Carrie, says Sooz Kempner, you’re looking as pure as the driven snow as you hit the big 4-0.
What happens if you mix Stephen King, Brian De Palma, John Travolta and a bucket of pig’s blood? You get the finest schlock horror there ever has been.
I saw Carrie at the perfect age: 16. The horrors of secondary school’s prom were still fresh in my memory. I related to Carrie White, as Trump would put it, bigly. You see, at my prom I was crowned prom queen. Yep, l’il ol’ Sooz was prom queen. And as I took my crown somebody dumped a bucket of pig’s blood on me. The laughter I heard from the whole of year 11 as my joy turned to rage caused the deaths of 300 people that night. But I’ve moved on.
Disclaimer: At my school’s prom there was no prom queen, no pig’s blood and no deaths. But the guy I fancied danced to Time After Time with Louise Jacob so it’s kind of the same. Anyway, enough about that prom that I’m totally over. Let’s talk Carrie.
Stephen King’s debut book is a curious mash-up of classic gothic horror and pulp fiction, somehow emerging as a fresh take on the chiller novel and selling more than a million copies in its first year. The film takes the best of the book, turns the dials to the fuckest-uppest and is as funny and terrifying now as it was in 1976.
Pre-Carrie, De Palma’s CV was a collection of bizarre movies including three 60s comedies starring a very young Robert De Niro, and Phantom of the Paradise, one of my favourite weirdo movies. It’s a musical horror based on The Phantom of the Opera and it shits on Lloyd Webber’s adaptation. Eat it!
Carrie wasn’t supposed to be a Hollywood blockbuster. Underfunded and mostly ignored during production, it was only upon its release that people heard about it and it became a surprise hit. De Palma was suddenly a big player in Hollywood’s new wave and the success launched the careers of many of its young stars, including John Travolta.
“Carrie is quintessentially 70s, but the fact that it continues to resonate means that there’s obviously something timeless about it.”
The opening with its soft-focus, slow-motion nudity in a high school’s changing room looks gratuitous at first but is thrown into sharp contrast with the scene that follows.
Carrie gets her first period and her religious nut mother has never explained puberty to her. She’s terrified, screaming that she needs help and her disgusted-then-amused classmates pelt Carrie with tampons and chant “plug it up”. As first scenes go it’s certainly up there with the most jarring. But it has nothing on the film’s climax…
The slow creeping religious horror of Carrie’s opening hour gives way to pure unadulterated bombastic terror as class bully Chris (played with bitchy glee by Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (a dopey Travolta) rain down blood and shame on Carrie. She’s at her school’s prom, kindly invited by the handsomest boy in school who might just be starting to fall for Carrie as she dances, having a wonderful night for the first time in her life.
Crowned prom queen, everything’s pretty dreamy. But then the pig’s blood falls, covering her, and her telekinetic rage is unleashed. Fire! Screams! Death! Car crash! You better believe Carrie’s getting her revenge. And then there’s the final scene. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it but do Sooz a favour and film your reaction.
Carrie is impeccably cast. Sissy Spacek won the titular role over other young actors who auditioned, one of which was Melanie Griffith, and is perfect as the beautiful and pathetic oddball, owned by her cartoonishly insane mother.
Piper Laurie’s Margaret White is a whirling dervish devil of a woman who sees everything as sin and eventually drives herself and Carrie to horrific destruction. They both received Oscar nominations for their roles and it’s very easy to see why.
Carrie is quintessentially 70s, but the fact that it continues to resonate means that there’s obviously something timeless about it. There’s a Carrie musical that continues to play (it recently had a London run) as well as a 1999 sequel to the original film (spoiler alert: it stinks). In 2013 it got the big-budget treatment and Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore starred in a new film adaptation which, trust me, you really don’t need to see.
To close, I want to share my favourite euphemism you can use when you’re on your period: “I’m taking Carrie to the prom.” Isn’t that fantastic? Long live Carrie.
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Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.