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Carrie: Special Edition

After suffering through sixteen years of fundamentalist religious dogma at the hands of her ultra-conservative mother, young Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) has turned into a social leper, an outcast relegated to the fringes of the community by her classmates. Considered "weird" by virtually all the residents of the suburban neighborhood in which she and her mother (Piper Laurie) live, the friendless Carrie suffers through her hellacious day-to-day existence in silence, a purgatory from which she can't escape. And her talent for telekinesis — the ability to move things with one's mind — only serves to make her feel like an even greater outsider. Although not stupid, Carrie is kept woefully ignorant of the ways of the world by her mother, so much so that when she has her first menstruation in one of the movie's earliest scenes, the young woman actually thinks she's dying — an opportunity her classmates use to further humiliate her. However, as a result of her first period our heroine discovers a dramatic surge in her telekinetic abilities, thereby giving her, for the first time in her life, a way to stand up for herself. But the end results prove a bit less than ideal. You see, Carrie goes to the prom. And something bad happens to her. Something really, really bad. And those in attendance will soon face — in one of cinema's most famous scenes — an expensive retribution for sixteen years of pranks, taunts, and insults. (The theme of paranormal powers coinciding with a young woman's first menstruation is, incidentally, also explored in Ginger Snaps, John Fawcett's impressive teenage-angst tale masquerading as a horror flick.)

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Brian De Palma jump-started his career with this cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's debut novel, propelling both the writer and the director into Hollywood's limelight. Although De Palma is one of the world's most inconsistent directors (perhaps only John Carpenter rivals his hit-or-miss track record), Carrie is a bona fide horror classic. Some of the credit is undoubtedly due to Lawrence D. Cohen's remarkably faithful screenplay, which condenses the scope of the novel into a story which still retains its teeth — something that can't be said for a lot of King adaptations. (Stephen King himself is on record as saying this is one of the finest adaptations of his novels that Hollywood has ever produced, even though the macabre master is supposedly no great fan of this particular story — he reportedly threw the manuscript in the trash while writing the first draft; his wife later fished it out and convinced him to finish it.) The principal cast is effective as well, with both Laurie and Spacek delivering richly textured performances as mother and daughter (both were nominated for Oscars, though neither won). Supporting turns from the remainder of the cast vary in quality (which includes Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, P.J. Soles, William Katt, and the feature-film debut of an obscure actor by the name of John Travolta), but they are never intrusive or distracting; Irving, in particular, is far more competent here in the role of Sue Snell than she'd be nearly 25 years later, when she'd reprise the character in the abysmal The Rage: Carrie 2. MGM has spared no expense to celebrate Carrie's 25th anniversary, and this new special edition DVD is a vast improvement in every conceivable way over their earlier bare-bones disc. In addition to the new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), the disc contains the 40-minute documentary "Visualizing Carrie," in which De Palma and his production team discuss the difficult process of transitioning King's ambitious novel to the screen on a tight budget; the 43-minute doc "Acting Carrie," wherein the entire cast (sans John Travolta) reminisce about the casting and shooting of the movie that made many of them household names; the six-minute short "Carrie: The Musical" (yes, there really was such a beast — it actually played on Broadway); several textual supplements; a photo gallery; and the original theatrical trailer. Regrettably, no audio commentary track is included, which is par for the course when it comes to De Palma, alas. Offers both Dolby Digital 5.1 and the original mono soundtrack. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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