Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Goosebump Moment -- Carrie (1976)

By 1976, Psycho had spawned countless, increasingly bloody, horror films in the 60s and early 70s, most of which just tried to outdo the others in shock value without any artistry.

This is what makes Carrie so unusual. Brian DePalma took the framework of Stephen King's first published novel and created a horror movie that (for much of its length) is funny and sweet, with undertones of foreboding. But here's the trick: It wasn't possible to really shock people at this point (the Exorcist had pretty much cornered the market in that area by the mid-70s).

Instead, he films the movie like a soft-focus teenage sex comedy with a soundtrack filled with soft-rock ballads (think Bread, but sappier) and synth-pop montages. Unlike a horror movie, it's a sunny and silly Cinderella story where poor Carrie escapes her evil mother (and a locker-room full of step-sister like harpies), and gets asked to the ball (er, prom) by a blond curly-haired Prince Charming. She even has an understanding gym teacher/fairy godmother in Miss Collins. None of this tone is evident in the book -- only the plot points are the same -- Carrie is an ugly misfit that you only hear about through other people telling the story.

So, for the climax of the movie, there was no real surprise involved. People had either already read the book, or heck, seen the poster (see above) or the TV ads. Everyone knew that some serious trouble was going to go down at the Prom.

Here's the set-up: We know Carrie has telekinesis. We know her mother is a serious whack-job. We know that Miss Collins is thrilled that Carrie is going to the Prom, but is worried that she's being set up (with good reason -- although she mistakenly suspects that dim-witted Tommy and good-girl Sue). And most importantly, we know that bitch Chris has been out to get Carrie ever since the movie started.

So, we see Carrie get to the Bates High School (get it?) Prom. She's beautiful and everyone is nice to her, and wouldn't this all be great if we didn't all know what was coming. We both look forward to it (it is a horror movie, after all) and dread the inevitable. What follows is a masterpiece of building up the suspense.

Right before the clips below start, there's a dizzying (literally!) sequence where Tommy and Carrie dance to their love theme spinning slowly in one direction while the camera moves in the opposite direction. Watch how the camera moves (with minimal cuts) to show how the plan is going to work. Then, when we're keyed up for things to happen, what does DePalma do? Rather than the rapid-fire editing of the Psycho shower scene, he switches to a dream-like slow-motion, and the rest of the scene plays out without dialogue, yet you know exactly what everyone is thinking. It's awesome....

For the purposes of fully enjoying the full Goosebump Moment, you have to watch the first 1:40 of the 2nd clip as well...although I would suggest stopping the click once the blood falls. I think this is a case where the build-up is better than the payoff, although that's when the horror kicks in. Seriously though, don't ruin it, go watch the movie in full (it is bound to be on tv sometime this month)...

Tomorrow...Hammer Horror brings a bevy of buxom vampiric beauties....

No comments: