Doodad Kind of Town

Reelin’ in the Years: "Carrie"
May 19, 2009, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This one is recycled from the archives. It originally appeared in November 2007, and by resurrecting it and posting it today, I am re-launching a series I started – then abandoned – back in the days when this blog was new and still in search of a regular audience and a topic to focus on. In “Reelin’ in the Years,” I rediscover films I once liked, but haven’t seen in many years.)

I spent Halloween night this year watching “Carrie” for the first time since its original release in 1976, shortly after the start of my senior year in high school. At that time, I had only recently read the novel on which it was based. (I spent a lot of my teen years reading thrillers about demonic possession, reincarnation, and various occult phenomena. It all started in ninth grade with “The Exorcist” and went straight through the early career of Stephen King, right up to about the time of “The Shining.” Oddly, I haven’t touched that kind of book since. ) Anyway, I was just about dying for the movie version of “Carrie” to be released. When I finally saw it (accompanied by my less-than-enthusiastic cousin), I thought I’d died and gone to Stephen King heaven. It was an almost perfect adaptation of his novel.

Well, anyway, that’s what I thought at 16.

At 47, of course, the movie looks a bit different. From my infinitely more jaded, middle-aged perspective, I can see that director Brian De Palma created some movie magic out of King’s middling popular fiction, but the magic isn’t universally distributed throughout the film. Some scenes are just clunky or silly. And some surprised me for reasons having more to do with the changes in popular culture over the last 30 years than with the film itself. To wit:

* That locker room shower sequence that plays over the opening credits? Ewwwwwww!!! It’s just creepy! In what twisted male fantasy world does a shy, socially awkward teenager stand in a communal gym shower, soaping herself up like a porn star? In slow motion yet? A girl like Carrie would be profoundly uncomfortable being naked anywhere in the vicinity of other people. I’m pretty sure that DePalma deliberately created this initial, soft-core feeling so we’d be completely caught off guard when Carrie discovers she’s menstruating, and the infamous “Plug it up!” scene follows. But to a grown woman like me, that transition plays like a sick, snarky adolescent joke.

* I got quite a jolt a couple of scenes later when Betty Buckley, the kindly gym teacher, was shown in the principal’s office smoking a cigarette. And the principal even had an ashtray on his desk. I’d totally forgotten how pervasive and acceptable cigarette smoking used to be.

* All the stuff with Carrie’s religious fanatic mother is so campy and over-the-top. I think we could get that Carrie’s mom is abusive and crazy without quite so much crucifixion-themed set dressing, but I guess that’d take some of the fun out of it. Piper Laurie, all angel-faced and frizzy-maned, seems to be in her own little, twisted world. I appreciate the logic of playing Carrie’s mom as if you were listening to the voices inside your head rather than to your daughter, but Laurie never convinced me she was doing anything but camping it up and chewing the scenery. She got an Oscar nomination, though, so someone must have been impressed.

(When I first saw her performance at 16, all I remember thinking was that she seemed too young and too pretty to be Carrie’s pathologically pious Mom. I think I has someone more like Margaret Hamilton’s Elvira Gulch in mind.)

* Somehow I completely forgot that John Travolta was in this movie. It was before “Saturday Night Fever,” of course, so he had only about five minutes of screen time, basically playing a variation on his Vinnie Barbarino character from “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Quite a shock, too, when, in the scene where he and Nancy Allen slaughter the pig, he starts growling “Git ‘er done! Git ‘er done!” I thought Larry the Cable Guy made that up all by himself.

* Nothing DePalma did her really thrilled me until Carrie got to the prom. Then it finally became a really good movie, with DePalma’s style and technique suddenly more assured and affecting. Sissy Spacek’s first slow dance with William Katt is still every bit as dizzying and romantic as I remembered it, with the camera whirling around the couple in every more ecstatic spirals, mirroring Carrie being swept away by Katt’s attention and affection. The slow motion build-up to the dumping of the pig blood is an almost unbearable masterpiece of mounting tension. And – oh boy! – De Palma’s famous split-screen technique still works like gangbusters when Carrie unleashes her wrath. With Spacek’s wide-eyed, haunted, blood drenched face on one side of the screen, and horrific endings for the other characters on the other, you’re thrillingly enveloped in multiple perspectives on the same carnage. Yet not one shot is graphic or prolonged for added shock value. Given the “torture porn” mentality of 21st century horror flicks, it’s a real testament to “Carrie’s” durability that the relatively very mild violence in these scenes seems just as brutal and shocking now as it did 31 years ago.

* Then there’s that final “surprise” scene with Amy Irving bringing flowers to Carrie’s grave. In 1976, I screamed and jumped out of my seat (and so did everyone else.) This time, I only shuddered a little and smiled to myself. A scene like that only works once.

* Oh, and a “bonus surprise”: Edie McClurg in a small role as one of the mean girls who taunts Carrie and pelts her with tampons in the opening shower room scene. This is probably the last time (maybe the only time) she didn’t play a matronly, middle-aged goofball. Though she already seems more like Ed Rooney’s secretary here than a convincing member of the “popular crowd.”


5 Comments so far
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Pat,I'm a Brian DePalma apologist. I love most all his films, CARRIE especially.Did you know he regrets using the split screen during the prom sequence? I don't know where I saw him talking about this, but I was taken aback. I always thought it worked wonderfully.I'm only 25. Maybe my views will change,but I think CARRIE is up there with BLOWOUT, DRESSED TO KILL & SISTERS. I love me some split field diopter!!!


Only 47? You are a young lady, my friend!Well, CARRIE does hold up reasonably well, even thought you rightly point out that some scenes only ‘work once.’ In the pantheon of Brian DePalma cinema and Stephen King literature this certainly places on the ‘short list’ of both, even if neither artist/practitioner can be considered auteurs. (and I’m being kind) To be fair with King (and like you I don’t touch that kind of book anymore) he was a crafty and intricate storyteller, even if his ‘writing’ is of the potboiler variety. Few would contest that THE SHINING was brilliantly plotted, nor that novels like IF, THE STAND, and THE DEAD ZONE weren’t riveting reads. The same could be said for the ghoulish PET CEMETERY and the source of your review here, both of which have always held the reader hanging with every word. Stephen King defines what ‘guilty pleasure’ means, and the same could be said for the erratic Brian De Palma, whose forgettable films outnumber his few decent ones by a distance. CARRIE, his first, makes a strong claim as his best, although the few that Joseph mentions there are surely in the mix. Thanks for the engaging trip down memory lane.

Comment by Sam Juliano

Joseph and Sam -Thanks for weighing in and sharing your thoughts.Joseph – The split screen technique is one of the first that I loved about DePalma’s work, so it’s interesting that he regret it now. I think “Dressed to Kill” is probably my favorite DePalma film of those I’ve seen. I’ll readily admit, I’ve missed a lot of his work since.Sam – Well, I was 47 in 2007 when this post originally ran – I’m not so young now!I don’t mean to sound snobbish about King’s novels, because they are well plotted and a lot of fun. I still have the battered, paperback of “Carrie” that I first read in high school, and I’m looking to do some light reading over the upcoming holiday weekend. Perhaps I should take it down from the shelf…

Comment by Pat

Movies that are originated from Stephan King writings that are more or less awesome….THE SHININGCREEPSHOW CARRIECHRISTINESHAWSHANK REDEMPTION CAT’S EYE THE DEAD ZONEMISERY THE RUNNING MANGiven though, there is a lot of crap in between.And Sam! Brian DePalma is great and I won’t have any bad mouthing around here. No matter how bad THE BLACK DHALIA was…..


LOL Joseph!!!!!Hey, I respect your admiration for him. I can’t really say anything against DRESSED TO KILL, THE UNTOUCHABLES or BLOWOUT, and SCARFACE has its moments.Of course, THE SHINING and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION are the real gems of that list you present.Pat: Of course you could do a lot worse than King for light reading. You were not coming off as snobbish at all. King is entertaining, but hey, we must draw the line here. He’s no Fitzgerald or Hemingway.

Comment by Sam Juliano

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