First things first, no this isn’t a review for the remake starring Chloe Grace “only teenage girl in Hollywood” Moretz. Not my fault they went and released that remake the same week as my HORROR WEEK review was due. Blame the studios. I would go see the remake but… ehhhhh… why bother? The original is a work of art and I intend to tell you all just why in this review. So, click the link below and I’ll tell you why Carrie is such a superb piece of horror.
So, spoilers, Carrie is a film about a girl ( Carrie, of course, played by Sissy Spacek) with telekinetic powers that loses her shit at the prom after getting covered in pig’s blood and kills a bunch of people. That’s the basic way of summing it up by telling you the premise and that bit you know because it’s engrained into the modern horror mythos. What the film is actually about is the coming of age of a sheltered girl who gradually learns to build her won confidence when she starts to realise what her power can do. A girl discovering who she is and making choices for herself but isn’t yet strong enough to fight external forces that could damage her growth forever. The powers she gains are a manifestation of her growing power as a woman, but are tied so tightly to her fragile emotions that they could easily become dangerous.
Brian De Palma directed Carrie with his usual mixture of romantic Hollywood cinema and modern pop art. The result is a film that pay homage to classical camera work and technique but, occasionally out of nowhere, mixes this up with the odd stylistic touch that wouldn’t be out of place in a music video. For example, there’s one scene where a few of the male characters are buying tuxedos for the prom, mid conversation the film suddenly speeds up to the final moments of the scene. It’s as if De Palma felt the scene was going on longer than needed and just hit fast forward. Here is is making a fairly large scale production film and he’s experimenting with editing like that. In other scenes he’ll lead a shot on for an extended period to show the set up of the trap at the prom, or he’ll splice in a split screen effect either show multiple, near comic book style, angles on the events. This is mixture of stylistic techniques is the mark of a director who understands his history of cinema but is desperate to make a mark for himself. Carrie shows some of his best directorial work in my opinion.
Carrie was the first book written by Stephen King and also the first adapted to film. It was certainly a key part of his being put on the map of horror writers. Shame he’s a bit of a hack now. Yeah I said it. That sad the principle themes of Carrie are beautifully constructed. From the very first 2 scenes we’ve learned everything we need to about Carrie and can sympathise with her. We understand that she is in a period of growth as a woman. As the film moves on we learn of her abusive and highly religious mother. We learn that Carrie just wants to fit in but is constantly told she is freak. A few characters take sympathy on her. Her gym teacher Mrs Collins (Betty Buckley) attempts to help her accept that she’s not different and just needs to mature while a classmate, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) gives up her place at the prom by asking her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie in order to help her fit in.
The fact these characters are not saved by Carries rage is key to understanding the tragedy of her character. If the pigs blood had never been dropped on Carrie by Chris and Billy (Nancy Allen and John Travolta) Carrie may have grown to become a strong woman capable of using her power for good. That is always clear in your mind as you see how happy she is at the prom, as she finally begins to come out of her shell, only to have it all ruined by a girl with a grudge. It could be said that Carrie represents the idea that a woman is a ticking time bomb of untapped insanity ready to go off at the slightest push, but really the rage just represents her mental stability crumbling after years of abuse. Not the sudden explosion of rage the ticking time bomb metaphor would suggest, but rather the slow build to a mental collapse at a time of fragile imbalance.
What really makes the film still stand up well today is that every single second has been treated with full conviction to make it the best film the cast and crew could make. The story is treated in a serious manner. The performances are all solid, particularly Spacek who should be and actress deserving of required viewing by young actors today. She hammers it home that it isn’t enough for the other characters to just say Carrie is strange, the actress in the role has to sell Carrie’s fragility with every fibre of her being. A technique I’m not feeling from Chloe Grace Moretz in the trailers and clips I’ve seen of the remake. It’s a lesson a lot of actors and directors need to understand these days. The Twilight films are probably the worst example of modern films ignorance to performance selling the alleged character.
It’s strange that what Carrie does for horror has only managed to be absorbed in imagery and style rather than successful depiction of thematics in recent years. So many are concerned with immortalising a single image of to put on their DVD case that they forget that the build to that image has to pay compliment it in the first place. Carrie does making it clear how fragile a person she is, gradually building the idea that she could break free of the abuse wrought on her by her mother, which in turn can make you hope she foils Chris and Billy’s plan… but then it’s all torn down in a moment. The image of Carrie covered in blood as the building around her burns and the iconography it represents are earned by the preceding 80 minutes of film. De Palma is a master of building a film scene by scene. While you could argue that not many actual events happen along the way, not a single scene is wasted. Ever scene helps create the possibilities of what Carrie could be and it’s all down to the vindictive actions of one girl, beyond the control of Carrie or anyone else that wished her well, that the tragedy of the final scenes can play out. Carrie is, without a doubt, one of the greatest works of horror ever made.