ZAMM.COM: Carrie Classic

By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com



Carrie classic: When the original Carrie opened in November 1976, horror thrillers were quite different from how they are today.

In a way, the re-imagination of Carrie, opening wide Oct. 18, recalls earlier times when serious filmmakers didn't think twice about making horror thrillers and stars were Oscar nominated for their performances in some of them. Today's horror movies tend to be made by filmmakers with expertise in the genre or young directors eager to get their careers going, but not by high profile directors of mainstream films.

The new Carrie, however, boasts a critically acclaimed director in Kimberly Peirce, who is best known for her feature directing debut, the 1999 drama Boys Don't Cry, which brought Peirce honors as a first time filmmaker from key awards groups like the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. Boys also brought Halle Berry a Best Actress Oscar win and Chloe Sevigny a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

Carrie stars Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role Sissy Spacek played in the original and Julianne Moore as her mother (Piper Laurie in the original). It's the story of a shy girl shunned by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother. After Carrie's pushed way too far at her senior prom, she unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town.


The new film's tracking best and in double digits with under-25 females, who are typically today's core audience for horror films. This reflects the construction of most contemporary horror movies with young female protagonists in peril throughout the film, but somehow surviving to prevail in the end over male villains. Movie marketers cite the sense of empowerment such stories give young female moviegoers as a key reason why that demo embraces the genre.

In the 1960s and '70s, however, horror thrillers were targeted to a broader audience. Adults went to see horror movies in those days and frequently it was because they'd read the literary source material that many of those films were based upon.

There was, for instance, the 1968 supernatural horror mystery Rosemary's Baby, written and directed by Roman Polanski and based on Ira Levin's best-seller. When he made Baby, Polanski was already a critically acclaimed director for such films as the Polish drama Knife in the Water (1962), the horror thriller Repulsion (1965) and the horror comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).

Baby brought Ruth Gordon a supporting actress Oscar and Golden Globe wins and Mia Farrow received a best actress nom in the British Academy's BAFTA race. Polanski was Oscar nominated for adapted screenplay and also received a best directing nom from the Directors Guild of America (DGA).

Another case in point is the 1973 horror thriller The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin and adapted to the screen by William Peter Blatty from his own best-selling novel. Prior to making Exorcist, Friedkin had already made a splash at the box office with the 1971 action crime thriller The French Connection, for which he won the best directing Oscar and Golden Globe plus the DGA's directing award. French also won the Best Picture Oscar and the Golden Globe for best picture–drama besides many other awards wins and noms.

Alfred Hitchcock, who was known as The Master of Suspense, directed the 1960 horror thriller Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, which like Baby and Exorcist is now regarded as one of Hollywood's all-time horror genre classics. At the time, Hitchcock had already made such high profile non-horror thrillers as Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and North By Northwest (1959), but that didn't keep him from venturing into the lower budget horror genre realm and make Psycho independently Horror film or not, it was honored with four Oscar noms, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh and best directing for Hitchcock.

Before making the original Carrie, Brian De Palma had already established himself as a successful horror genre director in 1973 with Sisters, starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt and Charles Durning. Carrie's screenplay--by Lawrence D. Cohen, who's also a co-writer of the new Carrie--was based on the best-selling book by Stephen King. Starring were Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta and Nancy Allen.

Carrie brought Spacek a best actress Oscar nomination and Laurie a supporting actress nod. But today's horror films are much less likely to generate Oscar attention for their stars no matter how strong their performances may be. It's almost impossible now to get Academy voters to show respect for so commercial a genre.

Nonetheless, horror films are now one of Hollywood's most dependable genres at the box office. Since horror thrillers are usually made on modest budgets, they're among the most profitable films in the marketplace.

Perhaps the best recent example of booming horror genre ticket sales is The Conjuring, which was made for just $20 million. After opening July 19 to $41.9 million, it went on to gross over $137 million in domestic theaters.

Bottom line: The 1976, Carrie took in $33.8 million domestically, which was big money then, but these days is just an okay opening weekend gross. The new Carrie should deliver some pre-Halloween box office thrills when it hits theaters Friday.

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