By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: She can control snakes.
Jennifer (Lisa Pelikan) is a shy student from West Virginia attending to a preppy boarding school in California. She lives with her father (Jeff Corey) who suffers from mental issues and is a religious zealot. She cares for him while also helping him run their pet store. At school Jennifer gets on the bad side of Sandy (Amy Johnston) the spoiled daughter of a rich senator (John Gavin). Sandy and her snotty clique of friends try to make life miserable for her, but Jennifer knows something that they don’t. She has a special ability, since childhood, to communicate and control snakes and when the harassment gets to be too much she unleashes the snakes onto her enemies.
While Hollywood is well known for ripping-off hit movies, in this case Carrie, this one is quite possibly the most shameless and brazen as very little effort is made to differentiate it from the original and it seems almost intent to copy it in every possible way. Star Pelikan looks and speak almost identically to Sissy Spacek from the original, even has the same clear blue eyes and Amy Johnston is virtually the spitting image to Nancy Allen who was the mean girl from that one. Director Brice Mack even replicates Brian DePalma’s soft focus camera lens and lighting schemes though I will give this one some props for mentioning John Travolta.
Jennifer’s powers gets awkwardly handled too as it’s over a half-hour in before they even get mentioned and we as viewers should’ve gotten foreshadowing about them a lot earlier. The preacher’s kid getting killed by one of Jennifer’s snakes when she was 7, which is what forced them to leave the small town, should’ve been played-out and not just discussed and the flashback scene of her as a child getting in front of a group of churchgoers at a religious revival in order to demonstrate her powers over snakes should’ve been shown right at the beginning instead of 35-minutes in.
I did though appreciate that Jennifer isn’t quite as pathetic as her Carrie counterpart and is able to hold her own in social situations instead of pathetically slinking away. The fact that she does have a few friends and people sticking-up for her is nice too as watching all the kids, like in Carrie, being cruel to another for the simple sake of meanness can get a little hard to take. The writing team of Steve Krantz and Kay Cousins Johnson also do a good job of creating a likable main character and a really nasty villainous making you fully hate her and looking forward to the climatic showdown. It’s just unfortunate that Amy Johnston was a weak actress and unable to make her character, as spoiled and nefarious as she is, more interesting.
Pelikan on the other-hand is excellent and I found it ironic that she was, in real-life, married to Bruce Davison, who starred in a famous horror movie of his own, Willard, about a young man that could control and communicate with rats. Nina Foch is great as the corrupt school administrator and I really dug her big glasses. John Gavin is fun too in his last movie role before he left show business to get into politics and looking like he hadn’t aged a day since the 50’s when he was, at that time, considered an up-and-coming star. Bert Convy though, while a great game show host, proves to be yet again weak as an actor. He’s so bad that even the scene where he tells-off Foch, which should’ve been rousing, becomes boring and I was hoping that at some point his character, which was a bit too good-to-be-true, would’ve made a provocative pass to Jennifer when they were alone together simply to give the story a little bit of a darker subtext.
Caveats and all I found the ending to be super cool and I really wished it would’ve gone on longer. Real snakes were used and the shots of them growing to giant size is genuinely creepy and makes sitting through the rest well worth it. The only quibble is that it’s never explained how Jennifer is able to make snakes appear out of nowhere. I was okay with the concept that she had an ability to make them do as she wanted and attack those that she didn’t like, but getting them to pop-in was a bit much. To have helped avoid this issue the final sequence should’ve been done at the her pet store, where the snakes could’ve come out of their glass cages to defend her, instead of in a parking garage where there were no snakes until she somehow ‘zapped’ them in.
I was also surprised, just as a side note, with the level of nudity that you see in what is otherwise a PG-rated movie. Not that I’m complaining, and I realize 70’s standards in the rating system are different than today’s, but still it ends up being more than you might think.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: March 31, 1978
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Brice Mack
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray