The other night became an unplanned double feature of two horror flicks created by two directors of vision. I have to discuss them separately first, but there was a reason they made a night together.
Twixt was Coppola’s return to film after a long absence. it was his chance to play with new technology, with smaller budgets, and with fewer expectations. It is, at its heart, satirical of the arts world. Layered over that is an attempt at Gothic horror that hearkens back to Carnival of Souls, Twin Peaks, Lost Boys, Cat People, Dracula, Lost Weekend, and, by design, numerous Poe stories. Even Carrie is obliquely referenced. It all ends up more comical then scary, as the tone of the film is the the voice of the 3rd-rate writer that is at the core of the story. Motivations, actions, dialog, even some of the set and make-up are all purposefully polished B-movie.
Because it is Coppola, even with the restrictions of his budget the cinematography is impressive; at times hypnotic. The story, however, is fractured and, ultimately, obvious and unsatisfying. It is a simple little yarn in the end, but not very meaty. It was a skeleton upon which to hang his techno-geek requirements, or so it felt. Absent a love of Coppola or a contextual need to see this film, it is a toss-up as to whether it is worth your time despite some lovely ideas, nice design, and a 7-faced clock tower.
Carrie (1976) holds a special place in de Palma’s film canon. He’d just released Phantom of the Paradise, which had begun a sea change in horror that would eventually culminate in 1981 with Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Raimi’s The Evil Dead–each taking very different tacks on the lessons from de Palma’s influence before the industry lost the thread and wandered elsewhere.
Carrie was another of de Palma’s semi-satirical approaches to horror, but it never quite leaves its B-movie roots. This is most evident in the way the story is rushed so we can get to the “good parts” rather than building plot. You can see the depth, but it isn’t dwelt on in the script. That said, the pace is unrelenting and the sense of it is hyper-real, from the quasi soft-porn opening, to its bloody end. It captures the teenage psyche and world view in a way the previous generation of film didn’t, eschewing in near entirety an adult filter.
Carrie, also has an astounding cast who, at the time, were almost all unknowns. Laurie and Spacek would even pick up Oscar nods that year for their efforts. I won’t list any more of the players for you… watch it and be surprised. I’m willing to bet, even if you’ve seen the film, you’ve forgotten some of who was in it. Add to that aspect some iconic moments and you really do have a “must see” situation. I also realized, as I watched, it is for all of these good points and the lacks that make it ripe for the upcoming remake–and my fingers are crossed that they will do it right.
As some interesting trivia, this film was cast during the same sessions as the original Star Wars. De Palma and Lucas shared the casting call, sifting through weeks of unknown actors for their respective films. Lucas had first dibs, but that still left a lot for de Palma to choose from. Spacek, in fact, had been working on the crew of Phantom and worked hard for the lead in Carrie when it went into casting. In addition to the cast trivia, listen for the opening riff in the main theme in Carrie… the opening bars appear again a few years later, intentionally or not, as the theme for Battlestar Galactica.
Taken as an evening there is an almost full-circle effect of the beginning of the shift of horror films to the current state.
Horror has split, generally, into two realms with a very few sitting in the gray area (Cabin in the Woods being the most recent). Either they are full-on blood and terror fests or they are tongue-in-cheek comedies or satires. De Palma was the beginning of that shift in the same way that Blazing Saddles was the beginning of no-holds-barred comedy that has most recently peaked with Bridesmaids. But the schism was one entirely of the industry’s making–de Palma showed that humor and gore could co-exist, but only a few writers and directors got the message; Werewolf and Evil Dead being prime examples. But most genre offerings went simply to one extreme or the other, opting for simplicity of thought over complexity of experience.
Twixt attempts to reinject some gray back into the mix, but the stylization is too strong to take the story seriously in any real way. What we’re left with is seeing a bizarre extension and reflection on the genre from Carrie to present, commenting both on cinema and books. This isn’t a double-feature I’d likely push on folks, but the happenstance was definitely intriguing to experience.