Carrie (1976)
By: Michael McQueen on September 18, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
20th Century Fox/MGM (Australia). Region 4 PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, French DD 1.0, German DD 1.0, Italian DD 1.0, Spanish DD 1.0. English, Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish Subtitles. 98 minuntes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Brian DePalma
Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen (Based on the novel by Stephen King)
Music: Pino Donaggio
Tagline: "If you've got a taste for terror then you've got a date with Carrie"
Country: USA
We gaze into a steamy shower room, where schoolgirls, naked or scantily clad in underwear, laugh and joke. The camera pans in slow motion across the room in one long take, never blinking, never flinching away from the dozens of gorgeous girls who seem to have no idea they're being watched. Our gaze finally freezes on a lone blonde, still washing herself, massaging her body with soap, cupping her breasts; the camera dips below her stomach and we watch her stroke her inner thigh. The whole scene feels like some adolescent fantasy, a glimpse into the forbidden world and rituals of girls at their most uninhibited. It's erotic; it's sensual, even beautiful. Until…red: first a small trickle, then a gush, a jet, a tidal wave of red from between the girl's legs. The camera snaps out of its lingering daze and we are back to real time, the real world, and our blonde is gaping at her bloody hand, her eyes wide with unknown terror, her body naked and wet and vulnerable. She bursts out of the shower, clawing at other girls, tracking bloody handprints over clean clothes, her voice shrill and pleading: "Help me! I'm dying!" But the other girls do not help. Instead, they laugh, they shriek, they tease – pelting tampons and sanitary pads at the frightened child, all the while chanting "Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!" A cut to a reverse shot, and it is revealed that the blonde girl is not the supple nubile nymphet of our adolescent fantasy, but a frail almost sickly outcast, trembling and she huddles on the floor, bleeding from between her legs. The other girls cackle and leer, their faces framed up close, deformed by sneering, snickering, jeering, eyes widened with laughter. Their keenness and frenzy is that of a riot, and Carrie's trauma at her first period is worse than nauseating.

Every high school has to have a loser. Wether it's the guy with too much acne, the girl who doesn't know how to dress or the film geek who couldn't get a date with either of them, high school is an unforgiving prison for those who simply can't fit in. And for those who seem to fit in too well, high school is a playground full of potential targets, victims to abuse at every opportunity. DePalma has gone to all lengths to ensure that Carrie's high school is an ugly place indeed. The twisted, contorted vision mimics teenage anxiety like John Hughes never could. Hughes could never have imagined a girl like Carrie. The misfits of, say The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink may have been second-class citizens in the social jungle of high school, but they always carried it well. They were begrudging and resentful of popular cliques, but, at the same time, there were comfortable assurances that came from not being one of them; the solidarity of other misfits and the sweet freedom of rebellion that it implied. Carrie has no desire to rebel and, as such, is faced with the horror of being totally unassimilable, abhorrently different. She has no comfortable assurances, no solidarity of 'us and them'. For Carrie, there is only 'them and me'.

But there is more to Carrie's isolation than just unfashionable shoes. There's her abusive mother, a drooling fundamentalist obsessed with divine retribution and rapture; a manic phobia of sin that manifests itself in revulsion at her daughter's sudden maturity, heralded by the "curse of blood". Carrie's unbearable anxieties, her loss purity and her social leprosy, are linked to a hidden telekinetic ability that's becoming increasingly powerful and uncontrollable.

Only two people at school feel any sort of compassion for Carrie; gym teacher Ms. Collins (Buckley) and fellow student Sue Snell (Irving), who attempts to rid herself of guilt following the shower incident by convincing her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Katt), to ask Carrie to the senior prom. But queen-bitch alpha-woman, Chris Hargensen (Allen) has crueller intentions on her mind! Barred from the prom, Chris conspires with her dim-witted boyfriend, Billy Nolan (John Travolta, in a very early role) to execute a fiendish prank, finally burning all Carrie's hopes of social acceptance. Here DePalma plays with the manipulative power of women: Tommy escorts Carrie to the prom; Billy is pushed into torturing her, both under the duress of their girlfriends. Indeed, sex (gender, sexuality, femininity) is the force that drives all the characters: Carrie's realisation of her womanhood, her first menstruation, comes with a new disruptive/destructive power. Chris' sexual manipulation of Billy is underlined by the cruel self-absorption of a girl too pretty to be human(e), whereas Sue's manipulation of Tommy is a gesture to the bonds of sisterhood. Ms. Collins is the personification of the maternal absence in Carrie's life: a trusting, nurturing and loyal figure, whereas Carrie's own mother is a Freudian cocktail of hysteria and religious psycho-vomit.

Respite from her ostracised existence seems to be within Carries reach; she's going to the prom with Tommy, who seems determined to show her a good time, and her dazzling appearance in a low-cut dress is quite affecting. Carrie's mother is outraged, preaching fire and brimstone; "After the blood come the boys!" All the while Chris' plot thickens and the prom already feels tainted by conspiracy; Mrs White's last words to her daughter are ominous: "They're all going to laugh at you!"

For Carrie, the prom itself is the eye of an adolescent hurricane. Dizzy moments of awkwardness and accidental romance are articulated by DePalma with 360 degree panning shot of her and Tommy dancing. And when the final votes are counted, Carrie and Tommy are crowned prom king and queen – little do they know that Chris and Billy are hiding backstage, the final piece of their callous plan falling into position. The moments in which they ascend the stage are captured in painful slow motion, a scene that easily exceeds five minutes. It's an obvious set-up by DePalma, a deliberate suspenseful ploy, but every second of it is painfully gut-wrenching to sit through. Carrie's brief moments of triumph and acceptance are dashed in seconds, but these moments are turned into a funeral march of anguish and mortifying humiliation; each second for Carrie feels like a minute for us! This sequence is all the more poignant when nearly all the sound is muted, except a clanging bucket and the drip, drip, drip of blood splattering on the floor. Nothing can prepare you for this moment, and nothing can cushion its impact either – it is easily one of the most gruelling moments in Hollywood cinema.

At once the tone changes: Carrie stands, bug-eyed and blood-sodden, her POV a visual/aural kaleidoscope of mockery and torment. The tables soon turn: the doors slam shut, the screen tints blood-red in rage and a massacre ensues, captured from multiple angles on split screens. Carrie unleashes a telekinetic holocaust of unholy retribution; an anarchic bloodlust! Carrie's transformation from maligned social misfit, reborn in blood as avenging angel of death is a high school loser's revenge fantasy come to life.

Carrie represents a pinnacle of American-produced horror: the screenplay is tight whilst remaining true to Sreven King's original story and the direction is masterful and suspenseful. All of Brian DePalma's directorial trademarks are on display here; split screens, slow motion tracking shots and, as always, devoted homages to his beloved Hitchcock. The spectre of Psycho looms large over Carrie and DePalma's artistic debt is obvious: the bloody shower scene, sudden jarring orchestral flourishes, the psychotic mother with the kitchen knife, even the casting of Sissy Spacek, a waif-like blonde, is evidence of his religious devotion to classical Hollywood cinema. Thankfully, these moments are restrained and not over-indulgent. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie perfectly: shy, pretty; a maelstrom of emotion, oestrogen and supernatural ability – her moments of terror are some the most affecting in horror.
Video
The picture is lovingly restored in anamorphic widescreen and looks superb: the quality is of a high standard and the transfer is pristine.
Audio
The English track has been beautifully remastered into a Digital 5.1 track: the orchestral flourishes are sharp and pronounced and the original sound-scapes are astonishing in surround. All other languages are presented in mono.
Extra Features
After so much effort was dedicated to restoring Carrie, I expected something more substantial than a lousy theatrical trailer. Disappointing.
The Verdict
DePalma's tour de force is one of the most fully realised and rewarding genre pieces of the era. Loaded with suspense and atmosphere, Carrie is something of an American companion to Dario Argento's Suspiria with its dazzling iconography and strong female leads – not to mention the surreal gushing rivers of gore and flirtations with the supernatural! This film set a benchmark for American-produced horror that has rarely been surpassed, and rivals Kubrick's The Shining as the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

The restoration job is certainly admirable, so it's a real let-down when the same effort was spared when it came to providing a decent selection of extras. The film itself doesn't suffer as a result, but the package sure does! One point deducted!
Movie Score
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