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Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For: Carrie - 1976

Feb 10, 2017



    Joan Rivers: "I wasn't invited to the prom. I invited the guy and I had to buy my own orchid. Carrie had abetter time at her prom than I did."

    That Carrie can be referenced in the punchline of a joke without benefit of clarification is a testament to how deeplyrooted in our cultural consciousness Brian De Palmas 1976 film (vis vis Stephen Kings 1974 novel) has become.Indeed, contrary to the circumstances of her character in the film (shes such a non-entity at her school that theprincipal repeatedly misidentifies her as Cassie) and the teaser ads for the forthcoming sequel (You Will Know HerName); I'd say that by now, everybody knows exactly who Carrie is.

    Sissy Spacek as Carrie White


  • Piper Laurie as Margaret White

    Betty Buckley as Miss Collins

    Amy Irving as Sue Snell


  • William Katt as Tommy Ross

    Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen

    John Travolta as Billy Nolan

    I was just starting college the year Carrie was released and (cinema snob that I was) I really couldn't have been lessinterested in it. 1976 was an absolutely amazing year for movies, and the films that preoccupied my mind, my time,and my interest were the more high-profile releases: Taxi Driver, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Hitchcocks FamilyPlot, Fellinis Casanova, Marathon Man, Rocky, King Kong, A Star is Born , Polanskis The Tenant, Network, TheLast Tycoon, Burnt Offerings, Sparkle, Lipstick, Logans Run, Bertoluccis 1900, Altmans Buffalo Bill and theIndians, and Bergmans Face to Face. I hardly saw daylight the entire year!


  • And then there was the woefully under-hyped Carrie. Here we had a film by a director whose only other work Idseen at the time -Phantom of the Paradise - I remembered primarily for Paul Williams' music, and whose solemarketable cast member, John Travolta, was a fledgling teen idol from the execrable sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter(his whispery pop single, Let Her In, had turned the summer of 76 radio-listening into an absolute nightmare forme). Everything about Carrie, from its no-name cast to its over-explicit poster art, gave me the impression it wasstrictly drive-in fare; a movie suitable for a double-bill with one of those low-budget releases from AIP or CrownInternational about Bigfoot or small town redneck serial killers.

    Eve was WeakMargaret White's religious fanaticism adds an effectively ominous overlay of sin,sacrifice, and retribution to the story of a awkward teen and the coming-of-age

    awareness of her powers of telekinesis.

    It was only through the persistent badgering of my best friend that I even came to see Carrie at all. My friend, a sci-fi/ Dark Shadows buff, had already seen Carrie and used the excuse of wanting to see it again as an opportunity tocall in his marker for the time Id pestered him into attending a screening of Barbarella with me. As I took my seat inthe packed San Francisco movie theater where Carrie was playing, I seethed with resentment over what I perceivedas my friend extracting a particularly mean-spirited payback for what, the heinous crime of exposing him to the sightof a naked, zero-gravity Jane Fonda? However, some 98 minutes later I emerged from the theater, red-eyed (fromcrying- that Sissy Spacek really gets to me in this movie...even today) and overwhelmed. Wow! I had NOT beenexpecting that!


  • Macabre Martyrdom

    Brian De Palma is known for his employment of the literal split-screen,but Carrie is also full of sequences in which the natural framing of a shotencourages the audience to take note of the dual /conflicting experiences

    of the characters as they occupy the same space.

    Anticipating at best a run-of-the-mill horror movie,what I got was a surprisingly sensitive characterdrama that morphed into a kind of a nightmarishGrimm's fairy tale. A blood-splattered religiousallegory of sin and redemption that's a near-poeticparable on the inability of a legacy of pain and crueltyto beget anything other than more pain andcruelty. Just out of high school myself (an all-boysCatholic School, but lets face it, high school is highschool) it felt more than a little cathartic to see a filmthat depicted everyday schoolyard torments with thegraveness of Greek tragedy, meeting out suitablycatastrophic retribution to the guilty.I was sold by Carries first five minutes (the volleyballgame and the gym shower), both of whichestablished: a) the atypical horror film setting of ahigh school; b) the female-centric thrust of the story,wherein the concerns, actions, and motivations ofthe women in the film appeared essential topropelling the plot forward; and c) the obvioussubjective perspective the film was going to takeregarding Carrie herself. Carrie absolutely flooredme. I saw it three more times that month, and it hassince remained one of my all-time favorite movies. Amotion picture Id readily list among the best horrorfilms ever made.WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILMGiven that adolescence was a living hell for the vastmajority of us, theres something conceptuallyingenious about a horror film set in an Americanhigh schoola house as haunted by the ghosts ofthe tortured and suffering as anyEuropean Gothic mansion. The hierarchy of schoolcliques and the day-to-day cruelties teens inflictupon one another seem to me perfect subjects for ameditation on the banality of evil; a conceptexplored in many of the films that have proved mostinfluential in the horror genre (Rosemarys Baby,The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the BodySnatchers).

    Unlike Stephen Kings novel, which expands thescope of Carrie to include news and scienceinvestigations into what happened at the prom, DePalmas film wisely maintains a much narrower subjective focus (few things happen outside of the scope of the high-schoolers), heightening our identification with and empathy for Carrie and her rather tragic existence. Im remindedof a review of Carrie which made the sharply observation that it was so fitting for Carrie to have only destroyed herhigh school in the film (as opposed to half the town in the novel); because to an adolescent, high school IS the world


  • School Days, School DaysCarrie was made at a time when "bullying" was largely seen as kids-just-

    being-kids behavior

    Adolescent trauma meets Grand Guignol

    to a teenager. I honestly think the intimate scale of De Palma's Carrie is what makes it work so well.Carrie's nightmare is merely every adolescent's anxieties (public humiliation, social ostracism, the desire to fit in)writ in blood.PERFORMANCESDefying accepted Hollywood logic that holds horror films dont get Academy respect, the two (and only) Oscarnominations afforded Carrie were for the impossible-to-ignore performances of Sissy Spacek and PiperLaurie. Taking wildly divergent acting pathsSpacekplaying her keyed-up naturalism off of Lauriesidiosyncratic stylizationthe actresses share asymbiotic chemistry in their scenes together thatelevate Carrie far above what is usually consideredpossible in a horror film. (Never cut any slack