.2 New Horror Movies for Halloween

The House in the Alley and Carrie distill their horror from well-worn scares

LOOKING SHARP: Thanks to a haunting in her formerly happy home, Thao (Thanh Van Ngo) is possessed to think she’s found the definitive way to win a marital argument in ‘The House on the Alley.’

The Vietnamese hit The House in the Alley and the unhappy remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 Carrie both begin with bloody, screaming childbirth and end with a spot of serious domestic violence. Odd how what we think of as escapist horror is rooted in the everyday. All this new Carrie really has going for it is its insistence on feminism. The biggest drawback of House in the Alley is its insistence that women will get you every time.

The horrific childbirth at the beginning of House is during a monsoon. Director Le-Van Liet makes the most of this slow crawl upstairs into the bed where it’s going on; the doctor is an hour late and the midwife gives up. Oddly, Thao (played by the alluring but inert Thanh Van Ngo) survives. Numb from the miscarriage, Thao sinks into fits of anger and near-zombiedom, keeping the tiny casket of the dead baby on top of her dresser. While we wait to see how the child is going to return (vague bad vibe? rubber goblin?) we can assess the problems this marriage had even before the miscarriage. The bespectacled, too nice husband Thanh (Son Bao Tran) calls his wife “honey” so much it’d get on anyone’s nerves, let alone a wife’s. And Thanh’s severe, business-suit clad mother tends to refer to her dead grandson as “that thing.” There’s trouble at the family business, a factory; the workers are on the verge of wildcat strike. First we guess, and then we’re sure, what the director’s telling us: Thahn needs to grow a pair. Too late. The demon ghost is materializing: a lump under the sheets, a giggle in the hallway, a screech on the rooftop.

As if he were making a scary version of The Scent of Green Papayas, Liet contrasts the two Vietnams: the shiny skyscraper Saigon, and the old time houses with their plant-lined courtyards: “Let’s go bathe in the rain,” poor Thahn says to his angry wife, and you recall the hair-washing scenes in that Vietnamese classic. The key to why this particular dead baby goes on the warpath has a pretty commonplace horror movie explanation. The last pop-up is about as startling as a warm bath in the tropical downpour.

Just as Julianne Moore was the best thing in Gus Van Sant’s unjustifiable remake of Psycho, she’s also the best thing in the unjustifiable remake of Carrie. Chloe Grace Moretz seemed like a good idea in the lead, but it’s dolorous miscasting—she’s far too confident an item to play a drab, persecuted victim of telekinetic storms. Director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) updates the plot slightly—Carrie’s menstrual ordeal ends up on the Internet.

Why do you hire the director of Boys Don’t Cry to make a movie that doesn’t work in the way Boys Don’t Cry worked? It’s shot in a safe and sane Toronto posing as Maine. It’s seems more natural to take the story somewhere into the South, into a grimy high school of today. (Did Carrie White even have to be white?) If ever a remake called for the neo-documentary horror effect, this was it. The source novel, a first success by Stephen King, even included bogus footnotes to Time magazine article on the high school disaster.

Moore demonstrates serious pathos as Carrie’s mother, a self-mutilating Catholic religious fanatic; she makes the role tragic, and plausible, with the twitch of a rolled up eye, or the whimper “We live in Godless times.” She’s a dressmaker, and Pierce keeps us on needles and pins by studying all the sharp things in the White’s dreadful household.

Who could never forget Spacek’s Carrie staring herself blind, possessed by her rage; Moretz, used to rampage from the Kick Ass movies, seems as artfully daubed with blood as a performance artist. Her selection of tools to use on her persecutors is studied, sadistic. An anti-bullying message replaces De Palma’s much-imitated last twist. Instead we get a voice over: let this be a lesson to not be a mean girl. What kid would listen to that boring advice? These days they’re even selling action figures of the murderess Carrie White.

The House in the Alley

93 MIN; Not Rated


100 MIN; R


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