Thursday, December 8, 2016

Better In Your Head?--CARRIE

SPOILER ALERT. Proms suck and fuck 'em.

1974 
Stephen King

The first King novel published (albeit the fourth he'd actually written) is also his shortest, an epistolary job composed of articles from magazines and newspapers, letters and book excerpts. Inspired by two girls he'd known during his school years, King knocked out Carrie in two weeks. He's never been a big fan of the finished product, using words like "clumsy" and "artless," while praising director Brian DePalma for his "frothy" film adaptation. Well, hell--four million fans can't be wrong, can they? Sure they can, and frequently are. But in this case….

Carrie is set in the fictional city of Chamberlain in the actual state of Maine, where high school senior Carrietta White lives with mother Margaret, the founder of a religion whose adherents number two (surely you can guess who). Carrie is a bit plump, a bit pimply, and her peers don't think of her as human: "a frog among swans," an ox, a pig, an hog, an ape. Carrie has only her mother and her power, neither of which she can understand or trust.

A girl's first menstrual period is a significant turning point in her life, and for Carrie especially. It arrives during a post-gym shower and poor Carrie, having been kept in the dark about such matters, believes she's bleeding to death. Taunting classmates hurl tampons with no regard for the nation's homeless women. A light bulb in the locker room explodes, seemingly mysteriously.

Home provides no comfort. Her rabid mom locks her in a closet and forces her to repent for the sin of being a woman. Hey, Margaret White's not all bad. Yes, she's a zealot, but no one who refers to pregnancy as "cancer of the womanly parts" can be evil. I'd rather have cancer than a baby. People would praise me for fighting the cancer.

Something is not quite right with Carrie. She can perform telekinesis, but since she has no concept of psychic abilities, she calls it "flexing." During a flex, her blood pressure and heart rate rocket while her respiration remains curiously unchanged.

Gym teacher Miss Dejardin shows sympathy for Carrie, punishing her tormentors. The bitchiest of the clique, Chris, defies orders and earns not only a suspension but a ban from the upcoming prom. The most remorseful of the crew, Sue, convinces her man Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Wait, the shit-eating weirdo uggo-chubbo? The very same.

Sue is all heart, but Chris and her dude, Billy, are compunction-free assholes determined to embarrass Carrie and maintain a motif.

And then, prom night in Chamberlain. A night those in attendance will never forget. Or remember.

Chicanery results in King Tommy and Queen Carrie. They ascend the stage, take their ill-gotten thrones, bask in the glory, annnnnd BOOM. Buckets o' blood. Tommy's loses consciousness (like, entirely) and Carrie runs past her braying peers, out of the gym.

Carrie doesn't--possibly can't--consider that her peers are laughing not at her, but rather at what has happened, the absurdity of the situation. I mean, the ugly duckling of the student body being named prom queen was crazy enough, and then it starts raining blood? Well, one hysterical response deserves another. The gym doors shut and lock. Sprinklers spray, fires blaze, and finally the entire school explodes. "The world's all-time loser" achieves her revenge via indiscriminate slaughter.

She returns home and kills her mother--but not before suffering a mortal wound that still does not prevent her from hunting down Billy and Chris. Sue, whose guilt made the massacre possible, finds Carrie lying in the street. Sue wants to absolve herself; Carrie wants to add one more to the body count.

Four months after "The Black Prom"--a night that saw the deaths of 440 citizens--Chamberlain is a virtual ghost town. Scientists are treating psychic phenomenon with increased respect and schools nationwide are cracking down on bully behavior. The books conclusion suggests all this diligence is quite justified.

I am so grateful to have been an outcast. Cool kids played gormless games with ridiculous rules and scoring systems so screwy they didn't even recognize a win from a loss from a tie. Perhaps my suspicious, reticent nature resulted in premature death for some promising palships, but it surehaps warded off some massive humiliations in a life already rife with them. So, worth it.

Without any inexplicable ability other than that of arranging words with the fervor of a display decorator in Times Square, I stayed to myself. I dreamed. I lived.

The cliche is dead-ass truth: success is the ideal get-back. And I suppose wiping out hundreds of lives is a form of success, especially if one is aiming for excellence in the field of mass murder.


1976
Director-Brian DePalma
Writer-Lawrence D. Cohen

I love that King referred to this film as "frothy." What a word. Rabid dogs quaffing root beer while their owners shampoo the carpet with cottage cheese.

The film adaptation doesn't dare, since it's adapting a brilliant horror tale centered around an indelible abomination. Just lay back and think of the Seventies! Short shorts, big hair and bigger teeth, the beer cans flying between moving cars. People either dug disco or the whole decade was wasted on 'em, far as I can tell.

Everything leading up to the big night--Carrie's travails and attempts to understand what inside of her sends windows to shutting and kids to flying off bikes, the shame-suffused confrontations between mother and daughter, high school girls whose prettiness is surpassed by their pettiness--tries to get the viewer ready for what's to transpire. But I know, my first time watching, I wasn't prepared. I mean, there's cracking under pressure, and then there's...this. 

"The big night" is Prom Night, spotlight on Tom and Carrie y'all, a hilariously ominous song playing as they take it all in. (Carrie likens the overwhelmingly red experience to "being on Mars." Even at the happiest she's ever been on this planet, she still imagines being elsewhere.) The unlikely duo have a great time, sharing a tender dance and even "winning" the honor of King and Queen. The sight of the perpetual victim standing on the stage, tiara on her head and roses in her arm, is almost too much. Surprise, elation, redemption...all etched on a gaunt face glowing as it never has before.

Then...Ganon's Revenge.

(Tommy's Frampton-Gibb hybrid hair helmet not protecting him from the falling bucket is Top Five scariest moments here.)

DePalma (who does a great job throughout) makes use of the kaleidoscope effect referenced in the book, a risky move indeed, momentarily putting us in Carrie's head as she imagines the entire gym is laughing at her latest mistreatment (untreated shots establish that this is not the case). Talk about emotional whiplash! No Carrie, no one likes you. You're an anti-social eyesore. Your mother's right to keep you housebound. Everyone is bad. Everything is a sin.

Split the scene? Nah. Split the screen.

Here, the film one-ups the novel--rather than run, Carrie remains in the gym, on the stage, eyes stretched wide. She is not close to running; she is not close to laughing. She descends the steps with the deliberation of royalty, as her subjects scream and beg, as fire and water snuff out human life with equal efficiency. 

If the video of the Great White concert tragedy taught me anything (and it taught me many things), it is this: the screams of the victims are not the worst thing. It is, rather, when the screaming stops. When a sense of inevitability smashes against a surge of regret that things didn't turn out differently. We get one final humpin' acorns showdown between Margaret and her demented rape-baby, stinking of blood and indignation. Mama White grasps and spins and flails and Christ compels! her to a highly symbolic, oddly sexual demise.

Sissy Spacek is simply spellbinding. She's fragile, she's vengeful, she's credulous, and I can never take my eyes off her. And that's all before she gets doused with pig blood. The Academy even moved past their genre bias to nominate Spacek for an Oscar. Her thin figure and smooth skin don't jibe with the description of her paper-bound progenitor, but hey, verisimilitude often forgives silly outer sins.

Well, shit. Perhaps Carrie did her peers a solid by relieving them of their fluids. Consider: spoiled brats all, brash boys and the pointy girls who lead them 'round by the nuts, destined to relive the mistakes and malaise of their parents. But I still don't precisely sympathize.

Yes, revenge scenarios (over)worked my brain tissue, but they were specific fantasies. I sought to harm only those who'd sought to harm me. Maybe other students thought ill of me, but so what. Thoughts ain't words, ain't actions. One of Carrie's few allies, Miss Collins, meets a brutal end, practically bisected by a swinging rafter. Hers is the only death that bothers me, for being so damned undeserved.

Well, I did wince at the immolation of Billy's red Chevelle SS. Oh and that poor pig. God, the farmer must've been a wreck the next morning.

It sucks that Carrie was raised by an abusive woman who probably masturbated to visions of taking face shots from all Twelve Apostles (I mean she couldn't even chop carrots in her kitchen without God taking an interest). It's terrible that she was raised by a twisted mess of nerves and flesh who couldn't allow her own child to make friends, make mistakes, to try, to learn, to live. But beyond Mama, Chris and Billy, no one deserved to die.

Moral of the story for the quintessential target: it's only four years of your life. Endure. Why? Because you should, and because you can. Also, if you possess a freakish ability, try to use it sparingly and righteously.

Moral of the story for the inveterate tormentor: know when to stop. Imagine if Chris was happy just to rig the prom vote. Everyone leaves with a pulse.


2013
Director--Kimberly Pierce
Writers--Kimberly Pierce & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa


Remakes are no more pointless than any other film, nor any more foolhardy or doomed. It's all in the execution.


Carrie 2013 could have been okay. Passable. Now, Kimberly Pierce aimed higher.

The start holds much promise. Flash back to Margaret White on her blood-soaked bed, struggling to summon up the courage she needs to stab her fresh-out daughter with a gleaming pair of scissors. I'm with it!

New generation, new bullying techniques. Carrie's torment in the gym is immortalized on a dumb chick's phone and uploaded to YouTube for the enjoyment of other broth-brains.

There, that's the big difference between the films.

I get the update. It's smart. It's more commendable than Gus Van Sant with his nose in Hitch's recipe book. The only thing I honestly cared about here was Chloe Moretz in the titular role. Spacek as Carrie is an all-time go, any genre, a transformative experience. No way Moretz would come close.

And she didn't.

Moretz is doe-eyed and pouty-lipped, forlorn and clumsy, and ultimately too pretty to be a worthy successor. Spacek seemed possessed by a demon, whereas Moretz tries to convince us she is the demon. (Unless it comes to Miss Desjardin, who is levitated out of harms way during the carnage. Gag me with a selfie stick.) Is she in control? Totally or somewhat or not at all? A strength of the original film was how Carrie's inner strength advanced over time, from demure to demonic, whereas remake Carrie starts out "fuck-you" powerful. Thus, she's not even remotely sympathetic.

And then there's the overt physicality. Moretz Carrie makes ridiculous arm motions and levitates--fucking levitates--out of the gym. Fuck me was that unpleasant to watch.

Julianne Moore's haunted Margaret White has champions, mainly people who bristled at Piper Laurie's batshit turn. Well folks, give me batshit religious fanatics or give me death.

Every other actor is unremarkable or inconsistent, often at inopportune times. After Carrie's dousing at the prom, the video screens set up in the gym flicker on, and scenes from her viral video flash as students roar in amusement. Ansel Elgort, as Tommy, exclaims "What the hell?!" A harmless line delivered atrociously. (I kinda like to think the students are all laughing at that.)

Carrie 2013 is MTV horror, much less watchable than Billy Squier's pink tank top or air-synthing on a loading dock. The CGI is laughable, the real stuff ain't much better, and yes I am fully aware of the legend of the "original cut," an ostensibly longer and gorier film truer to the spirit of King than DePalma, but guess what? That's not what the studio released, so that's not what I (or most people) wound up seeing. We got this drizzle.



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The redoubtable Mr. King will disagree, vehemently, but the book is best. The structure (third person mixed in with extracts from books, newspaper and magazine articles, even police interviews) does it for me. Why should the Carrie White story be told in a common, straightforward fashion?

His prose style is like a watching puppy learning tricks--it's adorable even when he messes up. Semi-colons nourish sentences tipsy off their own ephemeral energy. Thoughts ensnared in parentheses. At peak mania, King's words move in a St. Vitus boogie of descriptors snatched from the ether.

The final moment of the book hints at fresh hell to come. The final moment of the 1976 movie was the only major scene not spoiled in the trailer and thus, sent popcorn skyward at theaters all over this great land. The final moment of the remake is a skull-poundingly stupid attempt to set off a DRAMA BOMB which is actually not so bad when one remembers Kimberly Pierce really wanted the ending where Sue gives birth to Carrie's arm.

MIND THE GAP 
The book bests the original movie by a single outstretched leg. The remake fell forward at the starting block and passed out at the sight of its own bloodied nose.

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