Films / Horror


Carrie is the sort of movie you watch as a teenager and enjoy without getting much out of. It’s only when you revisit it as an adult, having gained a far greater understanding of cinema, that you understand what an accomplished and brilliant movie it is. Brian de Palma’s 1976 horror movie is a fantastic piece of 70s cinema and with the exception of The Shining, the best of the Stephen King adaptations. It just goes to show how with the right, A-star kind of talent, Stephen King stories can amaze on screen. carrie whiteBy now, everyone knows the plot to this one – a geeky, socially awkward girl named Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) leads a terrible life; bullied at school by more popular girls and tormented by her crazy religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), things change when Carrie starts to develop psychic telekinetic powers. Things change further when a remorseful fellow-student Sue (Amy Irvine) has her boyfriend Tommy take Carrie to the prom, little realising that bitter fellow students Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy (John Travolta) have a terrible plot waiting. carrie4The opening of the movie sets up what’s to come – we’re presented with a steamy and beautifully shot slow-motion shower sequence, which borders on soft-core porn. We see Sissy Spacek sensually cleaning herself down after gym-class, before the onset of her first period – something she’s never heard of before – causes her to panic, which in turn, causes the rest of the class to viciously turn on her. We’re already set up with the themes of sex and puberty which follow throughout; Carrie is a movie built on sex and sexuality – Carrie herself is on the verge of womanhood, her mother fears her daughter’s impending sex drive, and Chris uses sex to get what she wants – the telekinetic elements mirror Carrie’s growth into womanhood though the movie is never heavy handed in these themes. The way de Palma switches tone, in a second, is impressive, and the brutality of the girls’ attack is made all the more shocking by the way it comes from nowhere. Blood and the colour red are important throughout the movie, cropping up whenever anything dramatic happens; this symbolism comes from the book, but is streamlined and made clearer on the cinema screen. carrieStephen King’s novel is streamlined here and the epistolary narrative removed, though the movie retains an ensemble cast and we follow the students through their run up to prom, as opposed to just Carrie herself. It’s an extremely well directed movie, with a wonderful score from Pino Donaggi. The music is at times beautiful, operatic and dreamlike (Carrie’s theme later crops up in Kill Bill), silly at times during the gym scenes, and also tense, with Bernard Herrmann style stings when anything telekinetic goes down. Musically, this is one of the strongest horror movies of all time, mainly because the music feels above a horror movie. De Palma frames all of his shots beautifully, with a lot of rolling extended takes and slanted lenses, including a dizzying 360 degree spin which goes on seemingly forever, giving a dreamlike quality to Carrie’s prom bliss. De Palma’s Hitchcockian influences are at their strongest in Carrie – the pig’s blood scene is particularly tense, even when you know what’s going to happen. The infamous prom scene is one of the most brutal and powerful in all of horror cinema and extremely well designed, and the final jump scare is possibly the best ever put on screen.carrie1Rewatching Carrie, what’s striking is how experimental it is in terms of cinematic techniques. The mood switches from empathic, to comedic, to brutal horror, with ease, and de Palma’s use of colour is striking, almost pop-art like in its boldness. The prom scene, which switches with the tone from traditional party with standard lighting to bold red and finally cold blue, is fantastic, mirroring the emotional state of Carrie as she begins her destructive rampage. The telekinetic elements of the story are downplayed but always around, threatening, and the effects used to flip ashtrays and slam doors are very impressive for the time; only the fire hose stands out as a little shakey now, and the car flip near the end.carrie8Otherwise, there’s some odd directorial choices which stand out – the fast-forwarded speech in one scene is a little jarring, and some have complained about the decision to film the prom massacre in split-screen. But not only is the split screen incredibly iconic, it helps to mirror the state of the movie’s characters, the split-screen giving the impression that too much is happening at once, and that what is happening is disorientating. It’s a great example of style being used to strengthen narrative. The kaleidoscope of laughter as Carrie breaks down works on a similar level. Rewatching the movie, it’s clear that very few of Carrie’s classmates are actually laughing at her; she just thinks they are, and they all must be punished. This explains how Miss Collins appears laughing too – notice how the quotes used from teachers/Miss Collins don’t actually match up with the quotes they used earlier in the film. It’s a brilliant and high-anxiety scene and perfectly backed up by the repetitive sound design and spinning visuals. carrie2De Palma’s movie is empathetic towards Carrie and makes us care for her, but its also an incredibly brutal and cruel movie. It’s hard to imagine Carrie being made now as nasty as it was then. Examples include the bitterly ironic scene in which Carrie overcomes her humility to vote for herself at prom, with a ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ attitude. Then there’s a great dramatic irony that Miss Collins misreads the pigs blood attack and throws Sue out instead of Chris. The horror poured upon Carrie from all sides – especially from her mother – is brutal to watch, and her reaction mirrors this. The prom massacre begins small with a crushingly stern atmosphere and becomes nightmarish, with wonderful sound work on the screaming students and flames. It says a lot that Carrie’s rage is faceless and doesn’t judge, and that certain nice characters are killed in her fury; there’s a recent remake and though not seen yet, it seems unlikely that Miss Collins would meet the same fate in 2013. Carrie is a pure horror movie in that emotionally, it’s cruel, violent and devastating – there’s no silver lining and no-hope to the situation. It’s a movie about nasty people doing nasty things and the horrors of poor circumstance. carrie9Of course everyone in the cast is wonderful. John Travolta in an early role is goofy but threatening too. Nancy Allen makes a great sexy and cold bitch, and Betty Buckley is warm and powerful as the kindly gym teacher. But the real stars of this movie of course are Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, who give stunning and iconic performances. Both of them were nominated, in a horror rarity, for Academy awards for their work here, and it’s easy to see why. Spacek is lovely, broken and quiet and sells the awkward lead girl wonderfully. She’s not annoying and that’s key; we feel for Carrie, we get why she’s the way she is and understand that she wants more. Spacek’s beautiful glee on prom night is sad and wonderful to watch. She switches at times, especially in the prom massacre, and becomes monstrous, so great is the change that it’s hard to see how one actress played both nice and scary Carrie. She’s ultimately a tragic heroine, almost Shakespearian, and Spacek sells every scene. Laurie is wonderfully unhinged and over the top as Carrie’s mother; she plays to the backrow but keeps the performance so unpredictable and just slightly in-human, so that she’s always frightening, even when she’s being funny. It seems a feat to remake Carrie without the shadows of these two haunting any new production.carrie7Carrie is a landmark horror movie and one of the finest in the genre. A sad, tragic tale extremely well directed, it seems a pointless feat to remake it. Brian de Palma’s movie will remain one of the greatest horror movies of all time.



7 thoughts on “Carrie

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