes, I know it is called The Rage for a reason, but perhaps that could have been the obstacle she truly has to overcome to grow into her true self.) They give us all the ingredients to make us believe that Rachel could turn into a true badass, but then have to ruin it all by being accidentally crushed by her own power. I would have much rather had her live instead of London’s weak character, where she has to live with the regrets of her actions but is strong enough to carry on through a world that is always going to be afraid of the implications of her power.

Aaron: That would be my complaint with this film in a nutshell: The Rage continually suggests the better movies that could have been made instead. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate this movie, or even particularly dislike it. I think it’s clear I have some serious problems with the film, but in general I enjoyed watching it, at least more than I initially thought I would. I found myself looking forward to a second rewatch, because at the very least Katt Shea creates a world that is enjoyable to inhabit for 90 minutes or so, despite the continual ugliness within the film. As you say, Emily Bergl does probably the best you could hope for with this material and character, and in fact I think most of the cast acquits themselves respectably (though, side note: it always bothers me when high school films use actors clearly in their twenties or thirties for the main characters, but populate the extras with age-appropriate teenagers). There is the basis of a good idea in this film, one that would have worked better under the original title The Curse, about how the tragedies of the past inform our daily lives no matter how we run from them, yet the film seems generally disinterested in that. I don’t even want to lay the blame on Katt Shea, who took over as director a few weeks into the production and was given very little prep time and a bunch of reshoots. Perhaps the original script described a better movie. I don’t think this is a film I’ll be adding to my Halloween rotation, but it’s also one I’m pretty sure I will revisit at least once or twice in the future.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Carrie (1976) [Pt. 2]

[Welcome to Part Two of our discussion regarding Brian De Palma's filmed version of Carrie. In the previous edition we discussed some of the changes De Palma made to the source material, along with some of the casting and directorial choices made along the way. But it seems like we only scratched the surface in our discussion of this film, so follow along as we finish up talking about that famous finale (both of them!), Brian De Palma's career in general, and Aaron demonstrate his ignorance of Judeo-Christian beliefs.]

Rik: We can get more into the actors and the screenplay or score and any other element of this film all we want, but when it comes right down to it, the real reason this film is as well-remembered as it is now, is the involvement of its hugely famous director. This film is prime Brian De Palma, and its success is, in my opinion, pretty much because he simply kills it throughout this film. I am saying this knowing full well that I am not as big a fan of De Palma’s as some people might think. I pretty much closed the book on being interested in his films following Carlito’s Way (which I loved) in 1993. Yes, I know he directed Mission: Impossible as his next film three years later, but I had to look up his credits to even remind myself of that. That is how far off my radar De Palma has fallen, and I watch at least 500 films a year on average (a low average, that is). I have not even seen De Palma’s last two films, though I did watch the four that followed Mission: Impossible, up through The Black Dahlia, which I found immensely disappointing given that I have been obsessed with that murder case for much of my adult life.

Luckily, Carrie falls right into that golden De Palma age (in my opinion), a period that runs from about 1972-1987: Sisters, The Phantom of the Paradise, The Fury, Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double. The Untouchables. I left out a couple of films on that chronological list for that period: Obsession (1976), because I did not see it until a few months ago (I felt it was more intriguing than it was successful as a film), and Scarface (1983), because I am actually not a fan of what I feel is a greatly overrated film (thanks to MTV Cribs for that!), but I will never say it is uninteresting or worthy of appreciation on certain levels. Oh yeah, and Wise Guys (1986), because apart from Dead Heat, Joe Piscopo roles don’t age all that well.

It’s funny, because I have recently begun talking to fellow film fans on the internet in various groups who all seem to worship every single frame De Palma has shot. I recognize that he has made some really cool films and a few truly great ones, and I used to be a drumbeater for De Palma around the same age as the guys of whom I am speaking. But I am sorry, not everything turns to gold once he films it. He has some real duds, and it will take some incredible heavy lifting on someone’s part to convince me that Mission to Mars or The Bonfire of the Vanities are worthwhile efforts.

Aaron, before we continue on with more Carrie, where are you in the Brian De Palma Appreciation Society?

Aaron: Well, it’s hard to say, actually. I haven’t seen a lot of his movies, including some of the big ones that you list as favorites, but of the films I have seen I enjoy most of them. Several I count as personal favorites, or at least films I return to frequently. The Untouchables, Carrie, The Fury, Raising Cain, and above all Phantom of the Paradise, which I adore. There are also several films in his oeuvre that I am somewhat less than enthralled with. Like you, I don’t get much enjoyment from Scarface or the first Mission: Impossible film. Mission to Mars was a film so dreadfully awful that when some friends and I went to see it theatrically, it prompted one of my buddies to say “that was so bad I want to punch someone” as the credits began to roll. And then there are some films that fall somewhere in the middle, as I tend to find something interesting concealed within almost everything he’s done. Take The Black Dahlia, which disappointed you, while I found the operatic explosion of gothic melodrama and grand guignol violence during the finale to be quite thrilling (even if the 90 minutes leading up to it were a tad dull). Or Passion, a somewhat recent remake of a French film about a professional rivalry with lesbian overtones. Amazingly, De Palma deemphasizes the sexuality in the film, which is completely against his nature, yet the film also includes one of his signature bravura split-screen sequences, and that made the film worthwhile for me.

So yes, I guess you could say I’m a fan of De Palma in general, though not one of those people on discussion boards you mention, who worship every frame he films. I feel like this resurgence in critical support is a bit of a recent phenomenon with De Palma, as only a few years ago I remember reading a lot of discussions where popular opinion seemed to consider him an overrated one-trick pony, too in love with the cleverness of his own stylistic tics. Certainly his Hitchcock obsession has been the constant source of some contention, as his critics tend to view it as creative theft while his fans see it as a thrilling integration of cinematic styles. I suppose I’m in the latter camp, as it’s clear that De Palma’s occasional aping of Hitchcock is not a sign of creative bankruptcy, but the result of De Palma thoroughly internalizing the work of a master he fervently admires, and using those techniques to probe at his own obsessions.

We’ve approached the finale of this film a couple of times so far, but I think I’d like to postpone that discussion for just a little bit. There’s at least one more bit of casting and characterization that I’d like to get into, and that’s William Katt in the role of Tommy Ross, Sue Snell’s boyfriend and Carrie White’s doomed date to the prom.

At the time I first saw Carrie, I knew Katt exclusively from his television show Greatest American Hero, which I loved as a kid. Over the years I’ve always enjoyed seeing William Katt whenever he would pop up. He has a likable presence, goofy and nerdy in a blonde, all-American way. In some ways, though it’s almost as odd to see him portray the popular jock as it is to see Travolta play the bad boy greaser. It works, however, and for me it fits better than the Travolta casting, because of a few minor changes to the Ross character. In the book there’s a bit of a cypher quality to Tommy Ross, as he’s clearly a good guy, but we see him only through the eyes of others. Always in relation to either Carrie or Sue. There’s enough of an unknown element at play that after the fatal events in the novel, people debate whether Tommy was in on Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan’s plan to humiliate Carrie. Of course, as readers we know that Tommy’s intentions were pure, but he also seems as easily led as Billy is, though in a much more decent way.

In the film version of Carrie, Tommy gets less scenes but also seems, to me, to be more fleshed out. Take the English class scene in the beginning, where the teacher is reading a poem written by Tommy Ross, while he sits and stares ahead in good natured embarrassment. When the teacher asks for criticisms, Carrie says, almost as if she doesn’t know she’s speaking aloud, “It’s beautiful.” The teacher begins to mock Carrie for not having an actual criticism, much to the general amusement of the class. The scene is framed interestingly, with Tommy Ross in closeup along the left side of the screen, while behind him we see Carrie, sitting at her desk and never once looking up from her book. She doesn’t even seem to notice the teasing, so used to it is she. But Tommy notices, and we see the good cheer drain from his face as he’s clearly bothered by the teacher’s reaction to Carrie, culminating in a muttered “you suck” which the teacher picks up on. In this early scene we’re given to understand that Tommy is a decent guy, smart and soulful, and even at this early stage he understands that Carrie is somebody special. Or at least somebody people worthy of kindness.

One other slight change in the character that I think is noteworthy; we only see Tommy and Sue together a couple of times. In the book they spend much more time together, including a couple of romantic getaways. There is a moment when Sue believes she may be pregnant with Tommy’s child, though this turns out to not be the case. In the film, however, Tommy spends much more time on screen with Carrie, and I always got the impression that there may have been some real feelings between them. Maybe not romantic feelings – Tommy was probably never going to leave Sue for Carrie – but I always felt like Tommy did have some affection for Carrie outside of just going along to appease his girlfriend. What are your thoughts on that, Rik?

Rik: I just felt he was a decent guy who, even with that, would possibly have gone along with the joke like everyone else (because that is basically what you do to get through school and even life sometimes) if it weren’t for the interference of Sue Snell. I think he understands what Sue is trying to do, even if he is a bit reticent, but once he gets into the date, I think he does start to feel something for Carrie. And I honestly think that he could possibly leave Sue for Carrie. I don’t see why it would be so out of bounds. There is the bit with the poem, and the fact that he admits that he didn’t write the poem that she liked. There is the kiss during the slow dance, and if there is a point where you have to decide whether he is playing her or not, it is that moment. When she finds out they are on the ballot for King and Queen, he is pretty open about how stupid the whole affair is, and his approach is  “why not go for it?” (the prophetic words are actually, “To the devil with false modesty”), keeping in mind that he knows nothing at all about what is being planned once Carrie is on the stage. I think Tommy is just a good dude, and honestly, as attractive as I found Amy Irving in those days, Spacek looks pretty damn gorgeous in her prom dress, and I think she looks far better than many of the girls who are mocking her at the prom. (P.J. Soles, definitely a cutie in most guy’s books, is wearing a goddamn baseball hat to the Senior Prom!) I don’t see it as a big leap to think that Tommy might actually have a thing for her, given that they did make a connection earlier in the film.

As for Katt, this was the first time he really made an impression on me in a role, as The Greatest American Hero didn’t come on TV for a few more years (in 1981). I had obviously seen him in guest roles on numerous shows, because I watched The Rookies, M*A*S*H, Kung Fu, Emergency!, and Kojak (for examples) as a kid, but except for having seen his M*A*S*H episode in reruns recently, I don’t remember him from those shows. His role in Carrie did make an impression on me, and when Hero came on, I remembered exactly where I saw him and who he played. More than Hero, I am fond of him from his role in the wacky horror-comedy House (1986). I feel Katt never really broke as huge as he should have. He was a good actor with an appealing personality, who had some pretty sharp comic timing. I still like seeing the guy when he shows up here and there. (I think the most significant recent role I remember was The Man from Earth in 2007.)

Getting back to that dance, whatever else he does in the film, De Palma really serves up a masterpiece of timing, tension, and suspense-building in the prom sequence. (First question I have: with so many people pouring into the gymnasium for the dance, how do Tommy and Carrie get such a prime parking spot, two cars from the front door?) De Palma’s use of his entire toolbelt is astounding in this sequence. The quick cutting between the multiple characters involved in Carrie’s humiliation, or the attempt to thwart it is stunning and almost hypnotic, as De Palma and editor Paul Hirsch juggle slow motion clips of Sue Snell discovering the plan and then being expelled bodily from the dance with closeups of Chris’ eyes and the licking of her lips as she plots to drop the pig’s blood, along with shots of Carrie living (for her) an almost unrecognizable and surreal fairy tale dream come true as she is crowned Queen of the Prom.

When the blood rains down and douses Carrie on the stage, the film stops cold. Except for Soles’ character, Norma, who laughs openly (but in complete silence; thankfully, De Palma never grants her a wild braying moment) and a couple of others in the crowd, everyone else stands stunned by what has happened. Tommy reacts protectively, but is killed by the metal bucket falling from the catwalk. Through Carrie’s eyes, though, everyone is laughing maniacally at her as she remembers her mother’s words that “They’re all going to laugh at you!” Her vision is a kaleidoscopic view of the entire room with closeups of laughing faces, even Ms. Collins, who tried to intervene on her behalf. Carrie loses herself completely, or from another view, finally becomes her true self, and is overcome by her supernatural powers. She wills the doors closed and locked, we get the trademark De Palma split screen with a simultaneous closeup of Carrie’s wild staring eyes and dour countenance next to her upper torso, caked in blood and red light against the starred, blue backdrop of the stage. It is a thrilling image.

When she unleashes her powers and all hell breaks loose inside the gym, and scores of kids and teachers are killed, for me, there is both horror at what happens and also a feeling of retribution at those that truly deserved it. Most don’t realize it is Carrie performing these acts, but some clearly catch on, including Ms. Collins, whom Carrie murders without a flinch and for whom we truly feel sorry. It is the scene where Spacek leaves the stage where her casting becomes the wisest decision they made on the film. The angularity of her body, combined with the cold stare she is able to invoke, while covered in blood and gore as she wades through the bodies surrounded by fire is a moment worthy of the reveal of the Bride of Frankenstein in my mind. Hers is a haunting visage through his segment, which continues through her doing away with Chris and Billy out on the road by flipping and then exploding Billy’s hot rod.

It’s funny that, as many times as I have seen Carrie, the prom destruction seems to go on for about a half an hour in my memory even though it is really only a few, tight, well-constructed and conceived minutes. As you mentioned, Carrie goes on a rampage and destroys much of the town in the book, but De Palma is clearly more interested in making the big finale of this film a confrontation between her religion-crazed mother and the daughter whom she considers to be of the devil himself. I feel the mother-daughter confrontation is a wise decision, even if I don’t agree with how literally he chooses to send to Carrie and her mother to hell. Maybe this is just the monster-rampage lover in me – but I would have loved to see Carrie go after the entire town in the movie version.

I am sure you have a lot to say about the prom scene, but please carry on into that final clash and the Irving “jolt” epilogue if you would.

Aaron: I have the same reaction as you; in my memory, the prom scene is much longer than it actually appears on film. That’s a testament to how perfectly De Palma captured and distilled the essence of that scene, but it’s also a bit of a shock every time I rewatch this film. I hate to say this, because it sounds like I’m criticizing the film when I’m actually doing the opposite, but the prom scene is sometimes a letdown to me, because I remember it as being much more epic and, for lack of a better word, brutal. But as you say, the scene is really only a couple of minutes long, and a very tight couple of minutes at that. We may not get the widespread destruction of the novel, or the gory explosion of viscera I seem to hold in my mind sometimes, but we get a perfectly brief flurry of action and violence, exploding outward from Carrie once she reaches her breaking point, and then ending just as quickly when her rage is spent (though not entirely gone, as there are a couple more outbursts ahead).

That isn’t meant to downplay the effectiveness of the scene, however. If anything I feel like it speaks to how well De Palma built tension prior to this climax, and how effectively he provided a release. The prom, for Carrie, is a dream come true; everything is shiny and and bright, Tommy’s friends are all nice to her, and she has a romantic dance with the most popular boy in school. De Palma gives us only a couple of reminders that something horrible has been planned for this night, until Tommy and Carrie are voted prom King and Queen, at which point De Palma really begins to lay on the Hitchcockian suspense. I really enjoy the connections that are made here in the editing. Sue Snell has snuck into the prom to see how Carrie’s night is going, and she notices an oddly swinging rope which she traces back to a bucket of blood perched over Carrie’s head. Ms. Collins notices Sue as Sue follows the rope back to Chris’ hiding place and has her ejected from the prom. Tommy notices Sue being ejected from the prom and gives an odd laugh, presumably believing Sue is suffering a brief bout of jealousy.

This scene so far has been entirely in slow motion, but while the video slows the editing gets faster and faster, and the signifiers of who we’re cutting between become briefer. Sue and Ms. Collins arguing, a shot of a hand on a rope, a bucket of blood, Carrie smiling, a tongue darting out between Chris’ lips, Tommy smiling, an eyeball, a gym door closing, a rope being pulled. The activity builds to a manic pace, and then the blood falls, and everything stops. Applause dies down, the music cuts out, and all audio is removed apart from the creaking of the rope and bucket as everyone tries to process what has just happened. The reactions here are heartbreaking; the choked sob Ms. Collins gives, the pity visible on the faces of even those who had teased Carrie throughout the movie. P.J. Soles is the only one who begins laughing, to the clear disgust of everyone around her (also of possible note: Soles is the only one laughing, but also the only relevant character that Carrie does not focus on when she hallucinates everyone is mocking her). De Palma gives a minute of silence here, to document these reactions, and then the silence is broken by Margaret White’s warning that “they’re all gonna laugh at you!” which begins circling around in Carrie’s head. I haven’t seen this film nearly as many times as you have, but I’ve watched it frequently over the years, and I still feel a thrill when that first usage of split-screen occurs. I am not surprised De Palma worried over this scene for weeks in the editing room; the final product is as perfectly timed and orchestrated a slice of film as I’ve ever seen.

I mentioned in our discussion of the novel that I felt the proper end would be the confrontation between Carrie and Margaret, and that the scenes after that event felt a little oddly placed because of it. But, of course, I was allowing the De Palma film to influence my reaction to the book. In the book the carnage spreads out from the prom and overtakes almost the entire town, while in the film the carnage is confined to the high school, Billy and Chris, and Carrie’s mother. As much as I would have liked to see Carrie really go all out in exacting her revenge, I’m glad De Palma opted to not go there. Whether the decision was made from a conceptual level to narrow the focus of the story, or whether it would have been a logistical nightmare for them to try and shoot the scene, I believe it turns out to be the proper decision.

When Carrie returns home, seeking to apologize to her mother and seek comfort from her, she finds the house apparently empty. After bathing herself of the pig’s blood, Carrie dresses in a white nightgown and finds her mother, who at first seems to forgive her daughter, only to stab her in the back while they embrace. At this point Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to drive every nearby blade into her mother, killing her and effectively leaving her in the same pose the statue of Jesus being crucified that adorned the closet Carrie was locked into as punishment. This is quite different from how the scene plays out in the book, where Carrie returned home with the intention of killing her mother, and does so by using her powers to slowly stop Margaret’s heart (but not before being fatally stabbed). I find the confrontation in the book, and Margaret’s death, to be much creepier and more uncomfortable, while I think the added religious reference in the film elevates the movie to religious parable, in a way. It turns the film into one of those frightening bible passages, like Abraham being commanded to kill his son.

I don’t think I ever had a problem with how Carrie meets her end in the film. Since you’ve brought it up, I can see what you’re saying about the descent to hell being too literal, but I also don’t think I’d ever call De Palma an entirely subtle filmmaker. I think it fits with the outsized religion and hellfire we’ve been confronted with through the film, and I think Carrie’s implosion of grief makes a nice counterpoint to the explosion of rage we saw at the prom. The scene I did have a problem with, for many years, is the final shock of the film, as we catch up with the film’s lone survivor: Sue Snell.

Some undetermined point of time after the tragic events of the film, Sue Snell walks along a residential street and turns into an empty lot, a lot with a square of burnt ground in the middle and a ‘for sale’ sign sticking up out of it. This is the lot where Carrie’s house once stood, and if we didn’t understand that yet, it’s made clear by the message left there by some vandal. “Carrie White burns in hell,” someone has scrawled. (I always imagined it was a kid, maybe still in elementary school, possibly with an older brother who died at prom, sneaking onto the property and writing the message out of anger but also getting a thrill from the transgression. I have no idea why I ascribed such a detailed backstory to a person whose existence is only hinted at.) Sue Snell leans down to place flowers by the sign, and as she does, Carrie White’s hand shoots up out of the ground and grabs Sue by the wrist. But it was all a dream, and Sue wakes up screaming while her mother tends her, opining that she’ll never quite recover from the tragedy.

This scene never really worked for me the first handful of times I watched the film. I had always heard the scene referred to as one of the scariest, most infamous shock endings ever filmed, but I could never understand what people saw in it. It felt cheap and meaningless. The equivalent of one of those internet videos where you try and trick someone into finding some hidden puzzle in an image of an empty room, only to suddenly have a screaming skull pop onto the screen once they’ve pushed their noses to the monitor. I didn’t see the point of it; it was a dream sequence, and so not real, and therefore it didn’t matter at all. While reading the book I had this ending scene in my head, and when Sue was thinking she might be pregnant with Tommy’s child, I flashed forward and wondered if maybe the novel’s ending used a similar device to imply that Carrie had somehow imprinted herself on the unborn child. But then of course, Sue turns out to not be pregnant, so my outlandish notion was thrown out. As an adult viewer, I finally came around to the scene when I saw what it was doing. The fires have been put out, the funerals held, the site of Carrie’s death has been razed and cleaned up, and yet the sickness still remains. This event will never remain buried for Sue, who is going to be carrying these dreams with her for a lifetime.

This is a moment that actually feeds into our upcoming discussion of the sequel, but I’ll save any further explorations for that piece.

Rik: Since you have given us a pretty thorough recounting of the end of the film, I will just touch on a couple of points, and also my reactions to those moments.

First, I must jump in and say that the statue that is shown in close-up in Carrie’s closet is not Jesus on the cross but that of St. Sebastian, a martyr in early Christendom who was, in many depictions, tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. There are very clearly arrows in the figure in the statue, which was not a feature of any representation of the crucifixion of Christ, who was pierced in the side of his torso by a spear. (I thank Nick Cave for keeping knowledge of St. Sebastian and the arrows in my head.)

There is a moment, while Carrie is still out on her prom date, just after she and Tommy have been checked on a ballot as King and Queen, that Margaret White is seen nervously pacing around her kitchen table in a shot from above the ceiling light. In the last scene where we saw her, Carrie had used her power to force her mother to the bed helplessly, and as Carrie left, Margaret spit out scripture from Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch a live.” It was already clear at that point, and even at earlier points, that she felt her daughter was wicked and cursed by the devil, but in this scene, we see her leap to sheer madness as she actively makes the switch to committing to murder her own child. With the camera still looking down from the same vantage point, she selects a carrot from a collection of vegetables, most likely planned for a soup or stew originally, and places it on the cutting board. She picks up a large knife, and without holding the carrot in place for accurate cuts, she holds her arm up almost in robot-like fashion and brings it down on the carrot several times, each cut more wild than the last. One cut finally sends the remainder of the vegetable off the cutting board, and she makes a final series of hard chops at the cutting board, in which we clearly see that the object of her violence doesn’t matter. She just means to do damage, and she is most definitely focusing her mental attention only on stopping her daughter however she must. For me, this was a most frightening scene, that a parent can commit to turning on their child so suddenly and sharply (no pun intended).

Of course, when Carrie returns home, she is going to run to the arms of her mother, because no matter what has happened in her life to that point and no matter how much her mother has been the cause of much of it, mama has always been there to comfort her. Even though she and her mother left each other on bad terms before the prom, after what Carrie has been through (and who knows how much of it she really remembers), Mother is all she has left. I am only saying this in defense of years of having friends and other people say things like, “I wouldn’t go back to that bitch!” Assuredly, were I Carrie, I probably wouldn’t either, but I am not Carrie. We can only go with the person we have met in the film (not the book, because it is the film under discussion here), and that person goes back to her mother after all this. There is no way around it. She goes back, and her story ends the tragic way it has to end.

As for the jolt ending, I always rather dug it when I was younger, but I totally get what you are saying about equating to those cheap computer scares on YouTube. There is certainly a parallel here to the “jump scare” brand of horror that is far too popular these days. As I said, I really liked the Carrie jolt when I was younger, and so it probably points up that were I of a similar age today, I would actually enjoy “jump scare” horror. But I don’t like jump scares now; I find them as cheap and meaningless as you describe them. The weird thing, though, is that I still like the Carrie jolt. It may be because it was one of the purest, earliest versions of such a shock in a big budget film, not just the scare, but combined with a dream sequence ending. Regardless, I find it still works as well as De Palma intended, and even if I didn’t like it much, the film would feel much less without it. Carrie wouldn’t be the same.

Aaron: For years I’ve been of the opinion that in order to make a good movie out of a Stephen King book you have to be willing to drastically alter the text. King is one of my favorite authors, and I clearly have spent a lot of time in the company of his creations, but what works on the page has a habit of not working on the screen. This is why Stanley Kubrick made an all-time classic film out of The Shining by keeping the setting and character names while throwing everything else out the window. Mick Garris tackled the same material in 1997, but allowed King to write the slavishly faithful screenplay, ensuring no one would remember it. In that regard, Carrie is a bit of an odd duck.

Carrie is basically the exception that proves the rule; it’s one of the most faithful adaptations in terms of plot and tone, but it also knows when to stray from the text. Most noticeably, the film version of Carrie features none of King’s signature weird slang (to be fair, the book didn’t have that much of it either). But beyond just the dialogue, De Palma’s interpretation of Carrie (with the assistance of screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, who would basically make a career out of adapting Stephen King) makes only minor alterations to the story. Minor alterations that make a big difference.

The relationship between Chris and Billy is softened, and we see less of their interactions than we do in the book. Tommy and Sue’s relationship is given only a couple of scenes, while we get a new wacky scene of Tommy shopping with his friends. We lose a lot of minor scenes, like the one with Chris’ dad threatening to sue the school, and we even get a little less of Carrie. The film not only cuts back on Carrie’s rampage at the end, and cuts out any references to worldwide events after prom night, but it downplays Carrie’s telepathic abilities in general. Sure, she tests her powers with the mirror in her bedroom, and she goes to the library and discovers the word for what she’s been doing, but we don’t get any of the scenes of Carrie “exercising” in her room as she learns to control her powers. This effectively narrows the story’s focus and turns it into a story about the life of this tortured social misfit, with the telekinesis stuff as the powder keg the audience knows must eventually go off.

Carrie is a great lesson in how to adapt a book to the screen; you focus in on the heart of the matter, and disregard any of the small details that don’t speak to that heart. I think anyone reading this piece will immediately understand that Carrie is a film that means much more to you than it does to me, but I do think this is a great film, and one I will continue to return to in the future.

Rik: Since I am just getting back into reading Stephen King regularly, I am going to withhold judgment on how best to adapt a King book to the screen. I feel that you are more able to speak on that subject than I am. But having just read Carrie and then seen the movie version again a couple more times, I would have to agree that De Palma made most of the right decisions in both streamlining the main text for the screen, and in expanding or altering certain characters for the movie. Carrie the movie is remarkably economical in style and storytelling sense given how grandly horrific and bigger the film gets as it moves towards its conclusion. It is about as tightly edited a film as you will ever see in the genre, and I never get bored seeing it again and again over the years. It is always a pleasure.

[Well, that about does it for our discussion of Brian De Palma's Carrie adaptation. We hope you found it entertaining and enlightening. Please check back in a few days as we delve into The Rage: Carrie 2, the belated 1999 sequel to this film.]