The great high school movies come in two varieties. One kind is the rock 'n' roll, coming of age flick, with mildly rebellious characters struggling through the period that vendors of trinkets such as class rings and yearbooks try to sell as "the best years of our lives." Gag us with a spoon. Happy, sentimental movies like this are Sixteen Candles, Footloose, Americans Pie and Graffiti.
Then there are the movies that show high school as it really should be portrayed, as a Grand Guignol shop of horrors. Heathers is a comic take on this and Welcome to the Dollhouse takes the fun down to junior high, but the mother of excavations of adolescent cruelty, sexual and social terror, and horrifying revenge is Brian De Palma's 1976 potboiler, Carrie.
The well-known story, adapted from the Stephen King novel, is gruesomely simple. Sissy Spacek, in the role that made her a star, plays the title character as a frightened high school outcast. The cool kids are led by Amy Irving, William Katt and a very young, very good-looking John Travolta, and they take Carrie under their wing, arranging for her to get a dream date to the prom. But of course, Carrie doesn't get to be pretty in pink.
Religious fanaticism, sexual ignorance, social cruelty, bloody vengeance: It's all there in high school and it's all in Carrie (had this film been scheduled to come out in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, it surely would have been shelved).
Durham's Carolina Theatre will be showing Carrie this Friday at 7 p.m., as this year's Halloween edition of their "Retrofantasma" series. Also on the bill is Alice, Sweet Alice a lesser-known 1970s-vintage shocker. This film features the first screen appearance of Brooke Shields, but her appearance is said to be brief. In other words, don't be late. --David Fellerath