Carrie

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. Today’s film tackles high school bullying with the original, 1972 version of "Carrie.”

When it comes to picking scary movies, I will almost always refuse to watch modern horror films, psychological thrillers or any kind of gore-related slashers. But give me any low-budget film that is at least 20-years old and preferably full of feathered hair and melodramatic screams, and I’m sold. Based on the Stephen King novel, Brian De Palma’s 1976 film, “Carrie,” has just the right level of weird kitsch to confuse and entertain you all at the same time.

The film opens on Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) a mousy high-school outcast in the midst of   you guessed it — sassy girls rocking the feathered hair and jeering glares. Carrie is endlessly bullied by these expertly coiffed ladies and receives little sympathy, even from teachers who laugh at her in front of entire classrooms. It’s the setup for any stereotypical high school drama, except for one key difference: Carrie has telekinesis. Now we’re getting to the real drama.

Carrie returns home from a day of bullying to her psychotically religious mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), who forces her to recite all kinds of creepy biblical creeds and locks her in a closet for hours.  Basically, it becomes pretty clear why Carrie is so sheltered and socially awkward. As soon as the mother appeared on camera I knew something was up. With a disturbing grin and a giant black cloak, she does things like go door-to-door trying to get neighbors to repent from their ungodly ways. The underlying religious commentary on the character is clear, but there’s a perfect level of cheeriness to her portrayal that made me giggle every time she yelled “repent!”

Taking sympathy on the tortured Carrie are fellow classmates Sue Snell (Amy Irving) and Tommy Ross (William Katt). The two arrange for Tommy — obviously the school hottie judging by his flowing blonde mane — to ask Carrie to the senior prom to make up for the endless bullying she’s endured. Despite her crazy mother’s demands to remain home, Carrie goes to the prom and, in the natural order of high-school outcast stories, is elected prom queen.

Now this is where it gets good. Carrie’s confidence, pent-up anger and telekinetic ability have reached their high point and she’s overcome the wrath of her mother. Carrie finally cracks in the most frighteningly goofy scene ever, after one of her snarky classmates decides to ruin her moment in the spotlight.

The best part about “Carrie” is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, the majority of the scenes leading up to that climactic moment are complete non-sequiters — my personal favorite being a ridiculously long scene involving shopping for prom tuxedos. Do we need to know about which ruffles the boys choose for their dress shirts? No. Do we love it anyways? Of course. Because the best kinds of horror movies are the kinds that make very little sense and result in a lot of mildly confused laughter.

Why is it important that you watch this version now? The remake of “Carrie” premieres this Friday! Judging by the ads, this version should provide a much darker, more serious twist on the original, focusing much more on special effects and much less on hair quality — bummer, I know.

If you’re still looking for that perfect Halloween getup, the Carrie look shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. Just make sure you’re comfortable being covered in fake blood from head to toe, wear a long dress, and don’t forget to middle part your hair. Then proceed to spend the entire evening staring at objects willing them to move. And who knows, they just might.

Review

In Showtime's compelling new political thriller "Homeland," Claire Danes portrays Carrie Matheson, a CIA agent convinced that recently recovered prisoner of war Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has aligned his loyalty with Al Qaeda and is a part of a planned attack on American soil. (Photo courtesy of Showtime)

Much of Showtime’s original programming falls into the trap of over-reliance on a central conceit, without which they generally struggle, having little substance outside that conceit on which to build a thematically strong story. “Dexter” would have little to stand on if the title character swore off serial killing, and if suburban mom Nancy Botwin ditched the pot business for good, “Weeds” would certainly flounder.

However, Showtime’s new paranoid political thriller “Homeland” defies that reliance. It is a subtly crafted show that expertly balances its many themes — the ethicality of government surveillance, Americans’ perception of Islam and its relationship with terrorism, the crippling mental effect of war on soldiers — with both ambiguity and delicacy, while also carrying off some spectacular plotting and character twists.

“Homeland” centers on Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), a young CIA agent who, although doggedly committed to her job, is emotionally and mentally unstable. Carrie lives with the unending guilt over not having caught a clue that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks and this guilt both motivates and handicaps her work.

When Carrie is given a tip from an interrogation subject that an American solider has turned to al-Qaida, she immediately zeroes in on Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a recently recovered American prisoner of war who spent eight years being interrogated by the Iraqi regime of Abu Nazir (a fictional and vaguely bin Laden-like terrorist leader). Carrie uses all the government power she can scrounge up to investigate Brody, beginning by setting up a surveillance system in his house and scrutinizing his every move.

In contrast with all the political intrigue involved in “Homeland,” the show also manages to make its portrayal of its characters’ domestic lives just as compelling. Carrie’s slow descent into paranoia, fueled by her as-yet unnamed mental illness builds tension, and Danes’s manic portrayal of a woman consumed in turns by jittery paranoia, self-doubt and fierce righteousness is blistering. Sgt. Brody’s wife Jessica’s (Morena Baccarin) indecision over whether or not to tell Nick that she’s fallen in love with his best friend while she took him for dead in his absence is also anguishing.

It’s the delicate ambiguity with which “Homeland” treats subjects like American surveillance, mental illness and the revelation of Brody’s conversion to Islam that make the show so remarkable. Paradoxically, the show’s hesitance to make any hard-and-fast moral statements about these subjects make “Homeland” all the more bold in its ambivalent assessment of post-9/11 America.

The show also sets itself apart by constantly defying viewers’ expectations about the typical twists and turns of a political thriller. For instance, any other serial drama might have drawn out Carrie’s surveillance of the Brody household for an entire season. However, the show dispenses with this plot device within four episodes as Carrie’s warrant expires, forcing her into more and more morally dubious situations in order to keep track of Brody.

Now that “Homeland” has been officially renewed for a second season and Showtime has confirmed that the enigmatic P.O.W. Sgt. Brody will be present for at least another season, it’s all the more uncertain what direction “Homeland” will take in seasons to come. Luckily for us, uncertainty is what “Homeland” does best.

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Showtime finds success with political thriller