Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carrie - More evidence that Proms are deathtraps

Click here to jump to the boring, but SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

Carrie White, the shy and aloof high schooler, has her first period while showering after gym class (As a guy, I feel compelled to say, gross). Because of her sheltered life, she thinks she's dying. High school hotties Chris and Sue lead the locker room girls in mocking Carrie. Miss Collins, the gym teacher intervenes, but in all the commotion a light bulb bursts. Miss Collins brings Carrie to Principal Morton's office where Carrie's frustration results in an ashtray flipping onto the floor. Also a kid mocking Carrie gets knocked off his bike.

Carrie's religiously fanatical mother, Margaret, receives a call from Miss Collins about the locker room and tells Carrie that the "curse of blood" is punishment for sin. She locks Carrie in a closet and forces her to pray. That night Carrie stares at her bedroom mirror until it shatters.

The next day we meet Carrie's heartthrob Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling guilty for teasing Carrie, convinces Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Miss Collins punishes the girls in the gym who tormented Carrie. They get detention and possible revoking of their prom privileges. Chris manages to lose her prom privileges.

Carrie suspects she may have telekinesis, and researches it in the library. Tommy asks Carrie to the prom, but she fears another trick. Tommy asks her again at her house and she agrees. Carrie tells her mother she is going to the prom, and Margaret forbids it. However, Carrie causes the windows of the house to slam shut, revealing her telekinesis. Margaret believes this is Satan's power, but Carrie insists she will go to the prom.

Chris tells her delinquent boyfriend, Billy, that she wants revenge on Carrie. She goes with Billy and others to a farm, where Billy kills a pig. After draining the pig's blood into a bucket, Chris has Billy place the bucket above the school's stage.

Chris makes a deal with her friend to rig the prom king and queen election so that Tommy and Carrie will win. Though her classmates are surprised to see Carrie at the prom, they treat her normally. Sue, who was unable to attend due to lacking a date, sneaks into the prom to ensure everything goes well for Carrie.

To Carrie's surprise, she and Tommy are named prom king and queen. As the crown is placed on Carrie's head, Chris pulls the rope and Carrie is drenched in pig's blood. As the crowd looks on in silence the whole room starts laughing and jeering at her. Carrie's telekinesis takes over, closing the doors to the gym and turning on a fire hose. Miss Collins is killed by a falling ceiling rafter, principal Morton is electrocuted and the whole place catches fire. Leaving her classmates inside the school as it burns, Carrie walks home covered in blood. Chris and Billy intend to run her over with Billy's car, but Carrie flips the car over, causing it to burst into flames, killing them both.

At home, Carrie breaks down in her mother's arms. However, by this time Margaret has gone completely insane and literally stabs Carrie in the back. Carrie gets cornered in the kitchen by her mother, but sends kitchen knives flying at her mother, killing her. Overcome with guilt and grief, Carrie uses her last ounce of strength to collapse the house upon her and her mother and the house burns down to the ground.

Some time later, Sue, the only survivor of the prom, visits the plot where Carrie's house stood. As she places flowers on the ground and a bloody hand grabs Sue's wrist. The movie ends with Sue waking up, screaming, in her mother's arms.

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorey

The Good

What do the dramatic slow-mo finale in Scarface, and the intense slip-screen action in Mission Impossible both have in common? Carrie. Brian DePalma was far from an amateur when he gave us Carrie. With a number of productions under his belt, he was establishing his own directing style. Most of the shots are very wide, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg You really get a feel for the characters' surroundings. I like that just because so many horror movies are shot tight and confined.
But DePalma was ahead of his time in the 'special shots' department. His shots were meant to draw emotion out of the viewer. The spinning shot around Carrie and Tommy makes you feel lost and dizzy in love. The slow motion sequence of the impending blood bucket makes the pain feel more drawn out, like pulling off a band aid slowly. The split screen during the rampage lets the viewer witness Carrie's deranged eyes as she kills. DePalma's work was the inspiration for much of great cinematography we see today.

The Ending
It is worth noting that DePalma essentially created a horror genre staple. The last-scare shot. When the lone survivor, Sue, comes mourning she almost looks angelic. Dressed in white, a back-lit glow, bringing flowers, and a single tear she looks so sorry and so pure. Then to have Carrie's bloody claw tear up at her, it simply destroy's the viewers sense of closure and safety. It's a good scare. This last-scare shot is iconic in movies like Friday 13th and Nightmare on Elm St. Scream even makes fun of it saying the bad guy "always comes back for one last scare." On behalf of horror fans everywhere, thank you Brian DePalma.

The Actors
When Carrie came out, these were basically no-name actors:
Sissy Spacek(The Help, In the Bedroom, Hotrod), PJ Soles(Halloween, Stripes), Nancy Allen(RoboCop, Dressed to Kill), Michael Talbott (Miami Vice, First Blood), Sydney Lassick (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Unseen) and of course John Travolta. Time has proven that horror movies make good actors.

A deeper look at the casting and acting in Carrie.

The Bad
The Story
Hold on, don't stone me yet, hear me out. This movie was biased on a book written by the horror master, Stephen King. Not only was this King's first book adapted for film, it was the first book King had ever gotten published. Now I'm not enough of a Stephen King disciple to say how that reflects on the film, but I will say this, the movie feels like a book. The blood bucket doesn't drop until the 1:15min mark. The whole time leading up to it is just preparing for the prank and Carrie getting ready for the prom. Seriously, this movie could almost be a high school romantic comedy. It has all the elements. Jerk popular girl, nice popular girl, jerk popular boy, nice popular boy, understanding teacher, wallflower girl turned homecoming queen. If it wasn't for the telekinesis and murder it could be 10 Things I Hate About You.Carrie has the same problem all book-adaptation films have. It's hard to make mundane things look interesting. A book can go for chapters all about what a character is thinking while the character is doing something mundane like reading in the library. But if you try and make me watch someone reading a book for more that 15 seconds, I'm gonna flip out. So while I'm sure that in the book the lead up to the rampage is engaging and thrilling, the lead up in this film left me kind of bored.

The Gorey
This movie has a lot of pig's blood, some gross lady blood, and that's about it. The most gruesome scene would probably be the mother's death by telekinetic knives, but it's pretty tame for most horror film standards. The film is rated R due to the female nudity in the opening shower scene. If they could have re-worked that scene, it might have been bumped down to a PG-13.

My Take on it All
Ok, forget everything I said about the story. The long, drawn out set up of "the prank" is really just a tool DePalma uses to create "the scene". The Rampage Scene that is. The entire film is simply buildup to it. We see poor Carrie. Her life at school is full of ridicule and embarrassment, her life at home is full of shame and subservience. The only glimmer of joy she has is from the dreamy, untouchable Tommy. Add to that the discovery of mental powers that are new and powerful. She is a victim through and through. The pain she suffers is in innocence.
As we see a hope for happiness, because of Tommy and Sue's good deeds, we also see the set up of the prank. The viewer can figure out pretty fast that the plan is to drop pig's blood on Carrie at the prom. The dramatic irony makes the sweetness of the prom that much more painful. If that wasn't enough DePalma literally goes into slow motion, to draw out the anxiety of the impending disaster.

Then comes the scene. The Rampage. This single scene is what made this movie. It's what made a mediocre movie into an amazing movie. Carrie, covered in blood, proceeds to murder everybody. In this moment, all the innocence we saw in Carrie is stripped away. She kills friend and foe alike. With her psychic strength she is untouchable . Killing and burning it seems that she has lost control, but looking at her we see she is in complete control. I didn't know I could be scared simply by the look in someone's eyes, but the bottom-lit eyes full of intensity dart back and forth, sparking fires and dropping rafters. In my opinion, one of the scariest/eeriest scenes ever is a bloodstained Carrie, with her arms and hands tense with rage, slowly walking across the gym as it erupts in flames. It's like watching a banshee or ghost.

That one dramatic moment made all 96 mins of set up worth it. This movie is a must see for any horror fan. But this is a necessary see for anyone who wants to understand difference between cheap, gory jumpy, scare-tactics flicks and the true horror genre.

Carrie follows the tragic life of a high school girl. On top of teenage difficulties, she must face her fanatical mother and growing psychic powers. Carrie earns it's place at the foundation of the horror genre. While it is slow to start, the film brings a horror packed ending matched by few films. Take a night off from your guts and gore flicks and enjoy some iconic terror. 

Final Grade: A-


  1. I have read most of King's work more than once and consider myself learned on most things related to his canon of work.

    I'd add to your review that the movie diverges from the book quite a bit, but in a good way. The screenplay was written by Lawrence Cohen who would go on to do a few other King adaptations.

    This indeed was King's first book. In its original incarnation, it amounted to little more than a novella. His publisher had him rewrite it. The revisions included testimony before a congressional committee and excerpts from a book that Sue Snell wrote about Carrie after the incident.

    What you refer to as "The Rampage" was completely retooled by Cohen and, as you point out, was quite effective. In the book, Carrie wanders about town, destroying buildings and killing people. But the story wasn't really about the town. It was about the school and the kids in it. Cohen confined his carnage to that realm and made for an effective climax.

    I like your review. I disagree about the lag in the story. I thought Piper Laurie really carried the middle with her over the top portrayal and the sweet, soft music during the prom juxtaposed nicely with the "Psycho" music bed that accompanied the carnage that followed.

    1. Wow, you make the book sound really intriguing. It would be cool to see Carrie's story taken beyond the school to the larger town. I'm sure the destruction is awesome. I'll have to pick up the book.
      And I never did touch on the musical score, but you are right, it was top notch.

    2. HMM,

      Great review and thanks for your comment! You should read King's book. I think it with her rampaging the entire town makes sense because you get view points from different folks who survived the destruction. They tell a story of a young Carrie and her isolation from everyone because of her crazy ass mom. If you do read it, please let me know what you think!

  2. One of the key elements of the book, which set it apart from the movie, was that it was given a "documentary" feel. Throughout the book, King provided snippets of fake news release and court documents that gave it a more realistic feel than if it had just been a straight novel.

    Yes, the plot is fairly straightforward, a set of standard horror story tropes. But to provide those bits of "actual life" juxtaposed to the story itself lent a certain quality to it.

    I think the upcoming movie would actually work well as a sort of mocumentary. Give it the full treatment of a documentary as the original novel did and it would work well. Sure, that trope is a bit tired, with some of the more recent "found footage" films, but with what we have to work with today, it could be a pretty neat adaptation, one far better than the original film.

    1. I like that thought about the remake. I've always been a found-footage fan. It would give a new, exciting outlook to the story, while giving proper respect to the original. Cool thought.

  3. I actually preferred everything that led up to the “all hell breaks loose” climax. It was a surprisingly touching portrayal of adolescence. Carrie was so awkward. You genuinely felt sorry for her. One of the reasons why I think Sissy Spacek's performance was nominated for an Academy Award.

    1. I think a lot of people have that same opinion. And I can see how the teenage drama can be appealing if you look at the film, as a whole, as a Thriller. And lots of people would call Carrie a Thriller as opposed to a Horror film. Me, coming at the movie with a Horror expectation, I wasn't endeared by the plot's slow crescendo. But maybe one night I'll curl my hair, paint my toenails and watch it again with a different viewpoint.

  4. I like your review...but the spoiler is quite transparent ;) lucky I have watched the movie.

    I really agree with Jonathan Dalar there...I hope the remake stays true to the book. I like this movie but I think in the hand of a good script-writer who stayed true to the book, the remake would be better

    1. I agree! I find most films that I fault (that have been adapted) strayed from the original story that made the book so great.

  5. It was a very good spoiler filled review but reading the book and seeing the movie I didn't mind it. Love your take on all the aspects you enjoyed and even the ones you disliked. If you ever get a chance to read the book you should it's great seeing how King has evolved from his first novel and Carrie is a great book. Did you ever see the 2002 remake? Whole different pacing and opinions for that one! Hoping this new non-TV remake does the book and this classic horror film justice...

    1. I never heard about the 2002 remake. That's cool. I'll have to check it out on my B-Reel Movie Night.

    2. I favor the 2002 remake to the other Carrie movies for these reasons:

      1. It's easier for me to handle.

      2. Chris isn't as bad as she is in her other appearances.

      3. Margaret's milder. But that doesn't stop her for being antagonistic.

      3. Carries survives and gets to be driven to Florida (I think that's where she was taken to.) by Sue.

  6. How dare you make Carrie sound like she's a villainess! You don't seem to understand her because of her murderous rampage. Even though I don't agree with everything that she said and did, I sympathize with her due to my being bullied many times. Besides, I incompletely justify her explosive behavior because of her bullying classmates and her self-righteous mom. I mean, how would you feel if you went through what she went through day after day?

  7. Some great reviews here man, keep up the good work.

  8. As you can expect, I'm in disagreement with you about the true excitement not beginning until the rampage. The nudity at the start of the film, forces the viewer to see the frankness that the other components will be dealt with. Not to mention the fact that the pretty bodies quickly got my attention. Between Carrie's obsessed mother, Sue's misunderstood plan and students with an evil agenda, the excitement in the cauldron may be only simmering, but it is always there. The prom night scene does fulfill the viewer's need for the inevitable expectation that Carrie will "get them back" but, the foreplay of the preceding events is a lot more than half the fun.

    I really like your breakdown of movies by using of The Good, The Bad and The Gorey. You've got a follower. Thanks for your comments.