Before we address the other adaptations of CARRIE, let’s look at one of the movies its success made possible.
A few years after CARRIE was a hit, producer Steve Krantz whipped up this totally different movie called JENNIFER. Instead of just living in a decrepit house, Jennifer (Lisa Pelikan [LIONHEART, the TV version of TRUE GRIT with Warren Oates]) lives in a decrepit house that’s also a pet store. Instead of being raised by a single mother it’s a single father (Jeff Corey [SURVIVING THE GAME, the movie version of TRUE GRIT with John Wayne]) and instead of thinking her powers are the Devil’s work he thinks it’s Jesus. Instead of whatever form of Christianity Margaret White practiced, Jennifer’s father raises her as a snake handler. Instead of a sympathetic gym teacher there’s a dreamy science teacher (Bert Convy, host and producer of Win Lose or Draw) who is real cool and asks her to call him Jeff. Instead of a public high school where she doesn’t know how to fit in it’s a boarding school where everyone treats her like shit because they’re spoiled rich kids and she’s a poor kid on a scholarship. Instead of killing a pig and pouring its blood on her they hang her favorite kitten in her locker, and then say she did it and use it as an excuse to kidnap her.
Actually, the recent DVD release that I watched calls it a CARRIE rip off on the back, and the original tagline was “JENNIFER makes ‘CARRIE’ look like an angel!” So I would say this is sort of to CARRIE as something like URBAN LEGEND was to SCREAM. A movie that tries to follow the template of a recent hit and do something kinda similar because that’s what kids like now, isn’t it? And to be frankly honest that’s a big part of what keeps the horror genre going. I’m okay with that kinda stuff to fill in the gaps between the true originals.
Like DePalma’s CARRIE these are adults playing kids, but the more broad and on-the-nose dialogue makes it sillier. Senator’s daughter Sandra (Amy Johnston, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) is the popular blond bullying-ringleader, and her cruelty is blatant and juvenile. She makes fun of Jennifer for being from West Virginia, or for being smart and reading books, then blames her when caught cheating on a test, and targets her when she denies it. There are many small acts of harassment, including pushing her into the pool and making fun of her religion in class discussions. One thing that should’ve at least gotten them all kicked out of school is when they steal her clothes and hang them from the high ceiling above the pool. She has to climb a ladder to get them and then a guy jumps out and starts taking pictures, startling her into tipping the ladder and falling naked into the pool. The impressive thing about the scene is that a stuntwoman really did that shit.
Then they try to pass the photos off as porn to impugn Jennifer’s morals. Real classy.
The popular girls hang out with boys who drag race their Trans Ams in a parking garage and wear shiny, glittery clothes. The Billy Nolan equivalent is way worse than John Travolta, because at Sandy’s request he locks her friend Jane (Louise Hoven, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE) in an elevator and rapes her for being hesitant about their evil plans. Then there’s a really sad scene where she calls her rich mother on a pay phone to talk about it and instead of comforting her Mom tells her to call back later.
Maybe as an in-joke about this being made in the wake of CARRIE, Sandra claims to have slept with John Travolta. She says the same about Warren Beatty and her teacher Jeff. Who by the way looks like Tom Jones:
But I think she’s supposed to be lying about all this. I would feel weird about Warren Beatty, who was 40 at that time and directing HEAVEN CAN WAIT, sleeping with boarding school girls.
The mean girls get away with this stuff because the system is set up to serve the rich. When Sandra gets in trouble the Senator (John Gavin, SPARTACUS, PSYCHO) is pestered by the school until he flies in and donates $10,000. The headmistress (Nina Foch, SPARTACUS, NOMADS) doesn’t try to hide it at all and shuts down Jeff’s attempts to be fair about anything. It figures it would be something like this, but the open discussion about protecting the rich is not believable.
The movie is more subtle in putting all of the lower income people in roles of servitude. As part of her scholarship deal Jennifer has to actually serve food to the other students. All of her co-workers are black, mostly elderly, and they talk to her supportively but know not to get involved when Sandra pretends that Jennifer purposely spilled hot soup on her hand. (She throws such a big crying fit I started to wonder if these 25 year old actors are supposed to be playing pre-teens or something.)
The other black people you see in the movie are the guys who work at the parking garage (who decide to look the other way instead of trying to stop these rich assholes from drag racing) and two random street dudes who see a car flip and catch on fire at the end. Even in that situation they know to stay out of it.
In the climax Jennifer isn’t gonna take any more shit and unleashes her full snake powers. This is after they’ve kidnapped her and put her in the trunk of a car. This is my favorite filmatism in the movie, dreamy shots of her through a wet lens, lit by the red of the brake lights, accompanied by a psychedelic organ and guitar jam (the flipside to the beautifully corny theme ballad).
Then she unleashes these snakes at the drag races and uses her mind to control them, and nobody seems to notice them until they get attacked. There are all these surreal shots of her holding snakes and with this soft focus and stylized lighting it seems like maybe we can’t take all this literally. Either way, all the sudden there are giant snake heads biting people. The first time we see one it bites a dude’s head off and then we see his body drop down a big pit and go splat. A worthy pay off to sitting through all this.
Since CARRIE was just called CARRIE and was a big hit they knew it was okay to call this JENNIFER, even though a movie with that title could be about absolutely any type of Jennifer, including a non-powered, non-bullied, non-horror-movie one. In some of the other countries they didn’t want to leave it that ambiguous, so it was also released as CONSTRICTOR and the somewhat overstated HORRIBLE CARNAGE.
Director Brice Mack painted backgrounds for Disney classics from FANTASIA through LADY AND THE TRAMP, but he also directed four live action movies. This was his second one, and his last was ROOSTER: SPURS OF DEATH! from 1983, which I know of because it’s called ROOSTER: SPURS OF DEATH! Producer/story-provider Steve Krantz also came out of animation. He produced Ralph Bakshi TV cartoons like Rocket Robin Hood and Spider-Man before producing his features FRITZ THE CAT and HEAVY TRAFFIC, doing THE NINE LIVES OF FRITZ THE CAT without him and then moving into live action with COOLEY HIGH.
The screenplay was by Kay Cousins Johnson, a TV actress whose only other writing credit was an ABC After School Special. I wouldn’t say that any of these people were up to doing a topnotch job, but they did come up with a b-movie that is weirder and more watchable than some.