TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CARRIE (1976)

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CARRIE (1976)

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Carrie garnered a reputation of being a terrifying movie experience back in ’76 when it was released and all I heard from my sister and her friends was how scary it was. Not old enough to go see it in a theater, I had to wait to finally catch up to it on HBO a year or so later and was soundly disappointed. To me it didn’t live up to the hype. I recently decided to revisit it decades later to see if I still felt the same way or, was I, and the film, a victim of too high expectations. So does the film live up to it’s reputation and it’s classic status?… Not really.

Carrie’s main problem is that it’s slow moving and dull. The story of the shy and picked-on daughter (Sissy Spacek) of a religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie in an over-the-top performance), who develops telekinetic powers, is really uneventful between the infamous opening shower/period scene and the infamous prom sequence. There are some cheesy effects sequences along the way as Carrie begins to grow in strength and, through her new powers, rebel against her mother and ultimately avenge herself against pretty much everyone. But, the whole film is a set up for the prom scene and once that comes, it’s actually kind of tame and it’s over far too quickly to have any lasting impact. Brian DePalma films things with a nice look but, really doesn’t achieve a whole lot in the hour it takes to get Carrie to the prom. Basically it’s a slow set up as the teens who tormented Carrie are punished and then decide to get back at her for being punished. So, Sue (Amy Irving) conveniently asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her and thus sets up the perfect revenge for the nasty Chris (Nancy Allen) and her jerk of a boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta). And that’s another thing. DePalma never makes it clear whether Sue is in on the set up plot or not until the actual prom. And since she’s not, it’s just too much of a coincidence that she accidentally helps Chris set up a nasty surprise for the unsuspecting and now blissfully happy Carrie. It’s no surprise that the nasty prank involving pig’s blood triggers Carrie’s new skill and she unleashes them on everyone involved but, again her wrath is quick and rather tame and the best part of this sequence is the build of how Carrie comes to relax and be happy for the first time, as her date starts to really enjoy her company. Here DePalma scores as it’s heartbreaking that such a cruel joke is played on a sad young girl enjoying happiness for the first time. But, it is a horror flick and it’s too bad her wrath doesn’t carry the power of the scenes leading up to it. Even Carrie’s eventual final confrontation with her religious zealot mother is more corny then scary or shocking.

The cast is fine with Spacek really standing out and Laurie going a bit overboard. The rest of the characters are all cardboard teachers and delinquent students, so, there is not much for the actors to do. As stated before, DePalma directs with a slow burn from Lawrence D. Cohen’s thin script based on a Stephen King novel and that would be OK if he gave the payoff more impact and used his slow built to strongly develop the situations instead of breezing through them to get to his grand finale.

In conclusion, Carrie needed a bit more running time to more finely develop it’s story and characters and could have used more intensity from it’s payoff scenes. A moderate film with a far bigger reputation them it deserves.

2 and 1/2 Carries.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

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STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

Based on Stephen King’s book, this TV mini-series was first aired back in November of 1990 and it’s taken me quite a long time but, I have finally caught up with it. To be clear, I haven’t read the book so, I am viewing the movie as a movie and not comparing it to the original source material for which I am not familiar.

Book based horror tells the story of 7 childhood friends in the small Maine town of Derry, where, at this time, there have been a rash of murders and disappearances of small children including the little brother of one of the group. And soon after, the group themselves become terrorized by something evil in the form of a horrifying clown who calls himself Pennywise (Tim Curry). The creature preys on their fears and weaknesses until the seven friend’s finally gather the courage to enter the abandoned sewer plant where they believe this creature lives and after a terrifying confrontation, appear to have defeated it. But, they make a promise that if “It” ever returns they would come together and fight the creature once more… But, after 30 years their worst nightmares come true and children start to disappear or are found murdered again in Derry and the call is raised for the “Loser’s Club” to rejoin and keep their promise. But, the horrors of what happened in 1960 are hard to overcome and worse yet, the mysterious and sinister Pennywise knows they are coming and is more than ready. Can the group defeat their own fears and reunite to put this fiend to rest once and for all… or will they all finally fall victim to the monstrous clown… or whatever it is that has haunted this town for generations?

TV movie directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, the original Fright Night II), who also adapted King’s book with Lawrence D. Cohen, is a well made and entertaining film though a bit long-winded when watched all at once instead of broken up into two parts as when it was originally aired. The film starts off in 1990 as we are first treated to the murder of a poor child by the fleetingly glimpsed Pennywise and then slowly over the course of the first 90 minutes we are introduced to the main characters both as children and adults and then shown the horrifying events that take place in 1960 that lead up to the being’s temporary defeat and the pact made to return if need be. The narrative is a little choppy but, it smoothes out after about 3/4 of an hour and since King likes to add extensive detail and backgroud to his many characters, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers weren’t 100% successful in relaying that to screen even with 3 hours to work with. The narrative is much smoother in it’s second half as it builds to the reunion of friends and then it’s climactic confrontation. Even with the uneven narrative in the first act, the film is effective and creepy fun, especially when Curry is onscreen as Pennywise. He really nails the whole scary clown thing and seems to be having a blast as the sinister villain. It’s in the final battle when sadly It let’s us down as the film turns into another movie altogether once the creature, in it’s true form, is revealed. Not only does the climax become a routine monster movie complete with a generic creature, but, it robs us of what we have been wanting to see all along, Pennywise getting what’s coming to him. The creature in true form is basically a monstrous spider and while I liked the charming stop-motion animation from Terminator FX man Gene Warren Jr. and his Fantasy II Film Effects, it simply doesn’t resonate and is devoid of what made the film work for the last 2 and 1/2 hours, Curry’s creepy clown. Overall, I think Wallace did a good job and he certainly learned from Carpenter as evidence by his camera angles and Richard Leiterman’s Dean Cundey-esque cinematography but, the film’s cheesy monster movie (and I love cheesy monster movies) ending doesn’t give his film the horrifying and powerful climax the story needs. Whether it was the script or the book itself that disappoints… though friends assure me the book does not… we need this to end with an intense bang and not a whimper. And despite all it gets right, the film does end on a whimper and that is really sad because otherwise, this was a very engaging and fun horror flick with talented people involved on all fronts from behind the camera to a fine cast.

And as for the cast, Wallace get’s good work out of them all, but, obviously Curry takes the creepy ball and runs with it and makes this his show. Pennywise is a true cinema villain with Curry under the grease paint and it’s sad he is replaced by Boris the spider at the climax. The rest of the cast both young and adult actors are good. We have… Richard Thomas as adult Bill Denbrough with Johathan Brandis as young Bill, Annette O’Toole as adult Beverly Marsh with Ginger Snaps‘ Emily Perkins as young Beverly, John Ritter as adult Ben Hanscom and Brandon Crane as young Ben, Harry Anderson as adult Richie Tozier and Buffy’s Seth Green as young Richie, Fade To Black’s Dennis Christopher as adult Eddie Kaspbrak and Adam Faraizi as young Eddie, Tim Reid as adult Mike Hanlon and Marlon Taylor as young Mike with last, but not least, Richard Mazur as adult Stanley Uris with Ben Heller as young Stan. They all do a good job giving some personality to their characters, both in young and adult incarnations and are an endearing bunch. A solid cast who perform their roles well though, all upstaged by Curry and, as he is to haunt their nightmares, rightfully so!

So, I will say I enjoyed It and am now curious to read the book. The ending did let me down, although it was the type of ending I would have enjoyed if it were attached to a low budget monster movie and not the finale that we were building three hours up to. Overall, I would still recommend it as a creepy good time and one of the better TV made movies around, it’s just a shame that it falls short of classic status due to a final act which doesn’t live up to the rest of the film’s promise.

3 creepy clowns.

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