Marie returns to her Horror Column just in time for Halloween. First up is Brian DePalma’s adaptation of one of Stephen Kings first Best Sellers; Carrie.
Brian De Palma’s film of Stephen King’s Carrie is described as a great horror film. Is it though?
If I dare disagree with the great Roger Ebert for a moment: apart from the final couple of scenes, I’m not sure Carrie is a horror movie at all.
Of course there’s an occasional touch of the supernatural at play, with things moving around when Carrie (Sissy Spacek) gets angry, but it’s only in the last 20 minutes when there’s anything remotely suspenseful, gory or jump-inducing.
Before that, it’s a story of two parts. There’s the unhinged mother (Piper Laurie) who hates all men as a result of her husband having left her, has enveloped herself in extreme religious views and takes it out on her teenage daughter in a very oppressive manner. Then there’s the high school drama in which all the cool kids are horrible to Carrie because she’s different (of course she is, see above) and bully her mercilessly. When the girls are punished for their atrocious behaviour, the alpha girl decides to take revenge and mess up Carrie’s prom. Take away the final 20 minutes of the film and you have a perfectly decent high school tale of catty girls and bratty boys.
I was very young when Carrie was originally released – too young to have gone to see it at any rate – but I do remember posters for it and lots of people talking about it, together with the image of Carrie in a white dress covered in blood; I therefore made the assumption that it was a film of constant blood-letting and that stuck with me through the decades.
As it isn’t like that though, I wonder if the reason for the hype was Brian De Palma’s direction. It’s the set pieces that are now iconic: the slow motion opening sequence (although really it lasted far too long and was it truly necessary?), the interminable walk to the stage (again, seemed to go on for an age), and of course the bucket spillage and subsequent split-screen carnage. The tension leading up to that is positively Hitchcockian and in fact you may agree with the opinion that De Palma is the natural successor to the master of suspense. Brian De Palma definitely does. I’m not convinced, and I was not surprised to hear the sounds of Psycho’s shower scene directly lifted more than once in the course of Carrie’s journey.
In Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary De Palma, the subject declares that he loves women – but for me he has a rather Tarantino-esque way of demonstrating it. In Carrie the women get slapped around a lot in the course of conversation (I’m looking at you, John Travolta) and there’s only Sue Snell (Amy Irving) who has any hint of a redeeming feature – but it’s only a hint. Aside from Carrie herself, the female characters, particularly the young, attractive ones, are pretty much unbearable. At one point, one of the tribe turns to Nancy Allen’s Chris Hargensen and says “Shut up Chris. Just shut up.”
Just what I was thinking.
It only struck me afterwards that actually Carrie had the potential to be read as something a lot more feminist however, in particular looking at the different experiences of mother and daughter White. Carrie suddenly becomes powerful when she starts menstruating (ie transitioning from girl to woman) whereas her mother, abandoned by her husband and now ‘of a certain age’, has lost her agency along with her perceived womanhood. I was just thinking how this was perhaps a missed opportunity for exploration, and that it would be really interesting to have Carrie directed by a woman. Then I remembered that the 2013 version featuring Chloe Grace Moretz was indeed directed by a woman – and then I read the reviews and decided not to bother watching it. Correct choice?