#179 Carrie

(1976, Brian De Palma)

“They’re all gonna laugh at you”

It’s pretty terrible being a teenage girl, isn’t it? All that DRAMA and HORMONES and emergence of breasts and your first periods and all those troublesome psychic powers. Wait, hang on, psychic powers?

That’s what happens to Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an awkward and misunderstood young girl attending Bates High in the 1970s. Raised by a strict religious mother (Piper Laurie), Carrie is oblivious to the nature of the menstrual cycle and freaks out when she starts bleeding in the school showers, prompting all the other girls to make fun of her. When gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) punishes the entire class for being so cruel to Carrie, lead bully Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) vows revenge, and the girls plan to humiliate her at prom.

However, at the same time, Carrie begins to learn that she has some kind of strange powers…

Carrie is yet another classic horror movie on the list to be based on a Stephen King novel after The Shining and…uh…The Shawshank Redemption. And yet, despite this association with such a major name in horror writing, Carrie is far from a straight horror movie. In fact, calling it a horror movie is a bit of a stretch at times.

Primarily, this is a teen drama with spooky bits. At its heart, this is the story of a girl who suffers at the hands of bullies. It’s a story of an outcast from an abusive home trying to fit in and struggling. The source of the movie’s “horror” is in Carrie’s powers, but they only really present a major threat in the later stages of the movie.

In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that the supernatural elements of the movie aren’t the real horror after all. The real horror here is in the abusive fundamentalist Christian mother who punishes Carrie for having her period and locks her up in a cupboard to force her to “repent” her many “sins”. This is a mother to whom so much as eating a biscuit could be considered a sin, so this need for “repentance” seems pretty common. Hell, the creepiest scenes in the movie came from this woman, played excellently by Piper Laurie. She’s terrifying, and made even worse by the fact that she’s very likely to actually exist somewhere.

On top of this, Carrie is a very sympathetic character, with Spacek playing her rightly awkward and fidgety, but obviously kind-hearted. When we first see her try and get sympathy from her mother, it’s heart-breaking when she doesn’t get that sympathy. When she starts learning of her powers, it’s easy to cheer for her getting her own back in small ways. Even the climax of the movie where she gets revenge in a big way has elements of sympathy for a girl who’s clearly been victimised for her whole life.

Of course the climax is very horrifying and it’s easy to feel sorry for the innocent people who get caught in the crossfire of Carrie’s revenge, but it’s hard to see Carrie as a complete monster due to the circumstances. The fact that we spend ages seeing how happy she is to be at the prom only to see it all cruelly torn away from her really ramps up the sympathy.

I can’t find much to fault with Carrie. There are a few awkward bits, such as Miss Collins slapping Chris when she refuses to be stuck in detention, or the slightly uncomfortable opening scenes of a locker room full of teenage girls shot in slow motion and soft focus like some bad softcore porn movie. I also found the excessive reuse of the Psycho shower scene music a little silly.

Overall, however, the movie holds together. The acting is solid across the board (except, obviously, an appearance by Travolta, which is mercifully small) and the plot is genuinely smart, avoiding horror movie clichés and raising questions of who the real monster is – the girl with the psychic powers or the normal human beings who feel the need to make someone else’s life hell.

I loved Carrie. It’s an excellent horror movie, although I’d struggle to really call it that, and “supernatural teen drama” evokes Twilight and we’re way above that level here. Easily the best movie that ends with a prom on fire ever made.

Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley & John Travolta
Written by Stephen King (novel) and Lawrence D. Cohen
Produced by Paul Monash
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography by Mario Tosi
Edited by Paul Hirsch

Favourite Scene: Pretty much has to go to the climactic prom scene
Scene That Bugged Me: Did we really need to open on that dreamy soft-focus locker room shot?

Watch it if: You want a supernatural movie for teens that isn’t terrible
Avoid it if: You have a fear of prom

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Posted on April 30, 2013, in 1970s, Drama, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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