It’s all in the eyes. There have been actresses since Sissy Spacek whose big, wet peepers have given the impression that they’re peering at the world fresh from the lily pad (Molly Parker, for one). But not one of them has conveyed the capacity to be wounded, displayed the fear and shock and fury that Spacek did in Brian De Palma’s 1976 high school gothic Carrie, screening as part of the Sunset 5’s ongoing fest “101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men.” In her most intense moments, Spacek’s eyes go wide, as if she were powerless to shut out the horrors swirling around her. You see it very early on, when Carrie’s gym teacher (Betty Buckley) tries to comfort her after she’s endured the dual shock of having her first period and being ridiculed by her female classmates because of it. Spacek’s eyes dart around, unable to focus, like a Martian getting used to a new world. When Carrie eventually takes her revenge at the prom, Spacek gives us the sense that her power to move objects is emanating straight from her irises, an impression reinforced in the scene that follows, when a quick series of cuts zooms in on Carrie’s eye, and the car carrying her main tormentors (the matchlessly raunchy team of Nancy Allen and John Travolta) explodes. De Palma’s film has often been cited as a meaner precursor to high school flicks that followed, like Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Actually, it’s the fulfillment of a film that preceded it: Frederick Wiseman’s 1968 cinéma vérité documentary High School. De Palma takes the boredom — the bland authority that aimed to crush any individualism — of Wiseman’s film to its diabolical, vicious conclusion. That’s why the film’s famous final fright — Carrie’s hand emerging from the grave — is the perfect emblem: Like his martyred freak-show Cinderella, De Palma sets out to drag us down into hell — in this case, the American high school. (Sunset 5; Fri., Aug. 4, mid.)
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