Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Carrie

This sounds like a confession, but I've never seen Carrie before.

At least, not in its entirety. I remember catching the end of it about 10 years ago on cable. And I mean, a movie like Carrie seeps into the cultural subconscious. I knew the basics of the movie when I was in high school, and if you showed me a picture of wide-eyed Sissy Spacek covered in blood, I could identify the character.

Tonight my wife joined me for the movie, which doesn't happen very often. She's not crazy about horror movies, but (thanks to being a younger sibling) she had to sit through many of them. She'll watch something she's already familiar with, but a horror film she's never seen is usually a hard sell. I let her choose from the instant offerings on Netflix tonight, and she settled on Carrie.

Carrie was Stephen King's first published novel, and the movie came out about two and a half years later, which is pretty good turnaround; people liked the book. I have not read it, and Wikipedia tells me that the plot is largely intact.

So. The film begins on the volleyball court of a small high school. Carrie, a shy, unpopular senior misses the ball and loses the game for her team. They insult her on the way into the locker room where, during her shower, she has her first menstrual period. She has no idea what's going on, and she thinks she's dying. The situation is not helped when the other girls make fun of her and pelt her with pads and tampons. The teacher, Ms. Collins, gets in the way, but Carrie is traumatized. Overhead, a lightbulb explodes.

Carrie first goes to see the principal who calls her Cassie, and an ashtray flies off his desk onto the floor. She goes home to her mother, an abusive religious fanatic who has not thought to educate Carrie about her body. Upon learning that Carrie has had her period, her mother punishes her for being dirty and locks her in a closet. Later, Carrie stares into a mirror and it shatters.

Carrie is excused from gym for the next week, but her classmates are punished: they'll get one week of after school boot-camp detention. "Fine," says a popular girl named Chris. "I won't come." "Fine," says Ms. Collins. "Then you can't go to the prom." Chris sticks with the detention, but Carrie will have to pay. She enlists the help of her awful boyfriend, John Travolta, and a couple of other juvenile delinquents.

Meanwhile, Sue, one of Carrie's classmates, is feeling guilty. She knows that Carrie has a crush on her boyfriend Tommy, so she convinces Tommy to ask Carrie to the dance--for serious, yo. Tommy agrees and Carrie is overjoyed--if a little shy. Ms. Collins gets wind of this and tries to put a stop to it, but Sue and Tommy won't hear of it. And that's fine because ultimately, Tommy and Carrie both end up having a really great time, until Chris and John Travolta douse Carrie in pig's blood. Whereupon the telekinetic powers she's been developing through the whole movie kick in she starts setting fire to things with her mind.

Carrie is almost--I don't know, let's say The Princess Bride of horror movies. Everyone has seen it, and almost everyone appreciates it. At this point, if it doesn't effect you much it's probably because its innovations are so deeply ingrained into modern cinema. I was impressed by how well Carrie's telekinesis developed over the course of the story; I make it clumsy here because I only have a few paragraphs, but the movie handles it quite well. More than that, though, I think most people can identify with Carrie on a personal level, and the movie really drags us through the worst of being a teenage girl before the climax when the wheels fly off and the bunting spontaneously combusts. That is the strength of Carrie; it gradually gets us deep inside Carrie's experience. It takes a long time for the supernatural element to emerge, and it's devastating when it finally does--even though we know exactly how the film is going to play out.

Unsurprising, given that this is a Brian De Palma film. De Palma is one of a small number of directors who can straddle the line between art and commercialism very successfully. His best films are designed to be emotionally challenging, but even his popcorn movies (i.e., Mission Impossible) are brilliant and creative on a technical level that manipulates the audience without taking us out of the movie.

The performances are superlatively good--so much so that the word "superlatively" is appropriate. This is the role that made Sissy Spacek famous, and she fits well into the tragically broken teenage girl; it's a trope that existed long before Carrie, but it's been overused since in the interim, largely because of Spacek's success here. Piper Laurie does a nice job as Carrie's mother; religious fanaticism is often a lazy shorthand for insanity in horror movies, but Carrie delivers a more carefully considered cycle of neuroses. Mrs. White is a deeply broken human being. Even the minor characters are noteworthy; I recognize just about every face in the movie, as if "I had a speaking role in Carrie" was enough to get your foot in the door during the '80s. I have nothing against John Travolta, but I'd prefer to imagine that he was playing himself.

Anyway, by now the remake (or rather, the most recent remake--there's a TV version too, apparently) has been out for almost two weeks. I have no plans to see it, because as always, if it's good someone will sit me down in front of it eventually. You can be certain, however, that the new one isn't going to make anywhere near the sort of impact that the original did. There are things you can only do once.

Click here to watch the trailer.
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