Tag Archives: scary movie

Carrie (1976)

carrie1976

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’ve only kindled a love for “scary movies” in the last three or four years, so I don’t feel too guilty in admitting that I had never heard of Carrie until earlier this year when I learned of the upcoming re-adaptation of the original Stephen King novel, which I’m actually pretty excited for. To prepare myself, I read King’s book and decided that I needed to watch the “classic” Brian de Palma film before seeing the new film. Thankfully, I was pretty pleased.

Carrie follows the eponymous Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an outcast who lives with her questionably-sane Christian fundamentalist mother Margaret (Piper Laurie). Her school life isn’t any better, with her classmates teasing and bullying her on a daily basis. She soon discovers that she has telekinetic powers that grow stronger in times of extreme anger or stress. When Sue Snell (Amy Irving), a popular girl who feels guilty for how she treated Carrie, convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to ask Carrie to the prom, things seem to be getting better, but when she becomes the victim of a cruel prank pulled by Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta), she unleashes her powers in a huge display of revenge.

I’m surprised by how faithful of an adaptation of the book this film is, at least up until the end. Sissy Spacek plays both sides of her character incredibly well – poor, sweet, innocent Carrie vs. Carrie the exactor of revenge. Her rise and fall during the climactic prom scene is equally satisfying and tragic – to have a happy ending within her reach only to have it snatched away from her so cruelly. The lead-up to and subsequent dump of the bucket of blood is by far the best part of the film; it is so perfectly done, with the emotional stakes so incredibly high. William Katt as her date to the prom, Tommy, is wonderfully quirky and endearing. His initial (understandable) reluctance to ask Carrie to prom and his growth into a young man who treats Carrie so well actually made me feel proud of him. His brief time spent in her company is enjoyable for everyone; with apparent ease he alleviates all of her anxiety and makes us come to love both him and to see Carrie for who she is – a girl who wants nothing more than to fit in. Another great performance comes from Piper Laurie as Carries mother. Her eccentricity is palpable as we watch her force Carrie into a closet to pray for forgiveness or as she tells her daughter how she was conceived in sin. Her first appearance in the film, visiting the parent of one of Carrie’s schoolmates to talk about God, seems innocent enough until she reveals how insane her beliefs are, which is what makes the character interesting here.

The actors who play Sue, Chris, and Billy all do a decent job, but one casualty of the film’s only 98-minute run time is that much of the focus placed on these three characters in the book is lost. In fact, the story in the book alternates telling the story from the perspectives of not only Carrie, but Sue, Chris, and Billy as well. These three actors, including a not-yet-famous John Travolta, could have had much larger roles in the film and really had a chance to show their talents had the film had a longer run time. An advantage that the book has over the film is the ability to treat the reader to the characters’ inner monologues so that we can understand their intentions and feel their emotions as they do. I wish that the ending of the film had been more accurate to the book because it is the climax of the story: Carrie’s revenge. In the book, she goes on an all-out rampage, starting with the students at the school and expanding into the town itself, leaving a death toll of over 400 people in her wake. The destruction she causes is substantially reduced in the film, likely due to budgetary concern.

One storytelling technique that the book uses is inserting clippings from books written by scientists studying “the Carrie White affair” or even from a memoir by Sue Snell. These inserts forecast the events that are to come and hint at who lives, who dies, and explore the implications of someone developing telekinetic powers. In one sense, I’m glad that the filmmakers took this out because 1) it would be difficult to fit into a film and 2) it left the events in the film to be a mystery, but I have to admit that I missed this aspect of the book a bit. The music in the film is pretty good; I don’t own the score or remember anything in particular standing out to me, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The only thing I have to say about the music is that the composer, Pino Donaggio, was definitely channeling his inner Bernard Hermann – his musical motif for Carrie’s telekinetic powers evokes memories of the screeching violins from the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho…this was probably intentional, of course.

Overall, though I seem to have torn this apart for its inaccuracies from the book, I have understood for a long time that books and their film adaptations have to be accepted as entirely different entities, so I really enjoyed the movie and can understand why it’s a classic. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wipe the image of Carrie’s demented, blood-covered face from my mind. Sissy Spacek nails the role here, and the rest of the cast pull together an admirable adaptation of a great Stephen King book…though I’m certainly hoping that the re-adaptation is better. We’ll see!

-Chad

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R


The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a liking for the horror/scary/thriller movie genre, with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining being a personal favorite. However, I’m not a fan of the blood-and-guts-style horror films that are so prevalent these days, so I’m pretty picky when it comes to which ones I’ll end up seeing in theaters. The Conjuring, directed by the director of Insidious (which I mostly liked), looked to be one of the horror films that was more of a on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of film than blood-and-guts, so I was quite looking forward to seeing it.

The Conjuring tells the supposedly true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively), two paranormal investigators, as they investigate the haunting of the Perron family’s house in Rhode Island in 1971. The family has witnessed clocks freezing at the same time every morning, picture frames being knocked off the walls, legs being yanked by an unseen entity while the children sleep, and even mysterious figures popping up in the cellar or elsewhere in the house. The Warrens discover that the house has a past associated with a witch who tried to sacrifice her baby before confessing her love to Satan and hanging herself. The race is on to find proof confirming the haunting and receive authorization from the Catholic Church to perform an exorcism.

Every member of the cast does a great job, with the standout performances obviously coming from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. The two characters are Roman Catholics, a fact that is never shoved down the throats of the audience or presented as anything but two people who love and trust God. Their faith is never presented as silly or nonsensical, which is welcome after seeing many other films that tend to use Christian characters to poke fun at the religion. Another key performance comes from Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron, the mother who is eventually possessed by the demon; the scene of her exorcism the most intense of the movie, with Taylor bringing plenty of weight and an incredible sense of anxiety to the screen. Though I have past acting experience, I can’t even imagine what kind of preparation goes into a role like this, but she pulls it off well and gives one heck of a performance. Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver, the actresses who play the children of the Perron family, do a great job as child actors, bringing solid performances that are on par with the performances of their adult peers.

I really enjoyed the camera work in the movie, with the use of a still camera in calm moments contrasting with the use of a handheld camera in the more intense scenes; the latter technique works really well in a film like this because it sometimes contributes to your eyes seeing things that may or may not be in the background of the film, increasing anxiety in a powerful way. The filmmakers also place cameras in unusual spots at strange angles, giving the sense that you are watching the scene from the perspective of the demon itself. The setting of the film, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, is typical of this genre, but it never seems cliché. Props like an antique music box and antique piano are introduced early on, with me scorning the filmmakers for falling into the traps of clichés, but I must admit that I was wrong. While these items definitely do play roles in the film, they are not used in a way that feels stereotypical.

An unusual aspect of this film that is not typical of the genre is the Christian undertones. As mentioned, Ed and Lorraine Warren are devout Roman Catholics, so they approach their paranormal investigations from a biblical standpoint. Official approval from the Church is sought before performing exorcisms, the pair talks about how they were brought together “for a reason,” and the idea that it only takes a little bit of light to dispel a lot of darkness is presented strongly. The movie also stresses the importance of family in a huge way, most apparent in the climax of the film (which I won’t spoil here).

*spoiler-ish*

My only complaint of the film is that I expected Lorraine Warren to get possessed at some point in the film; it is hinted at pretty heavily, at least, I thought it was, but it never pays off. I thought that her becoming possessed could have added extra suspense to the film considering her role as one of the people meant to rid the Perron family of the demon. However, after pondering this for a while, I thought that the decision to keep her possession-free might not be a wasted opportunity after all but rather a testament to the power of God. Lorraine Warren contrasts with Carolyn Perron because the former is a practicing Christian while the latter is not, explaining why she was possessed and Lorraine was not. That being said, I still think that the possibility of the demon possessing Lorraine was hinted at too strongly for it not to have paid off. Oh well.

*end spoilers*

Anyway, as you should be able to tell by now, I quite enjoyed this movie, though it was certainly more intense than I expected it to be; I’m not ashamed to admit that I crept around my house with a flashlight upon returning from the theater the night I saw the film. It’s certainly not a film for the faint of heart…in fact, I’d venture to say that this just might be the scariest film I’ve ever seen, probably because its Christian undertones and biblical connections (Jesus drives out many demons during his ministry) hit a little close to home. However, being scared is the point of the movie, and The Conjuring does a wonderful job with that, bringing an emotional script, powerful performances, and a score by composer Joseph Bishara that could give you nightmares on its own.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for sequences of disturbing violence and terror