I suppose I have no one to blame but myself for the back half of 2013’s sluggardly pace as far as cranking out the flicks goes. There’s no denying that I’ve kept myself busy with various projects, but this has been the case every other year as well. I’ve been writing (much) longer reviews than in the past, which definitely accounts for some of the lack of time spent in front of the other screen. However, now that HIDDEN HORROR is almost out of my hands and on the brink of being in yours (or at least, within your reach – lead a horse to water and all that) and Milwaukee Rep’s production of Noises Off is up and running, I’m hoping to be able to chill out with a few more movies as the year comes to a close. It's encouraging that I watched as many movies the last week in November as I did the rest of the month. Of course, a very relaxed Thanksgiving with the femalien and Jon Kitley’s Turkey Day had something to do with that....
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Body Bags (1993) d. Carpenter, John / Hooper, Tobe (USA) (1st and 2nd viewings)
***CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW***
Eve of Destruction (1991) d. Gibbons, Duncan (1st viewing)
***CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW***
Night of the Comet (1984) d. Eberhardt, Thom (USA) (2nd and 3rd viewings)
***CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW***
Animals (2012) d. Forés, Marçal (Spain) (1st viewing)
*** FULL REVIEW COMING SOON***
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) d. Carpenter, John (USA) (2nd and 3rd viewings)
***CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW***
Ban the Sadist Videos! (2006) d. Gregory, David (UK) (1st viewing)
Gregory’s exemplary examination of the BBCC Video Nasty crackdown is a two-part documentary which delves deep into the societal and political environment that led to one of the most notorious incidents of censorship in recent memory. Though it’s composed largely of talking heads and close-ups of newspaper headlines, it’s a thrilling look at a dark era not too far in our collective rear-view mirrors, where the small-minded few held sway over the many. Those who forget the past, my friends, are doomed to repeat it. (available from Severin Video on their House on Straw Hill DVD/BR combo)
Knightriders (1981) d. Romero, George A. (2nd and 3rd viewings)
***CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW***
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) d. Jonze, Spike (USA) (1st viewing)
Liked this adaptation of Maurice Sendak's famed children's book a lot. Great blending of physical and practical effects, although it once again confirmed for me the notion that it’s more fun to be a kid than to have one.
2013 Totals to date: 270 films, 215 1st time views, 168 horror, 69 cinema
Knightriders (1981) d. George A. Romero (USA)
As the recognized godfather of the modern horror era, it’s a bit depressing to realize just how little joy George A. Romero derived from the majority of his genre output. Pigeonholed early on into the fright flick biz by an inflexible Hollywood, the great independent from Pittsburgh kept trying to wiggle his way out but found few doors open to him. However, following the worldwide success of Dawn of the Dead, he struck a three-picture deal with executive producer and distributor Salah A. Hassanein, securing creative autonomy under the sole contingency that one of the three would be a sequel to Dawn (the resulting film being 1985’s Day of the Dead). The other two were his 1982 EC Comics tribute with Stephen King, Creepshow, and a long, rambling, idealistic, at times naïve but extremely personal and heartfelt tale of motorcycle-riding knights attempting to live by an old-world code in a modern get-rich-quick world. One became a huge financial smash and beloved kitschy treat, while the other was virtually unseen by the movie-going public. The neglected foundling in this case, the one which Romero claims as his second personal favorite (behind 1976’s Martin), is 1981’s Knightriders.
King William (Ed Harris, in his first lead role), or “Billy” to his court, lives an austere lifestyle, attempting to strip away the materialism that he feels has corrupted modern society. He and his mostly merry band travel from town to town, putting on their specific brand of Renaissance Fair with cycles standing in for horses in various jousting tournaments. There are the King’s men, led by the noble Sir Alan (Gary Lahti) and Dame Rocky (Cynthia Adler), opposing the Black Knights, led by the robust and rebellious Morgan (Tom Savini). The two sides batter away at each other for the crowd’s amusement (and ticket receipts), ending each pageant with celebration and camaraderie.
But as the viewer comes on the scene, the seeds of discontent are already being sown. Billy has become so stringent in his etiquette that his rises each dawn to flagellate himself after a night of lovemaking with his increasingly frustrated Queen Linet (Amy Ingersoll). Morgan’s attempts to seize the crown through the staged battles become more brutal, while big-city promoters have become aware of the novelty act and hope to package it to the masses. While the familial atmosphere is still intact, there are factions and rivalries and tensions growing every day – it’s only a matter of time before something has to give. When Billy refuses to play ball with a couple of crooked cops, it sets in motion a series of events that compromise his entire “kingdom,” the fantasy he has worked so hard to maintain.
Romero’s seventh narrative feature takes a very long time to say what it wants to say and do what it wants to do – 146 minutes, to be exact. Its languorous tempo and meandering, character-centric plot seems more in keeping with the New Hollywood of the early 1970s, and wildly out of step with a public quickly warming to the whiz-bang thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. But even if a leaner result could have been derived, Romero’s zombie-loving fan base must have been utterly bewildered by this unconventional yarn of morality and honor atop two-wheeling, gasoline-snorting hogs. (That said, the jousting scenes are undeniably thrilling, thanks to the bone-breaking stunts performed by Gary Davis and his Stunts Unlimited team; it’s somewhat surprising that more hasn’t been made of these by action movie aficionados.) This is not to say that Knightriders is an unsuccessful film or even an unsatisfying one – it’s simply an unconventional and slow-paced bit of cinema with more on its mind than cheap thrills.
Unfortunately, this caveat has made it a less appealing item for those approaching the writer/director’s canon. Longtime fans of Romero should be aware by this point of his predilections for addressing social issues and headier themes within the trappings of the genre, but this is not a horror film (by any stretch) and only marginally an exploitation flick. Therefore, audiences in its day arrived unprepared for what to expect from the film, and continue to be stymied today. The buzz for Knightriders barely charts on the radar – it’s become as marginalized as his post-Night of the Living Dead efforts, There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch.
And yet, for the patient and the open-minded, there are many rewards to be revealed, not the least of which being the terrific ensemble performances – every character is vividly detailed and given a special moment by which to be remembered. Savini has never, ever been better, and the intense Harris already possesses the fiery core that would propel him to Hollywood greatness and Oscar nominations. Many key players, such as Lahti, Ingersoll or Warner Shook (as a sexually confused M.C.), never flourished beyond this movie in spite of their superb characterizations, although sharp-eyed Romero devotees will pick out dozens of familiar faces, from John Amplas’ mime to Ken Foree’s blacksmith to Scott Reiniger’s knight to Anthony Dileo’s vendor to Joe Pilato’s disgruntled employee to Christine Forrest’s (aka the former Mrs. Romero) lovelorn grease monkey. Not to mention our memorable “Hoagie Man,” played by none other than Stephen King.
Shout! Factory has done a terrific job of resurrecting this underrated gem for reappraisal by a new generation, with a sharp, high-def picture that captures every dust-slinging maneuver with crystal-clear perfection. The supplements are expectedly bountiful, even if the audio commentary track is recycled from the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD, but I suppose the chances of getting Romero, Savini, Amplas, Chris Stavrakis (stuntman and Savini right-hand-man Taso’s brother) and Forrest all in the same room again these days might be a tall order. Still, there’s a lot of joy in listening to the assembled crew excitedly shout out the names of the many incidental players, as well as invoking production assistants Holly Hunter (yes, that Holly Hunter) and Shari Belafonte. Savini describes the making of the film as “the greatest summer imaginable,” citing the convivial atmosphere that pervaded the nearly three-month shoot. Romero gives innumerable props to his creative team, in particular Donald Rubinstein’s lively and evocative score, and the fearless stuntmen laying it all on the line. “It was the first time I ever realized that people could be put in harm’s way simply to serve one person’s creative whims,” he muses.
For the featurettes, Red Shirt Pictures ups their already impressive ante by landing the film’s A-list star for a warm and thoughtful discussion. In “Conscience of the King,” Harris reveals what the role meant to him and his career – even though he admits that it wasn’t widely seen, the boost to the actor’s confidence, he says, was immeasurable. Romero appears for a new interview entitled “Code of Honor,” still effusive and still frustrated at the film’s low profile. He also reveals that he had a brief meeting with Morgan Freeman about playing Merlin (the role eventually went to be-bop performance artist Brother Blue), but that the actor perceived the part as racist and demeaning – odd when you consider the director’s track record of tolerance and diversity.
“Memories of Morgan” sits down with Savini, who clearly still has regrets that the film didn’t serve as a greater launching pad for his career as an actor – playing a role not far removed from the man himself, it is truly an extremely engaging and joyous incarnation. (One can only wonder how his and Romero’s worlds might have been changed had the picture been a success.) The extras are topped off by Savini’s behind-the-scenes footage of the various motorcycle stunts, some of which look extremely painful, and the theatrical trailer and a couple TV spots.
I do feel obliged to point out one notable subtitling mistake, in the hopes that it will be remedied for future deaf and/or hard-of-hearing generations to come. It comes during Harold Wayne Jones’ gratuitous Marlon Brando impression, about 90 minutes in, re-enacting On the Waterfront’s famous backseat monologue to Rod Steiger, only in this case Jones bemoans the fact that he is forced to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken. “Not my night? You shoulda looked out for me, Charlie, so I wouldn’t be stuck with a lousy piece of meat. I coulda had bass!” Unfortunately, the cheap (but still funny) joke is subtitled as “I coulda had baths!” Um, what???
Knightriders is available Nov. 26 from Shout! Factory and is available for pre-order HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine
Eve of Destruction (1991) d. Duncan Gibbons (USA)
During an advanced testing session in public, a female android prototype (Eve VIII – looks a bit like “evil,” doesn’t it?) and its keeper find themselves caught in the crossfire during a bank robbery; the resulting mayhem leaves the human dead and the humanoid machine malfunctioning and locked in “battlefield” mode, its highest state of alert, ready to use deadly force at the slightest provocation. Oh, and did I mention she’s also packing a thermonuclear charge?
This is the situation that military marksman and manhunter Col. Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) is called in to deal with alongside inventor Dr. Eve Simmons (Renée Soutendijk), with whose memories and visage the snappily dressed killer robot (dig that red leather coat/black skirt ensemble) has been equipped. The two pursue their quarry literally from coast to coast, beginning in San Francisco and concluding in the NYC subway systems, but the journey is one cobbled together from a multitude of late '80s action clichés and sub-par dialogue scenes courtesy of director Duncan Gibbons and co-screenwriter Yale Udoff. (Never heard of them, you say? Viewing their lackluster efforts here, there’s probably a reason for that.)
This latest title to emerge from Shout! Factory is a curious one to receive the Blu-ray treatment, an anomaly within their catalogue of underrated favorites. It lacks the usual cult appeal (no major genre players or even someone like Dolph Lundgren to bring in the loyals), and it’s little surprise that the movie failed to find an audience upon its initial 1991 release, perceived – correctly – as a second-tier cyborg-on-the-loose Terminator knock-off. (Ironically, that film’s turnstile-shattering sequel, T2: Judgment Day, would emerge a mere six months later, armed with infinitely more substantial star power and technical innovation.)
Gibbons is no wizard in staging action scenes or conjuring crackling dialogue to spur things along between set-pieces. Hines, while a more-than-capable actor, isn’t the kind of mainstream star that general audiences are going to be seeking out, nor does he hold any particular genre cred (despite his early turn as a coroner in 1981’s Wolfen). His slight build, bulging eyes, pouting lower lip, and sensitive demeanor make him an unlikely badass action hero, and Dutch actress Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, The Fourth Man) completely fails to impress, her dual roles as monster and maker both limited to occasionally widening her eyes, cocking her head, and staring intently into space.
Consummate character actor Kurt Fuller (Ghostbusters 2) is on hand, sleazing up the joint like a pro as a corrupt corporate stooge, but he’s given little to do except snark out the occasional one-liner. Veteran cinematographer Alan Hume’s (Legend of Hell House, Return of the Jedi, several James Bond films) usual magic is absent, matching the rest of the creative team’s low bar of “capable but unremarkable.” Hell, they even managed to secure Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twilight Zone: The Movie) for a day’s work and then fail to do anything interesting with him!
There are a few occasional bright spots, such as watching Eve VIII mow down random cops or engage in a wacky bit of road rage (the fender-bending latter turning her into a literal ticking time bomb), but there’s not enough big-bang-boom or zip-zap-zoom to sustain interest. In fact, it’s the film’s quietest scene, when Eve heads for NYC to find Dr. Simmon’s son, now in the custody of her ex-husband Peter (John M. Jackson, looking for all the world like Kevin Spacey), that proves to be its most effective.
With their ultra-bare-bones presentation, including a title menu that consists merely of the “Play Movie” function and a trailer, Shout! Factory doesn’t exhibit much enthusiasm for their recently acquired orphan either. There are no chapter stops, no extras, and nothing to earn this long absent (and barely missed) programmer any additional cred. I’m not sure who was clamoring for it, because its release comes off as more of a “Huh?” than a “Hooray!” Still, for you Hines and Soutendijk completists out there, your prayers have been answered. For all others, you'll probably more gain more satisfaction listening to Barry McGuire's classic anti-war rock anthem. It'll stay with you longer, trust me.
Eve of Destruction is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) d. John Carpenter (USA)
Two elements hang heavy over any critical viewing of Carpenter’s second feature (and his first to be executed over a normal shooting schedule – his debut, Dark Star, was a college film shot in fits and starts that was later picked up for distribution, resulting in additional reshoots): 1) it is a conscious reworking of Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic western Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, and 2) the onscreen shooting of a young girl (played by Disney fave Kim Richards) earned Assault on Precinct 13 instant notoriety. The latter item infuriated the MPAA and more sensitive reviewers, but being that this was an unabashed low-budget exploitation piece, it became the talking point that proved, “Any publicity is good publicity.” Following its initial cool reception in the U.S., the film became a critical and commercial success in Britain, affording the young writer/director (and composer and editor) the traction to mount what would become one of the most successful independent films in history, Halloween.
But Assault is more than just a stepping stone to future success – despite its occasionally dodgy logic, Carpenter’s keen eye for character and narrative ebb and flow is already in evidence, and while he notes his own “young writer’s tendency toward melodrama” on Shout! Factory’s recent BR release, there is much to admire in his innovative staging of the standard “siege picture.”
The action kicks off with the slaying of a half-dozen multi-racial gang members by the police, who are searching for a stolen cache of weapons. The firepower, as it turns out, has indeed fallen into the hands of the criminals, and in a round-table tenement scene, four Los Angeles gang warlords (Caucasian, Asian, Mexican, Black) slice their forearms and mingle their blood as a sign of solidarity against the authorities, solemnly intoning, “For the six.” In the meantime, newly christened Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is given the task of overseeing the final hours of a to-be-shuttered police precinct (Precinct 8 in Division 13, to be exact – the inaccurate but catchier title was chosen by producers CKK after rejecting Carpenter’s original names “The Andersen Alamo” and “The Siege”).
However, Bishop’s dull assignment picks up considerably when the transportation of three hardened criminals (Darwin Joston, Tony Burton, Peter Frankland) from a distant prison is diverted to the station upon one of the prisoners falling ill. Shortly afterwards, the inhabitants are subjected to a nonstop battery of violence when, following the Caucasian warlord’s (Frank Doubleday) having gunned down the aforementioned moppet, her hysterical father (Martin West) retaliates, then seeks refuge in the nearly abandoned cop shop pursued by legions of heavily armed gang members. Badges and bad guys must now ally forces if they hope to survive the night.
The action scenes are balanced nicely with quiet moments of regrouping and plan-making, whereupon Carpenter allows the disparate characters to build relationships with one another and the viewer. Joston’s Napoleon Wilson, the most notorious of the convicts, possesses the easy, laconic charm of a latter-day John Wayne, and his connections with Stoker’s noble lawman and Laurie Zimmer’s cool-headed secretary are what give the film its heart. Burton, who appeared as Apollo Creed’s trainer Duke in the same year’s Rocky, tenders a humorously twitchy turn, bemoaning his unlucky lot in life.
The faceless hordes outside always seem just on the brink of breaching the sanctuary (shades of Night of the Living Dead), with silenced bullets strafing the walls and stacks of paper (one of Carpenter’s most inventive devices, in that we only hear the “zzzzip” of flying lead instead of the standard gunfire) or by climbing in the station’s many windows. These scenes are clearly reminiscent of any number of westerns, but the urban setting keeps them fresh. And, in this age of flutter-cut editing, the use of longer takes and attention to detail are a happy reminder that screen action works best when we can see, and care about, what’s going on.
Shout! Factory’s 2013 love affair with Carpenter continues, and the game veteran continues to deliver his laid-back brand of audio commentary – wry and smooth, he takes us through the onscreen events with mild regret over some of the missteps of youth but still enthusiastic about how well Assault holds up three decades later, celebrating familiar faces like Charles Cyphers (who would become a regular with Halloween, The Fog and Escape from New York) and classic Hollywood bad guy Henry Brandon.
On a separate audio track, Michael Felsher shares the mike with Tommy Lee Wallace, who served as art director and sound effects editor for the film. Wallace amiably discusses his long-time relationship with Carpenter (the two grew up together as kids and both later attended USC, although not at the same time) while pointing out his own voice as the police dispatch and the radio announcer, and the myriad of footfalls and squib blasts meticulously recreated for the foley soundtrack. Hats off to Felsher for being willing to travel off tangent in order to highlight some of Wallace’s other accomplishments, including a special nod to 1988’s underrated coming-of-age flick Aloha Summer, starring My Bodyguard’s Chris Makepeace and Enter the Ninja star Sho Koshugi.
Felsher’s welcome generosity extends to his 12-minute Red Shirt Pictures featurette “The Sassy One” with Nancy Loomis, as he allows the beloved cult actress – who made her film debut with Assault (as well as serving as the costume mistress) – to discuss her Carpenter-rich career (Halloween, The Fog, Halloween III) as well as her current career as a sculptor. We also are treated to a chat with Stoker in “Bishop Under Siege,” as well as a lengthy 2002 post-screening Q&A held at the Egyptian Theatre with the star and director. The extras package is rounded out by a theatrical trailer and a couple radio spots.
Assault on Precinct 13 is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine
NOVEMBER 16, 2013
I'm about to shower a lot of praise on The Battery, but if you're a longtime reader or just know me personally, here's the most significant: I was happy to leave a Halloween convention early in order to see the film. That's pretty big; you know I live and breathe Halloween, and I could have even hosted another panel if I stuck around (incidentally, the scheduled moderator was at the same screening), but after raves from my friend AJ (and a positive review from Evan at Badass) I knew I'd regret missing the chance to watch the film with a crowd, and so off I went, missing some Hallo-fun (and a party) to sit in a folding chair and watch a projected Blu-ray... and I loved every minute of it.
If anything I should be pissed; a while back I wrote out an idea for a stripped down zombie movie that was closer to Cast Away than to Dawn of the Dead, and if I were to ever get it made (yeah, right) the first review would probably say "Rips off The Battery". But that's fine, writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner probably did it better than I would (well, I wouldn't have starred or directed, but you know what I mean), because he has the patience to stick to character instead of going for zombie action whenever things might get "slow" in the traditional sense. With only two people in the movie for the most part (the film has opening credits that spoil that won't always be the case - I wish they had gone without opening titles so it would have been more of a surprise when someone else shows up), it's not like much action SHOULD happen - after all there's little chance either of them will be offed until the movie's almost over (if then), so it wouldn't be very suspenseful to have them trying to outrun a horde of zombies.
And yes, they're zombies. The good (read: slow) kind, and the characters know what zombies are and will use the word when appropriate. It's one of many things that makes this feel like a much more realistic film than most z-territory; they're not oblivious to what the things could be (when the film opens, headshots seem to have been figured out, if not already known off the bat), nor are they in a hyper-realized version of the world and quoting Romero (or Wright/Pegg) to (over)sell the idea that this is not a "movie" universe. Nope, it goes down exactly as it might if you or I were among the last of the living and rarely facing immediate threat from the undead. The backstory of how the zombies came to be isn't explained, but it seems that the zombie numbers aren't much greater than that of the human race - it's not until the end that we see more than 1-2 at a time.
As a result, this allows for a lot of "hanging out". The two characters, Ben (Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are a pair of baseball players who are just sort of roaming around Connecticut in their station wagon, stopping for supplies when necessary but otherwise never setting up a home base. We learn that they were shacked up in a house but became surrounded by zombies and trapped for days, and thus now they approach it like they are sharks: if they stop moving, they'll die. This allows the scenery to change up a lot, but also works as a throwaway explanation for why they're not in danger all that often, giving them a chance to play catch, go apple picking, or just hang out drinking beers and (in Mickey's case) listening to a Discman. There's a truly hilarious bit where Ben pretends to be a zombie creeping up on the plugged-in (and thus deaf) Mickey that serves as a perfect example as the kind of character-based humor that the film excels at, something that's often missing entirely from most modern zombie films, which are usually more concerned with new ways of killing the damn things than making sure we care about the guy holding the makeshift hammer or whatever the hell.
This low-key approach makes the 3rd act stuff work even better than it would if it came at the end of a typical NOTLD wannabe (mild spoilers ahead!). Rather than the usual "Characters find key to salvation, have to overcome insurmountable odds to secure it" or "There's a boat/chopper/jet/whatever waiting and we have until x o clock to get there!" run n gun finale, the two heroes find themselves trapped in their car, surrounded on all sides by zombies with the keys somewhere in the bushes outside. For a while, the sequence plays as the rest of the film does - they just sort of hang out, passing the time until the zombies leave or they simply die from thirst or starvation, with the undead (lightly) banging the windows 24 hours a day (they're in there for a few days). Finally, one character decides to make another attempt at finding the keys, and rather than go with him for what would probably be an exciting little action sequence, we stay on the one who remained in the car. I might be wrong but I think it's one long 7-8 minute shot as he waits for his friend to return, agonizing over every sound, desperate to find something to occupy his mind... it's an astonishingly great scene.
So how can you see this film? Well, being an indie without traditional distribution as of yet (something that baffles me; it's been on the festival circuit for about a year now), you can actually buy a digital download of it for a mere 5 bucks from the director himself. You can, and should, do that HERE. I've paid more than that to rent a film on demand, so to OWN it and watch however times you like even after a stupid 24 hour window has expired is a pretty great deal for any movie, let alone one as good as this. Big thanks to Elric and the Jumpcut Cafe for hosting the screening, and to AJ for giving it a loving intro despite being sick. I am truly impressed, and eagerly wait Gardner's next film.
What say you?
Possession (1981) d. Andrzej Zulawski (France)
Deliberately abrasive and queasy, idiosyncratic Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s best known film assails its audience from the opening scenes and never lets up for a second, leaving the viewer exhausted, exasperated and exhilarated. Returning home from a vaguely defined military mission, Sam Neill is alarmed to find that his relationship with wife Isabelle Adjani has disintegrated into complete hostility and disgust. He soon discovers that she has taken up with several lovers, one of which might not be entirely...human.
A technically astounding film, with Bruno Nyutten’s cinematography swirling about the locations and characters with orgiastic glee and Neill and Adjani unleashing extraordinary high-wire performances that rival anything these admittedly fine artists have done before or since.
Adjani would win Best Actress Awards from both Cannes and the Cesars, and after witnessing her wrenching, utterly selfless showstopping aria of suffering in the train tunnel, who could deny her?
Brutally trimmed by 50 minutes (!) and with entire sequences reshuffled, the original U.S. release was as notorious a bit of butchery as they come – the already challenging movie floundered and disappeared. Thankfully, it later reappeared on laserdisc and DVD in its complete form, though it has long since gone out of print and is awaiting further resuscitation and rediscovery by fans worldwide. F/x wizard Carlo Rambaldi designed the memorable creature effects.
Carrie (2013) d. Peirce, Kimberly (USA)
The tagline, “You will know her name” speaks to the very problem inherent to revisiting such iconic material: We already do know Stephen King’s seminal telekinetic protagonist’s name, and she has already been immortalized in an Oscar-nominated turn by Sissy Spacek as directed by a near-the-top-of-his-game Brian De Palma. Even if viewers have never seen the full feature, they’ve seen the highlight reel. But the post-millennial remake trend continues, and despite director Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre’s best efforts to the contrary, the results are redundant at best and tiresome at their worst.
There’s no denying Chloe Grace Moretz’s talent as an actress, but here Peirce asks her to gild the “ugly duckling” lily by having her cower and quake throughout the entire first act. What made Spacek’s incarnation resonate was that she seemed like a real person, one damaged by years of abuse and emotional neglect. Moretz’s performance never stops feeling like just that: a performance, and an overplayed one at that.
While Julianne Moore wisely avoids trying to emulate Piper Laurie’s operatic madness as religious zealot mother Margaret White, keeping her public psychosis to a dull underlying rumble, she never transcends the thin material and is left frantically twitching in lieu of anything else to do.
Perhaps younger viewers will relate more to this updated version than I could, especially if they haven’t seen the 1976 original. All the characters text each other on their iPhones (just like us!) and Carrie’s first period in the girls locker room shower is now captured on video and posted on YouTube within minutes of it occurring. They might also enjoy the shimmery special effects, with Moretz wizarding things about as the control over her telekinesis grows.
But for this ol’ Doc, it all feels hollow and artificial, with CGI standing in for actual thrills – a common complaint from this quarter nowadays –d with the show-stopping prom scene a maddening cacophony of keyboard stunts. (That meticulously manicured pig’s blood splash? Ugh. The painted-on cracks in the asphalt? Gah.) For all the publicity about Peirce and her team attempting a faithful reinterpretation of King’s novel, De Palma’s 1976 game plan is followed step-by-step, ticking off all requisite set-pieces while adding in bigger booms when the opportunity arises.
Though still a tormented, misunderstood social outcast with a deepening rage against her peers, this Carrie White is more akin to X-Men’s empowered mutants, such that we cheer at her vengeance rather than reel in fear over what havoc will be wrought when she finally snaps. Maybe that’s what the kids want these days, but we should all be glad that De Palma, Spacek and Laurie did it first, because there’s no way this version would ever (or will ever) achieve “classic” status.