Carrie: A De Palma Masterpiece

In every high school across America, there is at least one Carrie. Girls can be so mean. They just don’t make horror films like this anymore. This isn’t a typical B-Horror Film with ridiculous monsters, bad actors, amateur directing, asinine dialogue, and cheesy music. Carrie is a dramatic and beautiful work of art and possibly one of the greatest horror films of all time, even though Brian De Palma insists it isn’t a horror film. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors of all time. He took Stephen King’s novel and turned it into a masterpiece. He created a satire with dark humor percolating throughout it. You know how I am always going on about all the elements to make a perfect horror film? Well in this case, it doesn’t just take the cake, it takes the whole bakery. Carrie delivers all of those elements that in my mind, make the perfect horror film. Realism, character development, good balance of horror and suspense, the cinematography, the score, and a little dark humor mixed in so that the entire film isn’t traumatizing. You have to have scenes of comic relief and they pulled this off perfectly. However, this movie may leave a bulk of you completely depressed.

So many male viewers put it down and refuse to watch it in it’s entirety because they think of it as a film all about girls starting their period and freaking out when it’s so much more than that. I feel sorry for them because they are missing out. The film centers around a confused teenage girl, Carrie White. She’s picked on viciously at school and she has absolutely no relief from ridicule and emotional trauma  in her own home where her bible thumping mother ferociously abuses her. After her mother gets word that Carrie has become a woman, Margaret White smacks her down with a book and reads versus out of the book called “The Sins of the Woman” and forces Carrie to recite lines about the evils of intercourse. Her mother is convinced that she started her period after sinning. This is bad parenting. She never explained this normal part of being a female. She could have saved her from that humiliation and worry. As if this wasn’t enough physical and emotional torture, she pulls Carrie, who is kicking and screaming, into a closet so she can pray for her sins. I find the scene to be quite terrifying. That Jesus figure in the closet is also terrifying. Before this emotional scene, we get to see Margaret go to Sue Snell’s door to spread the word of Jesus Christ to her mother. It’s one of my favorite scenes because the mother is drinking a cocktail and after Margaret makes a comment about how these are bad times, Sue’s mother says, “I’ll drink to that.” Margaret is offended as she rushes her off with a donation of ten dollars.

De Palma opens with a soft, sensual shower scene that is highlighted by Pino Donaggio’s magnificent score. The mood immediately shifts to pure psychological horror as Carrie is assaulted by the other girls after her first period causes her to panic in the locker room. These feelings of repressed anger and sadness will continue to build throughout the picture. The actresses had a hard time with the nudity in this scene. Some walked out. After they saw that Sissy had no problem being fully nude on screen, it put them at ease. This scene was horrifying and hard to watch. You just feel so sorry for Carrie. She starts her period and thinks she’s dying. The girls are disgusted by this as she screams and reaches for help, getting blood on some of their clothing. They proceed to throw tampons and maxi pads at her while screaming, “Plug it up!”

The scariest scenes in the film are the scenes involved with Carrie’s mother. “Come to your closet and pray, ask for forgiveness.” This woman scared me as a child. She’s rocking back and forth, pulling her own hair while screaming obscenities from the bible.  The film displays religious fanaticism through Margaret White and even twists the scripture. This is what religious fanatics do. Had Margaret White been a real life character, I’d suspect she was a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. There are so many symbolic moments from De Palma’s religious past. The dinner table scene with the last super picture and long table with candles is one of the most memorable, along with that Jesus figure. YIKES!

My favorite scene is right when Chris is about to pull the rope and Sue Snell follows the rope to see what is going on. The music fits perfectly. Those eyes widen when the blood hits. The look of horror on Carrie’s face is terrifying. We get everyone’s different point of view at that moment. Then we get the split scenes showing us everything that’s going on at once. The build up towards the ending we were all waiting for was aesthetically and skillfully done. It’s important to see the events that lead up to Carrie’s massacre and the characters actions involved with her motives. I found myself deeply caring for a lot of these characters, even thought they were “bad.” Sue Snell especially. Tommy Ross was the character I felt the most sympathy for, other than Carrie, because he actually had good intentions and had no idea there was going to be “the ultimate prank.” You could see that he felt for Carrie and wanted her to have the best night of her life.

 Sue Snell’s dream in the end still gives me the chills. The actress did such an amazing job screaming, crying, and looking terrified. It’s not the hand suddenly reaching out to grab Sue that has an effect on me. It’s the music and the screams. This memorable ending inspired several filmmakers to include the same kind of ending in their film. Friday the 13th especially.

It’s hard not to love all of these characters and the actors are so talented. Sissy Spacek wasn’t De Palma’s favorite but she nailed the audition and I couldn’t see anyone else playing Carrie. Those big wide eyes have an effect on me. William Katt, Nancy Allen, PJ Soles, Piper Laurie, and John Travolta were are perfectly cast for their roles. I couldn’t imagine a better cast for these characters. It’s funny because De Palma and George Lucas shared a casting session. William Kat initially auditioned for Luke Skywalker. A few of them were auditioning for both films. Betty Buckley auditioned for Phantom of the Paradise and De Palma kept her on the back burner. She was 26 in this film so it was a challenge for her to play an authority figure when the other girls were around her age. I don’t “get” the gym teacher. She is so sympathetic towards Carrie and doesn’t want to see her hurt but in the end she laughs at her. That’s what I thought at first but in the documentary for the film they explain this scene further.  Turns out she isn’t actually laughing, that’s how Carrie sees her. In my opinion, Buckley did quite well as a bossy gym teacher who is royally pissed that the girls are ridiculing Carrie. Take the detention scene where Miss Collins slaps Chris across the face. It took several slaps to pull that scene off. She was really slapping her. This was the point in the film for laughter. However, there is no way in HELL a teacher would ever get away with that. You cannot put your hands on a student no matter how ungrateful or bitchy they are. How many Norma’s do you know? That notorious red hat will always be a part of PJ Soles. I hope she wears it at Texas Frightmare Weekend. Norma is one of my favorite characters in the film because of the red hat. She wore it to her audition and De Palma insisted that she wear it throughout the film, even at the prom. John Travolta’s character cracked me up. If you call him a “stupid shit” he will slap the shit out of you and I believe this may have been the first time I ever heard anyone say “Get-R-Done.” I do not recall hearing that anywhere else except by annoying fans of Larry the Cable Guy, who is a fake.

Much of the dialogue in the film is Stephen King. The screen writer did a magnificent job transferring the novel to the film. In the beginning, large stones were suppose to come from the sky. They had a hard time actually pulling this off so they left it alone. Even though the book and the film are a like in so many ways, there are a few things missing. In the book, Carrie doesn’t just kill everyone at the prom. This bitch walks through the town killing several people and causing a lot of damage. Also, this is not how Margaret White dies in the book. In the film she is impaled by all the kitchen knives. The gym teacher, Miss Collins, lives int he book but is killed in the film. It has been a few years since I have read the book so I am going to read over it again and come back to compare a little more. There’s only so much that I remember. It took me a day to read the entire book because unlike most of Stephen King’s books, it wasn’t very long.

Memorable Quotes:

“Pimples are the Lords way of chastising.”

“I can see your dirty pillows.”

“These are Godless times Mrs. Snell”
“I’ll drink to that.”

“They’re all going to laugh at you.”

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