It feels idiotic to assume yet I expect most of the world is well-versed in the Stephen King novel and if not the book then the TV serial which surfaced in 1990. It’s back and, just like before children are disappearing and the adults are oblivious. Amidst a downpour in 1988, a little figure clad in a yellow slicker and green galoshes runs alongside the paper boat that his big brother and ‘bestest pal’ made for him. SS Georgie battles the raging seas i.e. gushing rainwater on the streets of Derry, Maine, until it slips from tiny grasp into the storm drain.
Twelve months later and still reeling from the loss of his little brother George (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his group of friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) known affectionately, as The Losers Club join forces to defeat school bullies and the evil thing that is devouring the town’s children.
Adapting any major work must be hard, not least when the original text is a magnum opus. Liberties were certainly taken in 1990 condensing nearly 1400 pages into a three-hour TV series but then I was a child, had yet to read a King novel, and was utterly horrified at the prospect of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and his shifting shape(s) of fear. This time round, and now well-read, it feels slightly more faithful in some ways and yet there are those damn liberties again. Despite early production problems, and the acrimonious departure which took with him, his Will Poulter-shaped Pennywise and director’s chair, Cary Fukunaga retains a writer credit alongside his writing partner Chase Palmer but it’s Gary Dauberman who takes the lead while Andrés (Andy) Muschietti (Mama) steers the ship.
The novel’s structure has changed and 50s Derry is transposed to the 80s – just as Regan handed over the keys of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Bush – but that just gives the 15-rated film a Stand By Me meets The Goonies (and John Wayne Gacy) retro quality that actually really works. Splitting the film into two chapters and avoiding those flashbacks and forwards, means these kids are able to hook us entirely, we’re completely invested in their plight, their friendships and fears, and that emotional connection is made. This is their time and each of the main cast is a delight.
Richie’s still a motormouth and has the best lines, Bev – she of Winter fire hair – is great; kind and tough, hypochondriac Eddie is more verbose than I remember, Bill’s still a little bland, and Ben’s a sweetheart (with excellent taste in boybands). Stanley’s character is fleshed out a little more while, disappointingly, Mike’s is somewhat diluted. His interest in Derry history is sidelined and given to Ben for reasons unknown, and not, one hopes, just a way for the filmmakers’ to avoid the racial elements of the story. He is clearly painted as the outsider. Fingers crossed that come Chapter Two some of these issues will be addressed, and he receives the narrative pull that was expected. My point is, gripes aside, it’s like revisiting old friends.
Had I watched this version at 11 years old, I’d have been traumatised, It comes back every 27 years (in actuality, 25 for me) and now I’m the adult no longer afraid (well, ish). To be fair, Bill Skarsgård in the clown get-up is the stuff of nightmares. He’s less abrasive and wisecracking than Tim Curry, and there is an underlying innocence to his Pennywise which adds to the vile and creepy. His body movements are manic and frenetic, even a little awkward, like a child who has experienced a growth spurt overnight and boy, is he hungry (the saliva drenched lips and string of drool, a dead giveaway). He is terrifying and yet, for me, the scares throughout the film are somewhat lacking despite the gripping sense of unease felt from the start with poor Georgie.
Visually, the film is stunning thanks largely to Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography, Janie Bryant’s costumes, and the VFX and make-up provided, in part, by Stan Winston alums Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis. The sets are elaborate and striking and for horror fans it has a real kid-in-a-sweet-shop feel, especially the house on Neibolt Street. The set-pieces are thrilling and rich in detail, and littered with plenty of horror-themed easter eggs, the jump scares are fairly frequent and perhaps a little obvious but there was one that the two guys sat next to me didn’t see coming.
All-in-all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adaptation, horrific, heartfelt, and not in the least bit hokey; a perfect trip down memory lane via childhood street and nostalgia way. By the time the credits roll, you’ll float too.
Never one to shy away from the confrontational, Amat Escalante’s follow up to the unflinchingly brutal Heli (2012) is available now on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films and its Arrow Academy label.
Straddling science fiction, horror and a Mexican kitchen sink drama, The Untamed, begins with a lingering shot of a meteor hovering in space. Its crash to Earth occurs off-camera but leaves a large crater in its wake and t brought something with it. That ‘something’ has tentacles, presumably a respiratory system of sorts, despite having no visible organs or features, and has taken up residency in the barn of an ageing couple (played by Oscar Escalante and Bernarda Trueba). It has a regular visitor in the form of Verónica (Simone Bucio) who, well it’s never made implicit what or how she serves the alien form despite strong indications; only that on this occasion, she is injured and forced to leave and find aid.
Shocked and bleeding, she seeks refuge in a local hospital where her wound is treated by Fabián (Edén Villavicencio) and one thing leads to another and the lonely and somewhat mysterious Verónica inserts herself into the gay nurse’s life and by extension his sister Ale (Ruth Ramos) and her less-than-blissful domestic set-up with cheating, bullish homophobe husband Ángel (Jesús Meza) and their two small boys. The stranger convinces them that the life form which resides in that barn is the answer to their problems just prior to and even after devastating, irreparable tragedy.
Apparently made as a direct response to chauvinism, mainstream homophobia and the moral perception of tragedy, this fantastical allegory builds atmosphere with a literal humming buzz in the diegesis and taps into our basest primitive state, and the relationship between pain and pleasure. This dichotomy is beautifully depicted through Ale and Angel’s youngest son and his love of chocolate, he knows he’s allergic but can’t resist. Those moments of gratification are worth it, even if it means an angry-looking itchy red rash and a prodding injection. Seemingly, for the adults, pain and pleasure mature through sex and violence, however, this is never fully connected within the film’s narrative, the strange alien life force or the human subjects.
The Untamed deals with hefty subject matters and is a human drama within a sci-fi-erotic-horror film. Several scenes are clearly influenced by Andrzej Žulawski (the late filmmaker is even acknowledged in the closing credits), there are moments which feel Cronenbergian, and even includes a scene which reminded of von Trier’s Antichrist (2009). The horror aspects never feel forced and are fascinating, specifically the creature, one is drawn to it much like the lost souls in the film yet it’s not given that much screen time. Sadly, it is in the human drama aspect that the film falls down. There was an intensity, rage and heft to Heli and even Žulawski’s Possession (1981) (if we’re to take that as the main text of inspiration) which feels missing here; yes it’s subversive, intelligent, and well put together but overall muted and a little disappointing.
The Making of The Untamed (84 mins) – this in-depth footage takes us behind the scenes with the cast and crew of the film, shot by one the film’s composers and the director’s brother, Martín Escalante. There are fascinating moments, warm interludes between filmmaker and his collaborators – who seem to compromise of some long-term friends and family members – and laborious retakes in shooting. Amat Escalante is a perfectionist, that much is clear.
Amarrados (Tied Up) (15 mins) – Escalante’s first short which took first prize at the 2002 Voladero International Film Festival in Mexico and won him Best Short and Best Director at the Newport Beach International Film festival in 2003. Shot in black and white, the film centres around Niño (Abel Diaz), a young homeless boy who’s stuck in a vicious cycle of sexual abuse and glue-sniffing. There’s a beauty amid the misery in this short, in which class, race and religion are alluded to and Escalante’s follow-shot is included: a great edition to the disc.
First Pressing Only – Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, writing by critic Jonathan Romney, the director’s statement and extracts from the press book, illustrated with original stills (unavailable at the time of review).
“Are you ready to receive the gift of salvation?” a street preacher asks lead character Luciana as she walks past him. It’s a running theme through the first half of Most Beautiful Island as Luciana discusses redemption with her mother. She has left her home country following an accident involving her daughter Sofia (we don’t know the specifics but there’s a shoebox containing baby clothes, sealed in plastic bags to preserve the newborn smell). In the US she must find the belief to survive and the faith that things will, have to, improve.
The film opens with a camera sweeping crowded streets, randomly honing in on unidentified women and briefly following them before moving onto the next, until it eventually finds Luciana (writer-director Ana Asensio). She is trying to see a doctor for the nausea, nightmares and nose bleeds which are becoming more and more prevalent, however she, like many undocumented individuals, has no health insurance nor the $75 spare to pay for the appointment. Her day made worse as she returns home to passive-aggressive notes from her roommate demanding rent and the Post-Its tacked to food items in the fridge reminding her that they are “Not Yours”.
What follows is a relentless pelting of lack of privilege and hardship, tightly framed and often in close-up to give a real sense of discomfort and entrapment as each situation becomes increasingly worse; living hand to mouth, the crappy jobs which include babysitting bratty children or dressing like a sexy chicken to advertise fast food (the latter something immigrant men are spared, presumably). While discussing the dismal prospects with friend Olga (Natasha Romanova) – another woman finding her way in the world – Luciana considers donating her eggs for the $8000 offered in a magazine ad, it’s either that or fully embrace the defeat she has been feeling. However, things look promising when Olga offers Luciana the opportunity to cover for her at a party, all she needs is a LBD and heels and in return she will earn $2000.
At some point, alarm bells must start ringing as Luciana is led to the bowels of a Chinese restaurant to pick up a handbag, a designer knock-off complete with a padlock and then onto the hastily scribbled address she carries on a scrap of paper. As a viewer, you’re internally screaming for her to turn back as her evening becomes more bizarre, she finds herself in a web of weirdness, and the significance of those women seen in the opening moments is made apparent. To say any more would be to spoil but suffice to say Jeffrey Alan Jones’ music comes into its own here, the jarring sounds adding to the tension as the voyeuristic handheld super 16mm camera bounces between close-ups and wide shots, most of the action taking place behind a closed door – we’re as much in the dark as Luciana.
Most Beautiful Island depicts the day and night, light and dark aspect of the American Dream, and the form the film takes is very much split in two as the day brings opportunity and the night brings the dastardly (and genre-favourite and the film’s producer Larry Fessenden in a very small role). Asensio’s deployment of those genre elements in the second half exaggerates an already increasingly hopeless situation and is particularly effective. The first-time director manages to communicate a great deal, harrowingly, in a taut 80 minutes and refreshingly doesn’t sugar-coat the human plight at the centre of her narrative.
Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, papa of Kim) arrives somewhere in Eastern Europe at the behest of Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) to perform the autopsy of Irene Hollander (Mirella Pamphili) whose death is burnt on our retinas during the opening credits. She is the latest in a long line of residents who die, all seemingly at their own hand, and yet something is nagging at the Inspector. The villagers themselves are suspicious of the medical outsider and do everything in their power to prevent a postmortem even enlisting the help of local witch Ruth (Fabienne Dali) to make the reparations for a peaceful afterlife and to counteract “the curse” inflicted by the creepy blonde child in white who likes to peer into windows. For the stoic and steadfast Doctor who is so initiated in the world of science, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to reconcile the rational amidst the supernatural, old superstitions, and his own eyes. He, along with Nurse Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc) work together to unlock the secrets of the village, the eerie goings-on in the crumbling Villa Graps, and the history behind the reclusive Baroness (Giovanna Galletti) and her little girl Melissa (Valerio Valeri).
Mario Bava was a genius when it came to horror and the Gothic. He was a master of avoiding blood and gore, when needed, and often instead concentrated on building mood and atmosphere, through music, cinematography, special effects, and diegetic sound: echoing footsteps, squealing cats, and creaking doors were among his specialities, as well as the sublime use of lighting and coloured gels. He depicted fear and the emotional experience of it through an artistic subtlety few have been able to replicate. Bava transgressed the medium which left him unappreciated in his time, and his body of work often overlooked. Operazione paura or the US-monikered Kill, Baby… Kill! is a beautiful and enchanting piece of supernatural horror, atmospheric and credible in its Gothic tropes. Under the threat of death or no, Villa Graps is well worth the visit.
The Arrow Video label of Arrow Films has put together a great package celebrating this Gothic gem, one of a slew of Bava’s oeuvre which have been restored and made available to own including Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, and Blood and Black Lace. Aside from the 2K restoration HD digital transfer, there is, as one has come to expect a whole host of additional treats besides.
The Devil’s Daughter: Bava and the Gothic Child (21 mins) – This in-depth audio essay written and narrated by Kat Ellinger is brilliant. She discusses Bava’s influence on contemporary filmmakers, specifically citing Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. In addition, she works her way through examples of Gothic literature and cinema, paying particular attention to the Gothic family, monstrous mother, and demonic child in relation to KBK as well as other films which followed and those which are indebted to Mario Bava and the character of Melissa Graps. A 2007 interview with Bava’s AD and son, Lamberto is the subject of Kill Baby Kill (25 mins) during which Bava Jr talks about working with his father and grandfather (Eugenio was also a special effects technician and cinematographer) and their collective interest and pursuit of the supernatural.
The whole documentary-style interview takes place in Calcata, Italy as Bava takes us on a tour of the village which was used as the location for KBK, through Villa Frascati which doubled for Villa Graps and discusses the fun they had recreating the cemetery (amongst other interiors and exteriors) on a sound stage. Erika in Fear (10 mins) – After introducing the main feature, Erika Blanc gives this lighthearted interview during which she describes her experiences on set and what it was like working with her director. Affectionate reminisces are abound as Blanc denounces cinema of today as being flat which is one of the reasons why audiences are only discovering Bava’s technically precise and professionally perfect films now; they’re not used to such vibrant colour.
Yellow (2006) (6 mins) – Semih Tareen’s short film and beautifully-hued love letter to the cinema of Mario Bava.
German Opening Titles (3:25) – in which orange text declares the title of the film Die toten Augen des Dr. Dracula – odd, given Dracula’s nowhere to be found.
International Trailer (2:32)
Photocomic – 68 slides break down the vintage photocomic book, in which every frame is depicted in comic book cells. This was originally published in Film Horreur in 1976 and provided by Uwe Huber.
Image Gallery – 28 slides show the German posters and lobby cards – which Erika Blanc works her way through in her interview – again provided by Uwe Huber.
New audio commentary – provided by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.
First pressing only: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Travis Crawford.
Shot almost exclusively in stylish black and white (save for the colour film clips and art pieces), Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 celebrates Alfred Hitchcock, and the most infamous shower scene ever committed to celluloid (and after its decline). Its title referring to the mammoth 78 set ups and 52 cuts that makes up the sequence which lasts just 45 seconds.
Recreating scenes of the proto-slasher and taking full advantage of Jon Hegel’s string-heavy score, 78/52 relies upon audience participation; ours and those onscreen seated on a set decorated not too dissimilarly to the Bates house, all floral wallpaper, old fashioned TV set and dressed in trinkets. By the final third, we are watching those talking heads involved viewing the scene in question to utterances of “wow”, the odd gleeful “yes”, only Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double) appears uncomfortable. Just one more aspect of voyeurism which begins with Norman Bates and his peep-hole.
From Saul Bass’ storyboards and Hitch’s script notes, Bernard Herrmann’s score, and the casting of Leigh’s body-double Renfro, to the type of melon used for stabbing foley and of course, the watered-down Hershey’s chocolate syrup which doubled so convincingly for blood; 78/52 is an interesting and in-depth critique of an iconic piece of film by a controversial cinematic auteur. It is effective, informative and well-produced as the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Tere Carrubba (Hitchcock’s granddaughter), Eli Roth, Osgood Perkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Danny Elfman – amongst many others including directors, actors, authors, film editors, professors of cinema, composers, AFI scholars and art curators – wax lyrical about the film which was so culturally and socio-politically integral to cinema and its reception. As one suggests, it elevated not only the horror genre but cinema as a whole.
While the influence of Psycho is staggering, one small scene cannot quite sustain a whole 91 minute film which is why it veers somewhat through Hitch’s body of work and the film as a whole. The majority of observations are interesting, however, there are moments which are superfluous and trite and a few which remain unsaid. For example, Hitchcock’s notorious onset working practices is a subject never broached and what of the sexualised aspect of the shower scene, the symbolic rape (though there is Bogdanovich’s ‘feeling’ of rape after seeing Psycho for the first time and a comparison to Irréversible), or the female gaze? Again, topics that are mentioned in passing and danced around but never explicitly with reference to the subject matter (or not at all). Karyn Kusama and Illeana Douglas (two of only seven women interviewed) aren’t afforded the time to expand upon their thoughts – or were and then cut. It seems almost ironic to set up a discussion about a horror film which has an integral scene removing the woman and then not have a few more female filmmakers, fans and/or experts to voice opinion – unless that’s the point?
As a piece of art, there is no denying Psycho remains a cornerstone of the horror genre and cinema, it broke taboos and pushed boundaries and is one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces within a substantial and impressive oeuvre. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe “the death of a beautiful woman, unquestionably, is the most poetical topic world” which pop up onscreen as the documentary begins. It’s just a shame that more women weren’t included to talk about it rather than the whole discussion, or thereabouts, dominated by white males.
78/52 is for those who have an interest in the art and history of film. Part visual essay, Hitchcock commentary, and Psycho autopsy, it’s entertaining enough and well worth a watch but for anybody who has ever studied film or auteur theory, there will be little you didn’t already know.
School is the worst place to hide in plain sight when you’re different and bullies are unforgiving and relentless, it’s one of the reasons why Stephen King’s first novel has stood the test of time and why Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Carrie still remains the best of its kind and resonates with an audience. Released just in time for Christmas (a Carrie White Christmas, no?) Arrow Video has pulled together a pretty decent limited edition boxset complete with a new 4K restoration from the original negative, replete with a whole host of new and archival extras, and new writing on the film.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is the only child of a religiously maniacal Gothic seamstress mother. Margaret (Piper Laurie) is a woman who insists on spreading the word of the Lord whether others like it or not. Her daughter wants nothing more than to fit in and be a regular teenager, however, the girls at school: Helen (Edie McClurg), Norma (P.J. Soles), and Sue (Amy Irving) led by Chris (Nancy Allen) have no intention of letting that happen. Even the teachers are mean. From that opening scene on the volley ball court in which our eponymous heroine is isolated and invited to “eat shit” after missing the ball to the following in the changing room. As Carrie’s pleasurable moment in the shower is interrupted by the violent and visceral experience of her first period. The original mean girls are at their most feral in their vicious hysteria as they launch sanitary pads and tampons at their vulnerable and terrified peer.
This girl is crying out for a mother and when she returns home it should be a place of comfort, somewhere she can feel safe, not a place where she has to repent in a closet for a biological function. However, with an abusive mother like Margaret – school is respite for her. A maternal figure comes in the unlikely form of gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) and then the unexpected happens and Tommy Ross (William Katt) – who is supposed to be going with Sue Snell – asks her to Prom. Sue feels, that by asking Tommy to take Carrie to the biggest night of the school year, it will assuage her guilt for attacking the timid girl in the shower. Tommy, much like the majority of the males in this film (and there aren’t many) is a pawn; a conduit for the girl(s) to use to get their way. See also Billy (John Travolta) and Chris’ relationship and her pig of a plan for Carrie. The women are the ones in control – Carrie just has extra ability to play with.
De Palma’s adaptation bypasses the epistolary structure of the novel entirely and combines the weighty issues with satire. While there are brief moments which homage Psycho – some references are subtler than others – the score which should have been Bernard Herrmann’s instead went to Pino Donaggio who created a wonderfully atmospheric accompaniment and found the best way of repurposing the late Herrmann’s work (by isolating individual notes from the shower sequence and using the high-pitched shrill strings during the times when Carrie loses control). It is in those moments the film comes into its own – although, Arrow really missed a trick not including the soundtrack.
Carrie was not the first (or last) to conflate questions of femininity and the supernatural. If anything it paved the way for more male filmmakers to attempt to get their heads around the abject notion of menstruation. The text also subverted the idea of the American home as a safe space, instead its white picket fence and asymmetrical visage became a place of dread, fear and anxiety. Helped immensely by the religious iconography and paraphernalia invading the oppressive domestic space and aiding the sexual repression enforced my mother – there’s that Psycho link again.
The film created a bit of a feminist backlash too, particularly in relation to the shower scene and the alignment of pigs blood and women’s blood – women as pigs (?) and the monstrous female body as the site of transgression. Certainly, there are some interesting readings in relation to Carrie and it will, of course, depend on your perspective. Carrie is “othered” (like almost every other monster in horror) because, as Alexandra Heller-Nicholas states (citing Carol Clover) during her audio commentary: “horror is a female genre” – our protagonist is the literal outsider and yet we are invited to identify with her. Her fury at the world and those who punish her is fully justified, as frightening, irrational and uncontrollable that power is in its force; Carrie stands up to her bullies, and well, there’s something rather empowering in that.
The Prom, its framing, use of space, split screens, Dutch angles, colour filters and the composition of each shot is superb (and a nice nod to Argento). Those blue and red filters and the scenes they colour are the greatest aspect to come from the restoration, they are visually amazing and, for me, the peerless part of the film. Even 40 years on, it holds up as one of the filmmaker’s best, if not the best (although, I’ll have to rewatch Sisters and get back to you on that). Carrie still resonates, we’re aligned with the “monster” of the piece and identify completely with this girl and her need/want of acceptance. Despite the fact that we know how the film ends, it’s easy to watch and still wish for a different outcome.
Audio commentary provided by writers-critics-authors and all round good eggs, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Lee Gambin. These Aussies are authoritative (you can always trust these two when it comes to horror), knowledgeable and, better than anything, fun to listen to as they watch and examine Carrie; its themes, composition and their mutual love of it.
Acting Carrie (42 mins) – This 2001 featurette contains interviews with De Palma, art director Jack Fisk and the cast including: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Priscilla Pointer, William Kat, P.J. Soles, Betty Buckley and Nancy Allen. They discuss the casting process which took place at the same time of Star Wars (Katt auditioned for Han Solo and Irving, Princess Leia). Spacek only auditioned following husband (and the film’s art director) Jack Fisk’s involvement and Laurie came out of retirement to play Margaret – it worked out well, they were both nominated for Academy Awards for their respective roles. Remember the last horror film to do that? Exactly. It’s an entertaining feature as we’re taken through the filmmaking process, story boarding details, and that shower scene. A building frenzy which Irving describes as “beautiful” and Allen, “disturbing. Ladies, it is indeed both.
More Acting Carrie (20 mins) updates on the previous extra by having a lot of the same cast members interviewed in 2016. There are new stills and images in this, however, a lot of anecdotes are repeated but it’s nice to see the cast in their advancing years. The addition of Edie McClurg is new (though the typo in the credits change her to ‘Eddie’) as we discover the real fire which broke out on the soundstage during filming and Soles’ perforated ear-drum following fire hose hi-jinks. Visualising Carrie: From Words to Images (41 mins) is a mini-feature which details Lawrence D. Cohen’s script brandishing in pre-production hell before securing a director. The Jack Fisk interview is the most interesting part as he details the process in making the White household which is known as “father, son and Holy Ghost” architecture due to its asymmetrical style, how he fashioned the Saint Sebastian statue in Carrie’s closet and the other religious icons he acquired for the set dressing. There’s a beautiful mention of the late Bill Paxton who put Fisk onto the pig farm.
Singing Carrie: Carrie the Musical (6 mins) – Although short lived, there was a 1988 musical production of Carrie which was written by Lawrence D. Cohen and starred Betty Buckley as Margaret White. Both she and Cohen discuss it and surmise why it failed on stage. In a 2016 interview Cohen is back in Writing Carrie (28 mins) as he discusses his process from receiving Stephen King’s manuscript, finishing it in one sitting and reviewing it for the paper he worked for. He believed even back then it would make a great film and upon seeing Obsession (1976) he knew De Palma was the man for the job. Cohen speaks warmly of his director and the success they both had with Carrie. He launches into discussing Carrie the musical, which seems a little redundant as the previous disc feature has already given us the lowdown.
A 2016 interview with cinematographer Mario Tosi follows in Shooting Carrie (14 mins), in which he describes the wonderful experience of working with “difficult communicator” De Palma. Tosi speaks in stilted English and uses cue-cards, not sure why he couldn’t have spoken in his mother tongue given the subtitled Donaggio interview later on. Cutting Carrie (24 mins) is a 2016 interview with editor Paul Hirsch in which he repeats a lot of information that has gone before. The monotonous tone of the man’s voice adds to the tedium of this extra as he describes the “painful” process of cutting the film. Not sure why he mentions Allen and Irving’s subsequent marriages either. This is worth skipping.
Although not drastically different from the very first feature, Casting Carrie is 15 minute long interview with casting director Harriet B. Helberg about her first screen credit which she loved every second of working on (from what she can remember). She’s a big fan of the remakes too. Bucket of Blood (24mins) – a 2016 interview with composer Pino Donaggio is one of the disc’s highlights as he recollects how De Palma changed his life and took him from the canals of Venice to Hollywood. It’s a charming interview and nowhere long enough as he takes us through his score; from the homage to Herrmann and his use of strings to create suspense to the more melodic music, like Carrie’s theme. For a musical genius, the man is so very humble and such a lovely interviewee. Horror’s Hallowed Ground is a 10 minute, low-budget episode of a TV series which began in 2006 (a lot are available on YouTube) where host Sean Clark visits locations from classic horror films. It crosscuts from Clark to the locations/scenes in the film. It’s harmless and well put together if amateurish.
The last of the big features is a brand new visual essay Comparing Carrie in which writer-editor Jonathan Bygraves compares the three screen versions of Carrie from 1976, 2002, and 2013. He examines time periods, production, structure, the characterisation of Carrie (Sissy Spacek, Angela Bettis, Chloe Grace Moretz), the different versions of Margaret White played by Piper Laurie, Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore respectively. There is one small mistake in which one image is labelled as 2002 when it belongs to 2013 and I can’t say I’m a fan of the font used. It’s all written in blood-red capital letters and would have been so much more readable in lowercase (and therefore referencing the 1976 credits). That said, the strains of Donaggio’s melodious score over the top of the essay is wonderful.
Alternate TV Opening – Details the main differences in the censored TV version.
Gallery – 45 slides showing posters, stills, publicity shots including some of the prologue that was shot but never used.
Trailer – Spoilery trailer which they’d never get away with today because… Film Twitter.
TV Spots (3 mins) – Five of them in total. All of which stating “If you have a taste for terror, you will have a date with Carrie” which is a “chilling blend of American Graffiti and Psycho.”
Radio Spots (1min 30sec) – Same voiceover used as in the TV spots.
Carrie Trailer Reel (6mins) – Combines trailers from 2002 TV movie Carrie (dir. David Carson), The Rage: Carrie II (1999, dir. Katt Shea) and 2013’s Carrie (dir. Kimberly Peirce).
Reversible Sleeve featuring original and new artwork by Laz Marquez (see featured image).
Limited Edition 60-page booklet (unavailable at the time of review) featuring new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell, author of Devil’s Advocates: Carrie, a reprint of The Final Girls’ 40th anniversary Carrie zine, and an archive interview with Brian De Palma.
I’m loathe to describe something as the “definitive” version of anything, however, if we’re talking about editions of Carrie, then this one is as near as damn it. It repurposes a lot of extra features which appear on the 2016 Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and archival bits and pieces from 2001’s MGM Special Edition DVD but my main gripe (and I’m really searching for one, honest), the thing that would have made it absolutely perfect – or “definitive” if I have to put a label on it – is the missing soundtrack.
The opening shot of Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut We Are Still Here is a blank canvas of snow; desolate, cold and perfect. Anne and Paul Sacchetti are on the way to their new home – the exterior landscape is not the only frosty element to the scene, the deep chill clearly present in the car. Anne (Barbara Crampton) is broken – though no victim; devastation is written all over her face, her eyes red raw from crying. Paul (Andrew Sensenig) keeps his feelings hidden in the odd tumbler of scotch. They have recently lost their son Bobby in a car accident and the new home is obvious attempt at escaping painful memories; the couple are connected in their grief and yet completely alone with it.
From the moment they pull up to the house, it is evident that things are not what they seem. It is very subtle but look closely at the shutters of the windows, they move, as if they are blinking; the house lives. It has a history and energy which hippy séance-loving friends Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie) zone into when they pay a visit to the Sacchettis. The eeriness of the vacant rooms, creaking of door hinges and floorboards and a breeze coming from seemingly nowhere that keeps knocking over a framed photograph of Bobby. It has all the hallmarks of a haunted house film but somehow this feels more authentic. The camera is intrusive and lurks voyeuristically, the editing similar to Don’t Look Now as it draws the audience in, dialogue is scarce but that just adds to the tension.
Family is the heart of this film and Wojciech Golczewski’s original music compliments the theme wonderfully, playing with the melodrama and creating tension and foreboding. There are nods to Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Pupi Avati but they blend perfectly with the contemporary, albeit dateless, setting. There is even a yellow labelled J&B bottle of scotch perfectly placed, (although rebranded as B&J) displaying a sense of humour amid the modern aesthetic. The film is a slow burn and builds steadily to a bloody, yet profound, denouement. Oddtopsy FX provide some fabulous effects and gives us some real picturesque deaths as the house quite literally devours. Who knew arterial spray against a canvas backdrop could look so beautiful?
We Are Still Here plays with the 70s and 80s but feels wholly original. It is smart, well-acted, funny and was the standout of this year’s FrightFest.