Thursday, June 13, 2013

High School Sucks (So Burn It Down)

I can relate to Brian De Palma’s obsessions with sex, gore and melodrama. The prolific director's best movies ring true because, through his lurid depictions of nudity, sex and and violence, he amplifies the inner turmoil and conflict that remain hidden and secret within our own psyches. That’s what movies are supposed to do. As we sit quietly in the dark, where no one can see our faces, we can remain anonymous as actors on the screen play out our darkest fears and most outrageous fantasies.

Carrie (1976), based on the novel by Stephen King, deals with a simple and universal premise: High school sucks. Kids are disgustingly mean to each other, parents are crazy, and teachers and authority figures can’t do a damn thing about it. Teen life is hell to anyone who doesn’t fit in (and which of us has not sometimes felt that we don’t?)...and the feelings of isolation and persecution lead to the outsiders’ ultimate fantasy—revenge. Destruction. Annihilation. If we all had special powers like Carrie, how would we have used them at the tender age of 17?

In this '70s horror classic, De Palma assembles an amazing cast of actors to bring King’s chiller to life, including Nancy Allen (dePalma’s muse and paramour), Amy Irving (the first Mrs. Steven Spielberg), William Katt (The Greatest American Hero), John Travolta (pre-Welcome Back, Kotter), Betty Buckley (Eight is Enough) and Piper Laurie (Actor’s Studio method actress of yesteryear). Best of all, of course, is the young and expressive Sissy Spacek, who earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination as the title character--the first and only Oscar nod for horror film acting. Though over the top, Spacek’s scenes with Laurie as her abusive religious fanatic mother capture the Generation Gap in starkly vivid terms. 

In the iconic penultimate sequence of Carrie, it’s not the pouring of pig’s blood or the spectacular conflagration of the school gymnasium at the senior prom that’s most’s the look on Sissy Spacek’s face as her pent-up pain, sorrow and anger are unleashed. Hasn’t every parent seen that same look on a teenage child’s face? 

Reality mixed with fantasy--always a recipe for moviemaking at its best.

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