Carrie (1976) – Brian De Palma (Dir.), Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta
Last, and certainly not least, we have the final winner of the Hallow-Mooney Spook-tacular Watch-a-thon 2012. This little ditty of a sexual-education-film-gone-wrong is the beginning of so many things. It was the first book to bear the moniker ‘Stephen King’ below its inscription, the first of, apparently, an infinite number of tomes. It was also Sissy “Dirty Pillows” Spacek’s first big movie. In addition, it’s the greatest origin story of an X-Man ever. I wish the new Brian Singer movies had more vaginal bleeding, bitch slaps and John Travolta before losing his hair and becoming a cult leader. This is a classic for so many reasons and, with my ladyblogger Erin at my side, the libations flowed, so did the callbacks, the witticisms and the unbridled “What the fuck???”s. Yes, this movie wins several awards in my eyes, such as “Most Educational Film for Young Boys About Periods”, “Most Travolta As the Bad Guy” (eking out the uproarious Face/Off, which, in turn, wins for ‘Most Bad Guy Impaled with a Harpoon’) and, the highly coveted, ‘Most Pig’s Blood-Themed Prom’. Holy Lord. Where to begin?
Carrie. Oh, poor, sad, delirious, confused, eye-liner-challenged Carrie. Carrie White is a girl with the mother from Hell. Ironically, other than giving into men who taste supremely of bourbon, Mrs. Margaret White (a superb and frizzy Piper “Yes, She Was in the Faculty As Well, I Had No Idea!” Laurie) happens to be a fanatic of almost Paul Ryan levels of misogyny (ELECTION BURN!). Poor little Carrie White. She doesn’t get her first period until senior year of high school and the fallout is one of perplexing proportions…in that all the other girls begin pelting her with tampons and maxipads. Then the unfortunately Farah Fawcett-ed gym teacher (badass, Betty Buckley) breaks it up. This was confusing to me. Isn’t the maxi-pad pelting an accepted moon-cycle ritual, accompanied closely by the never-ending fountain of chocolate, uncontrollable crying competitions and a sacrifice of a live goat to Artemis? (My understanding of the female reproductive system is relegated to my purely abstinence-only upbringing and my British Pagan rites. I apologize, that was redundant. Everything in England is Pagan). After winning the ‘Batshit Crazy Screaming and Offering her Secreted Uterine Lining to Other Girls’ contest, Miss Carrie receives the first bitch-slap of the film and a light explodes. Interestingly, De Palma, a man not known for either horror movies or general subtlety (Scarface, anyone?), borrows from several other classics in the horror genre, both past and future. Whenever Carrie turns into an unhinged Professor X (without the gravitas or the Star Trek ties) De Palma plays the classic Psycho sound cue. Also, I believe her period, in terms of both heft and flow, was a direct reference to the scene where the Noah’s Arc sized flood of human gore rushes out of the elevator in The Sining. I might be wrong on that one.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. Carrie is the social pariah of the school, what with her uncomfortably pale eyelashes and a disposition more nervous than Mitt Romney at a Gay Pride Parade (ANOTHER ELECTION BURN!). Due to her indiscretion and awkwardly shaped boobs in the initial scene, the rest of the girls are punished to detention with Miss Collins. From that point on, Carrie, and the rest of the school are doomed. What entails is perhaps the most straight-forward Kingian tale ever told, a whole lot of glow-in-the-dark Jesus statues, screaming, crying, lack of mascara, frizz, pig’s blood, flipping muscle cars, split-screens, impalements, people getting repeatedly slapped and general high school hijinks. Anyone who knows anything about pop culture is perfectly aware of where the tale culminates. It’s all pretty by the numbers, with a few religiously repressed flourishes here and there (DIRTY PILLOWS, DIRTY PILLOWS, DIRTY PILLOWS. I guffawed). And, though the general plot and theme of the tale were nothing new or surprising, I discovered a number of things as the film sauntered by. Firstly: the Seventies were apparently a lawless era, a wasteland of moral depravity and emotional anarchy that it would have made even Mad Max blush. We have teachers smoking in the Principal’s office. Miss Collins repeatedly slaps one of her students. No fucking joke. The girl is giving her lip, and like a pimp, Collins just backhands the shit out of her. For a moment, I thought she’d through some leopard print fur around her shoulders, take out a bejeweled cane, walk down the line, ripping out benjamins from bra-straps and telling her students they, “be some trippin’-ass hoes”. It was that level of pimpdom. Uncomfortable for everyone.
Secondly: When a horror movie, even one as thematically basic as this one, is placed in the hands of an actual film director, some odd things occur. You care about characters. Let that sink in. I know. It’s fucked up. Usually, horror film
pieces of cardboard caricatures can be filed into their absurd tropes and the timing of their death is inversely proportional to the size of their mammaries. However, when Brian “I Made Kevin Costner Palatable” De Palma, who has given the world such greats as The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, and the dithyrambic insanity that was Dionysus, gets his meaty claws on a script that is actually about the horrors of high school and the active terror most girls find in their growing bodies, we end up with something worth watching. The most interesting aspect of the script, moving past the unhinged mother and slap-happy pimp queen gym teacher, one of the main ‘Mean Girls’ actually relinquishes her duties of being a Cee U Next Tuesday and reaches out to little Miss White. Up until the ending, you aren’t clear on whether the more brunette (and therefore better person, that’s just science) girl is actually setting Carrie up for further ridicule or if she really does want to give her a night to remember with her boyfriend on Carrie’s arm. I literally began freaking out when Nancy, who is unable to attend prom without a date, leaves dinner to sprint to the event. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it…but I actually cared if this girl was evil or not. That’s a big fucking deal for me. Thank you Mr. De Palma.
And then everyone dies. Some deaths are more hilarious than others. Mostly it’s just horrifying.
The question that I was forced to ask once it was all said and done was simple: is this a feminist movie? It’s a bizarre catch-22 that we find. On the one hand, it’s about the unnatural act of repressing female sexuality to the point of literal ignition (we all know those all consuming flames at the end were sex fires. You can’t pull the wool over our eyes, Mr. De Palma!). That, in essence, is feminist. On the other hand, though, what is it that is so supernatural about the female form that it has the ability to break the laws of physics in almost witch-like terms? What is one of the more compelling aspects of King’s world is that he never explains why or where the telekinesis came from. Is it heaven sent? Borne of Satan? The prequel to an extremely lucrative film franchise (ignoring Wolverine)? Though it is a tale about a girl having girl problems with other girls, it is still written by a gentleman who, though empathetic, obviously sees said issues as otherish. Perhaps it is driven home by Mr. De Palma, who isn’t really known for doing anything other than have men point
penises guns at other men. A remake is going to arrive in theaters fairly soon featuring the adorable and murderous Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz and Julianne “The Dude is so Lucky” Moore. What intrigues me is that, at the helm is the totally awesome Kimberly Pierce, famous for Boys Don’t Cry and kicking ass one of my favorite documentaries of all time: This Film is Not Yet Rated. Will we be treated to a far less-70s, far more in-depth and sympathetic view of the character? Will budgetary constraints sterilize what could be a bitchin’ brutal gore fest into a tame Twilight-era snore-a-thon? Will it simply be a whorish mess, soaking up the dollar bills so Miss Collins can waltz by and slap out a wad? Who knows?
All I can say is this: if John Travolta ever suggests dumping pig’s blood on someone, don’t do it. Get in the car, clean up the cocaine, grab the adrenaline shot for the passed-out hooker and put the pedal to the metal. You can wake the girl up later. Travolta is mutherfucking crazy.