Masterwork: Carrie

Greetings loved ones! As per tradition, when the clock strikes midnight on September 30th, we officially begin celebrating Halloween! In honor of finally making it through maybe the worst summer of all of our collective lives, we have decided that this month will center on what made us start this blog in the first place. Horror. Buckle up bb’s, we’re diving deep!

I decided to take a peek at a classic horror movie I had yet to see. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This is just a horror movie from the 70’s. It’s the blood on the prom queen cliche! The guy that made Scarface can’t make feminist work! But that’s where you’re wrong. Carrie was one of the best viewing experiences I have personally had in months. It starts, burns deeply, and builds the anticipation of something horrible. All at once, we are thrown over the edge of a glorious kind of personal horror only Stephen King can deliver. Through Sissy Spacek and Brian De Palma, this horror masterwork is brought to life and forces the audience to examine the ideas of isolation, abuse, and the essential desire every human has to be loved.

( ◡‿◡ *)

This story is first and foremost a tragic one. It centers around Carrie, a waif- like girl with an insanely overbearing mother of the Christian variety. The abuse starts immediately when Carrie gets her period for the first time after gym. Her classmates berate her with insults and pelt her with tampons until she’s reduced to crying on the floor of the shower. Her gym teacher eventually gets them to stop and sends Carrie home. This is where it gets worse. We meet her mother, played by Twin Peak‘s Piper Laurie, who is a literal zealot. When she finds out Carrie has had her period, she screams at her and accuses her of having lustful thoughts before dragging her to the ‘prayer closet’ for penance because, yanno, religion.

Mother knows best…

This is when things start to devolve. After the girls who made fun of her are punished, one of the nastiest, Chris, concocts a plan to humiliate Carrie in a way that no one would be able to come back from. This just happens to align with the good intentions of Carrie’s other classmate, Sue. Sue asks her boyfriend, the ~*most popular boy in school*~ Tommy, to take Carrie to the Senior Prom in the hopes it would cheer her up.

Right after getting mentally abused by her mother, Carrie’s emotions are running so high that something happens…all the windows in the house shut. What could this mean? Carrie herself does some research at the library, first searching for miracles and then gravitating towards more paranormal sources. For the rest of the movie we get small windows into Sue’s happy and healthy relationship with Tommy next to Chris’s toxic and sadistic relationship with John Travolta, I mean Billy. We watch Carrie’s abilities develop as a sort of defense mechanism to people picking on her. Her mother begins to notice and confronts Carrie while spouting as much religious rhetoric as she can. In short, THE DEVIL HAS INVADED MY CHILD. When her mothers ridiculous religious tirades become too much, Carrie realizes she has real power to stand up for herself with. She forces her mom away using her psychic abilities and essentially frees herself from her mother’s control. She continues to happily get ready for the prom. No need to explain what happens next.

( ; ω ; )

The minutiae of all the moving pieces is masterfully handled by De Palma. He gives us several clues that something is happening, but never gives us relief until that moment. Knowing his filmography, I can safely say that De Palma is a master of terror. Famous critic Pauline Kael said of De Palma “A master sadist, (he) prolongs her moments of happiness; he slows the action down to a trance while we wait for the trap to be sprung, knowing that it will unloose her bottled-up telekinetic anger. It’s a beautiful plot—a teen-age Cinderella’s revenge.” What gives Chris’s evil plan a double edge of tragedy is the way Carrie deeply wants to be a part of their crowd. She is ecstatic when Tommy asks her to prom and shows real kindness to her. She feels…loved.

Now something I didn’t realize while watching was the fact that there is not a single male lead in this movie. Carrie, Sue, Chris, the kind gym teacher, and the mother are so fleshed out and real. John Travolta is also here I guess. I believe this movie is not only a take on teenage alienation, but on being a woman. Even the inciting period incident, where Carrie has no idea what’s happening and is brutalized by her classmates letting their ugly feelings about their own periods erupt. It’s also the religious fanaticism that hammers home the point: suppressing sexual desire and feminine development is NOT a good thing. The pious, virginal mother is so rigid and unyielding that she ultimately plays the main antagonist in the film, unable to let her daughter be free. Only when Carrie takes on her telekinetic abilities does she begin to free herself. No man helps her because she is the powerful one.

An example of the practical shots used to capture Carrie’s power.

Now, the visuals. Let me just say, it ages beautifully. It’s full of gorgeously vibrant colors, specifically the prom scene. I’m a major sucker for twinkly iridescence at the edges of the frame and got DANG was I satisfied. It was pink and glittery and so easy on the eyes that I saved a gif of the dancing scene for my own personal viewing. Tumblr aesthetic aside, the colors are one thing but the fashion is another. 70’s style at its best complete with bell bottoms and gigantic hair. Also young John Travolta? I’ll take it. Something else worth mentioning is pictured above. In the current age of CGI, the way they portray Carrie’s powers is refreshing and unsettling. A quick 4 shot zoom in, a mirror with a dent in it flexing back and forth until it breaks, fire starting and then quickly encompassing everything around her as she looks at it, these are just examples. The high-pitched note that we hear when Carrie uses her powers reminds me of the high pitched violin notes in Coraline, which do such a good job at unnerving and makes me feel like something just happened to my brain that was not cool.

ow oof ouchie my skin

Above all else, we have Stephen King to thank for this sinister story. This was his debut novel, and so shocking that it cemented him as an amazing writer for decades to come, “Although Carrie helped usher in a boom period of huge popularity for horror fiction, it’s also a very strange and unusual book – uncompromising,” believes American author Jeff VanderMeer “Carrie changed the paradigm by announcing a very American form of horror that broke with the past. That process might’ve been ongoing anyway, but a lot of horror and weird fiction was still in a kind of post-MR James/Lovecraft mode of parchment and shadowy alleys and half-seen horrors, and here was King dropping buckets of blood over everything and making characterization both more relaxed and more contemporary. But just as sophisticated, if more naturalistic, less stylized.”

It *is* natural feeling, and that is the great strength of this movie and book. We all know a Carrie, an outcast, someone on the fringes looking in. While they may not have psychic powers, they are still worthy of attention and inclusion. This movie shows us that there was really nothing wrong with Carrie, but definitely something wrong with everyone else.


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