Working through a backlog of horror movies we watched this past October, and now we come to a personal favorite of mine, Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma and released in 1976. I haven’t seen it since I was a senior in high school, but it was near the top of my list at the time, and remains so after this viewing.
Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is in high school and lives with her religiously fanatical mother who believes that all sex is sinful. She refuses to let her daughter date boys or really hang out with any other kids in school, and even the smallest signs of rebellion on Carrie’s part result in her mother dragging her into a dark closet and locking the door on her. It’s during one of these sessions that Carrie discovers when she is under extreme emotional duress, she is capable of moving objects with her mind.
The movie starts in a girls’ locker room when Carrie gets her first period and, not knowing what it is or that menstrual blood won’t hurt her, believes she’s dying and starts screaming. The other girls stand around and make fun of her (shouting “plug it up!”) until the gym teacher intervenes. One of the girls, Sue (played by Amy Irving, the future Mrs. Steven Spielberg), feels bad about what happened, and decides to ask her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom. Tommy is captain of the football team, but is actually really sensitive and kind of likes Carrie, and agrees.
However, one of the mean girls, Chris, gets wind that Carrie is going to the prom, and decides to play a cruel prank on her. I won’t go too much into exactly what happens then, except to note that Carrie’s breakdown and telekinetic revenge against her tormentors at the prom is one of the great scenes in horror movie history.
Seeing this as an adult, what strikes me is that this a feminist film. The only ones who have any real idea of what’s going on are the women–the gym teacher, Sue, Chris. They easily manipulate the clueless men in the movie–the school’s principal in the gym teacher’s case, their boyfriends in the girls’ case. I suppose you could even make the case that the problem with Carrie’s mother is that she never taps into her female sexual power; traumatized by the rape that produced the daughter she hates, she has submitted herself wholly to the masculine religion of Christianity. And of course, Carrie herself, who’s felt victimized all her life, takes control of the situation when she discovers her true power.
Story/Plot/Characters–Great script, pitch-perfect acting (Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, who plays Carrie’s mother, both received Academy award nominations for their roles), tight plotting based on a story by Steven King. (4 points)
Special Effects— Not a real heavy special effects movie, at least until the climax, but pretty good once they get going. (1.5 points)
Scariness–Some tense moments but not a real scary horror movie. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Set in a suburban high school with lots of daytime scenes, the atmosphere is not really what this one is about. Carrie’s home life is pretty freaky, I guess, and her candle-lit house on the edge of town, decorated with horrific icons of Christ’s crucifixion, is a nice touch. (1 point)
Total=7.5 points (Excellent)