It's not hard to see what drew lesbian director Kimberly Peirce, famed for 1999's Boys Don't Cry, to a remake of Carrie, the classic 1976 horror film from Brian DePalma. The central character in Stephen King's debut novelthe woefully misbegotten teenage Carrie Whiteis the kind of outsider that immediately draws empathy and resonates with gay people. That poor Carrie White is bullied mercilessly and cruelly at school and also suffers under the religious terrorism of her fanatical mother is another link to Our Peoplelong accustomed to being victimized on both counts for being who we are.
If Peirce's movie had gone further in emphasizing some of these elements or perhaps had stronger visual panache, the remake could stand apart from DePalma's versionin the way that Todd Haynes was able to bring his own stamp to Mildred Pierce. It's really not a bad movie, per se, just one that doesn't particularly enthrall. And Peirce is helped by the strong performances she has drawn from Julianne Moore as the harridan mother ( taking on the role that won Piper Laurie an Oscar nod ); Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin, the gym teacher; Ansel Elgort as Carrie's prom date, Tommy Ross, the school's warm-hearted jock; and mostly good work from Chloe Grace Moretz in for the Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek. But good acting, some welcome updating ( social networking is now part of the plot ) and a few more moments from the book aren't enough to block out the Grand Guignol feast that still makes DePalma's movie a horror classic.
A good case could also be made that fatigue, with regard to the material itself, is partly to blame. Carrie has been the subject of a musical, a TV miniseries, a sequel and countless parodies. ( My prediction that an opera is sure to be next has yet to come true, but don't bet against it. )
For the very few who don't know Carrie, it's the story of a high school reject who lives alone with her fundamentalist mother and is tortured by the popular girls in school when she has the bad fortune to have her first period during gym class. In the aftermath of this cruel incident, two plot strands converge: Carrie discovers that she has telekinesis and, out of guilt, Sueone of the girls in on the cruel prankconvinces boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. The climax of the story occurs when Carrie and Tommy are elected prom king and queen and a bucket of pig's blood is dumped on Carrie's head. Carrie draws on her powers to exact a murderous revenge before heading home to face a final denouement with her now clearly insane mother.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this remake has to do with the ethereal beauty of its leading lady. Part of the strength of the DePalma version is that Carrie White in the personage of Sissy Spacek is truly physically transformed when she goes to prom and her Carrie really does go from a caterpillar to a butterfly. No amount of gawky acting, unflattering clothes and frizzy hair, however, can disguise for a moment that Moretz is a knockout, which makes her transformation almost a moot point. Moore does her usual expert job but here one misses the operatic approach Piper Laurie brought to the role of the crazy mother. She was truly terrifying.
Now, it may be that modern-day audiences will prefer Pierce's even-handed, much more realistic approach that prevails throughout the film. However, this overriding factor also flattens everything in its wake, as surely as Carrie mows down her fellow classmates. It leaches the pulp out of King's admittedly puplish novelthe most delicious aspect of the material. Worse, it's not in the least bit scary and is no longer a movie that feels one with that delicious feeling of anticipatory dread. This Carrie is all dressed up but never gets to her destination.
Other creepy screenings around town:
The Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., has got a dynamite triple feature of Halloween-themed movies set to screen Friday, Oct. 25. These include a 45th-anniversary presentation ( in a restored print ) of Roman Polanski's 1968 masterpiece Rosemary's Baby, with Mia Farrow doing her best onscreen work as the terrified title character who fears she's about to give birth to Satan's baby. That same night a restored version of the British cult classic The Wicker Man will also screen and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the durable bisexual goth musical, is on the bill. ( It also screens Oct. 26 and on Halloween, Oct. 31. ) www.musicboxtheatre.com
The Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., is also hosting a trio of fright flicks to celebrate the season of the witch. Stanley Kubrick's chilly The Shining is set for Oct. 24-26; the more recent Trick-r-Treat plays those same dates with John Carpenter's serial killer classic Halloween playing Oct. 31. www.logantheatre.com
The Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., is also getting ready to trick or treat when it screens Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem on Oct. 26 and 31. www.siskelfilmcenter.com
Create your own movie frightfest at home:
Based on the case files of two renowned ghost hunters, The Conjuringa combination of The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and Poltergeistwas perhaps the year's scariest movie. Lily Taylor stars and gives a tremendous performance as the beleaguered housewife, as do Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the investigators. It's available in various home-viewing editions and is perfect to begin or end your movie marathon.
I missed the Brad Pitt zombie apocalypse movie World War Z when it was a hit in theaters last summer but I'm programming the home-release version in my lineup for this year's scarefest. There's nothing like zillions of killer zombies to get the party started.
For the mild-mannered and the classic fans, two of my most treasured Halloween movies have finally been released on DVD. And as luck would have it, each has been treated to the painstaking restoration efforts of the justly renowned Criterion Collection.
Both 1942's I Married a Witcha winsome comedy with Veronica Lake, Frederick March, Cecil Kellaway and Susan Haywardand 1944's The Uninvited are long overdue for home release. The former is a charmer, a precursor of sorts to the hit sitcom Bewitched, with Lake as a resurrected witch setting her famous peek-a-boo bangs for March. The latter, one of the screen's first true ghost stories, stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as a brother and sister who buy a haunted house on the English seashore and set about trying to rid themselves of their ghost inhabitantwho seems to be more than a little attached to the daughter of the former owner, the lovely Stella Meredith ( whose character inspires the classic song "Stella by Starlight" tinkled by composer Milland throughout ). The luckless Gail Russell made her movie debut as the dark beauty in this beloved ghost story that is filled with shadows, crawling mists, sobbing ghosts, a terrified Irish maid and, yes, a very strong lesbian undercurrent. ( You'll know it the moment you see it. ) Gorgeously restored, the Criterion edition includes an illustrated booklet, radio dramatizations of the film and a fascinating new examination of the movie by filmmaker Michael Almereyda. It's also available in Blu-ray.
These home-viewing selections are in addition to the hundreds of scary movies available VOD through your cable operator or online movie site of choice ( Netflix, iTunes, etc. ) so have yourself a scary little Halloween!