I won’t hide I am a huge horror fan, so I thought I‘d try and cover as many horror films I hadn’t seen by the end of the month.
Something else I want to make transparent is that I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so naturally I read “Carrie” years ago but somehow managed to avoid seeing this classic film until tonight, and here’s what I thought.
While my memory of the novel is vague I do remember the distinct focus on Carrie’s pain, something the movie does perfectly. Many people would immediately see a movie like “Carrie” and believe its high point of horror being Carrie’s violent revenge after the classic Prom scene at night, pretty sensible considering horror conventions. What makes Carrie so amazing though is its true horror, Carrie’s torture, and the even scarier part is that it all happens in plain daylight.
The real monsters of “Carrie” aren’t its titular victim but her terrorizing religious mother, classmates and her high school itself, and the catalyst, puberty. Perhaps the most terrifying scene of all is its opening in which Carrie has her first period (which she thinks is her bleeding to death) and in the midst of this fear she is cornered by her classmates and pelted into hysterics. In fact the whole movie comes off as a large metaphor for puberty itself and even little details like a subtle red filter to symbolize her transition to womanhood (not the blood of her rampage later) make it all the stronger.
This is probably the truest look of horror in the entire film.
[From here on out I’m going into finer details so if you haven’t seen it yet go watch this movie, it holds up]
The movie does have its share of 80’s corniness, several scenes with a young John Travolta have a slight cheesy quality to them, especially a rather strange scene at a drive thru. But overall his character seems to also be strong in his conviction, although his slapping seemed clearly unnecessary by today’s standards. One scene in particular I loved with him was the pig killing scene where Depalma clearly reflected the pigs onto Chris’s group of bullies, matching the mural and pig noises made the scene particularly strong. What made the scene work best was how they showed the true evil nature of the bullies with the violent murder of the pigs.
One of the things I’ve never heard much about this movie is how strong a character Carrie is. She rebels not only to the school’s mostly mean-hearted staff, but her own mother, and her telekinetic explosions seem to be manifestation and symbolism of her strength. While she is bullied and put down, making her at times seem vulnerable and weak, her character is surprisingly resilient.
Carrie dropping the smacktalk.
One other thing I love about “Carrie” is that instead of starting happy and slowly getting worse until the climax is a power-shift for the hero to finally overcome her oppressors, the movie starts at its utter depths and actually becomes a retribution story from the start, with Carrie’s situation getting better from the get-go. Its climax comes as she gets her happy ending and finally feels accepted and happy. The twist here is that she becomes the monster, a manifestation of all the hate and pain she’s been caused, even killing her supportive teacher (the real hero of the film) in her blind rage (emphasized with a completely red filter), unable to hold back anymore.
Lastly on terms of a review here, some of the visuals here are captivating. From the aforementioned red filter and amped up use of red visuals, that not only do add that blood of murder feel but drive home that complete coming of age visual.
The visual of Carrie’s blood soaked dress works surprisingly well for multiple reasons as Carrie not only feels like she’s been used but what I think both King and Depalma went for with this scene was that she now has had her pure white dress (white is typically the colour of purity) and is now like a “used” white tampon. I feel like this visual comparison might be a bit strong and gross for some but after that jarring opening I couldn’t help but see the parallels and think that it was strangely appropriate.
The visual to hopefully make sense of my theory.
Another great visual is Carrie’s crucifixion of her mother in what is a too appropriate visual ending to her violently religious mother. I also found the strange frame side-by-sides of during her killing spree a cool visual that made the scene memorable.
My only knocks on the film narrative-wise is Carrie’s end and the post incident treatment of Sue. Carrie and Sue meet at the end of the book, and Carrie has a moment of understanding with Sue before she dies naturally from her mother’s attack. I thought the hell motif with that final shot took away from the mostly symbolic rationalization of Carrie’s powers and cheapened it. I also thought trying to shoehorn in the zombie Carrie scenario in the end was a little corny and took away from the heaviness of what had happened. I also thought the underplaying of Carrie’s destruction of the town (which kills hundreds in the book) made the incident seem less powerful.
Overall Depalma’s take on Carrie is a great take on the King classic, a little cheesy in part but good. It shows the true consequences of what bullying can do and is an amazingly visual (sometimes almost too visual) film. If you still haven’t seen it, it’s a great film that really isn’t even that scary but is more powerful and subtly frightening.