Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Carrie (1976)

Directed Brian De Palma.
1976. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Sissy Spacek
Piper Laurie
Betty Buckley
William Katt
Amy Irving
John Travolta
Edie McClurg
P.J. Soles
Priscilla Pointer

I saw Carrie on network TV when I was a kid. I think. I'm not even sure I watched the whole thing. I only remembered two parts. First is the obvious one, pig's blood spilling on her at the prom and her going bananas with her telekinesis. The other was a shot of her with her boobs blurred out. I told you it was network TV, didn't I? In the years since, I've heard and read so much about it, and seen that prom clip so often, I feel like I've watched it a dozen times over. Now it was time to put a face to the voice. Time to match the movie with all the articles and reviews I've read. Time to watch Carrie for the first time. Again.

After a decidedly unathletic volleyball game, our story actually starts in the girls lockerroom. It's filmed in slow motion with lots of naked girls frolicing about, steam everywhere, and Carrie White (Spacek) suggestively soaping herself down in the shower. I thought I'd mistakenly slipped in a Playboy video. I almost hit the open/close button on my DVD player to check it out, but we arrived at the point of this scene. Carrie gets her period for the very first time. Somehow, she's totally clueless about what's happening to her and freaks out, to put it mildly. What do all of her sensitive and caring classmates do? They point, laugh, and pelt her with as many tampons as they can yank out of the dispenser on the wall.


At home, things aren't any better. Her mom Margaret (Laurie) is a religious zealot whose never taught her anything about the female body. Mom takes Carrie's period as a sign that the girl is now a sinner. She literally drags Carrie by her hair into a tiny broom closet and locks her in there to pray. By the way, this room contains the creepiest version of the crucifix you'll ever see. Just remember what it looks like. That will be important later. The takeaway from all of this is that the girls in school get in trouble for their actions, and start plotting their revenge against Carrie. Carrie finds out she can indeed move things with her mind and Mom goes all fire and brimstone every time she speaks.

Horror is not a genre known for tremendous acting. More often than not, it's movies are populated by pretty, but not especially talented people. Every now and again, we get one that is wonderfully performed. Carrie is one of those movies. Sissy Spacek is just spot-on as our troubled heroine. From the moment she finds herself bleeding from where she never has, there is an unquestionable innocence about her. As viewers we instantly identify not with her, but with gym teacher Ms. Collins (Buckley) who wants badly to protect Carrie, help her blossom into a well-rounded young lady. Both women are phenomenal in their roles. By the way, Ms. Collins slaps the holy hell out of a student and everyone just rolls with it. My, how times have changed. We also get nice turns from a pre-Grease John Travolta and a very young Nancy Allen as our villains on campus. Oh, and if you remember lots of the women you've seen over the years who have always appeared older and played someone's mom, see if you can spot a young Edie McClurg in a bit part. Nope, I'm not telling who she plays or where you should know her from.

Other than Spacek in the lead, no one in the cast even comes close to the work done by Piper Laurie as Carrie's mom. Her performance is so purposely and perfectly ham-fisted she literally makes the movie. I know, the prom scene doesn't involve her whatsoever and is one of the most iconic moments in the annals of horror. However, that scene only takes care of half Carrie's problem. The other half is waiting for her at home. As the Oscars both Laurie and Spacek were nominated for suggest, they totally sell it.


The bonus for me is that the interactions of mother and daughter, particularly mom's reactions, illuminate the prism through which I see and "get" this picture. I do this differently than most people, but hear me out. General consensus says that Carrie is a classic horror flick, one of the all-time greats. I don't see it that way at all. Don't get me wrong, I actually love this movie. I'm just not so sure it's actually horror. Certainly, there are plenty of horror elements in play, but I'm still not sold. Granted, I'm not a female with terrifying memories of her first period. Still, the movie never really tries to scare the viewer. It goes out of its way to create sympathy for our heroine, but it never puts fear in our hearts. This brings me back to Carrie and her mom. Everything between them is way over the top, in a good way, but still over the top. It seems as if director Brian De Palma is taking great pains to make sure we understand the absurdity of it all. Carrie is innocent, almost to the point of being infantile while Mom is a stark raving lunatic. Then the overall tone is not really dreadful, but sad. The whole thing strikes me as a rather brilliant jet black comedy. It's far more interested in skewering religious fanatics and blasting the high school social class system than frightening us. I certainly laughed at a number of things it seemed were being used as jabs at its targets. It does this throughout whereas the horror portion only includes the last three scenes of the movie.

None of this is to suggest Carrie is any less of a movie than it's been hailed. In fact, viewing it as intentionally and subversively humorous, which I believe it is, makes it an even greater achievement than approaching it as something that's supposed to be either scary or disturbing. The parts that are disturbing are so in relation to what it says about the segments of society it holds its mirror up to. Incidentally, the areas covered: a girl's first period, her relationship with an overbearing mother, narrow-minded points of view, and bullying are timeless. Therefore, the movie might look dated because of fashion and hairstyles, but it doesn't feel that way.

12 comments:

  1. Great review! This was one of my blind spot choices this year, and I loved it. I didn't get why it had to be remade; Sissy Spacek was perfect, Piper Laurie was scary perfect. The horror bits were at the latter part of the film, but the way that it exploded was perfectly timed that you don't really see it coming. The film does pose some questions regarding the relationship of Carrie and her mother, and in the end I just feel bad for Carrie because she's just trying to be a normal teenager.

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    1. Thanks. Glad you got to see it. It didn't need to be remade, but the way Hollywood works, it was practically inevitable. And I certainly feel bad for Carrie because, as you say, she's just trying to be a normal teenager.

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  2. Awesome review! I've never actually gotten around to watching Carrie even though I was anticipating the remake all because of Chloe Grace Moretz, still I ended up skipping that. As for the original, its sitting in my Netflix and I somehow didn't end up putting it in my Halloween rundown. I'll have to fix that someday ;)

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    1. Thanks. Hope you get to watch it soon. It's an excellent movie. The remake isn't the worst movie ever made, but it's certainly not essential viewing. I'll hit that one more fully on Friday.

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  3. Great review dude. It's one I really do need to see.

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  4. Man, that is one scary-ass film and I love it. I think it's one of the essential films of horror.

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    1. No doubt, it is definitely a must-watch if you're a fan of horror flicks.

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  5. It's been a long time since I've seen Carrie, I did however watch the remake more recently. I think the original Carrie works better. It has Sissy Spacek who has that other worldly look about her and so seems like a better fit for the Carrie role while Chloe Moretz is just too cute to be Carrie. Carrie's cluelessness about periods is a little more believable in the original and not so much in the remake when it is set in present day , the age of the Internet and information overload. Plus don't they have some sort of health classes in school nowadays.
    Wandering through the Shelves

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    1. The original absolutely works better. I won't say anything else because I'll go in depth on the whys during my review of the remake tomorrow.

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  6. A total classic. Just such a shame that the remake was pretty god-awful. Good review Dell.

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    1. Thanks. It's definitely deserving of its classic status.

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