Bloody Countdown to Halloween: Carrie

As the spooky season raises its sharpened axe to soon fall upon us, the ghouls and goblins of Film Ireland wallow in the terror of the films that embrace the nutty freaks, bloody psychos and raging spoonatics with our ‘Bloody Countdown to Halloween’ – cue Vincent Price laugh…

 

Carrie

(Brian de Palma, 1976)
 

Sarah Griffin


It’s one of those films that everyone thinks that they know – so embedded in our collective consciousness that even those who have never seen it feel as though they have. Carrie emerged from a hive of creativity and innovation in 1970s Hollywood, where directors were defying boundaries and making waves in every genre, blowing apart preconceptions of what a movie should be. No other horror movie is so lovingly rendered and artfully shot, and very few shlockers manage to cross the barrier and impress the Academy with its skills. Echoes of Carrie still ripple through horror movies today, as the formula of sympathetic terror is often copied but never equalled in its nuances – and there is no greater compliment to the prescient status of its iconography that it has remained a benchmark for the psychological horror.

What terrifies and enthrals about Carrie is the slow pace – the loving introduction of its main character, and her terrible life. The persistent bullying and aggression, followed by her mother’s religious freak-outs, are all underscored by Sissy Spacek’s soft-voiced, sad and lonely Carrie. She is a fully rounded psychologically realistic character – a rarity as a horror film antagonist – and within moments, our sympathies are fully with her. In fact, our compassion is so closely contained in Spacek’s unprepossessing portrayal of this little girl that as the climax excruciatingly builds, we almost wish the apocalypse upon these townsfolk. When that iconic pigs blood begins to pour, we yearn for the flames and carnage – vicariously cheering on Carrie’s revenge, then breaking down alongside her in terror and fear at her (and our) horrifying actions.

Perhaps my viewing of Carrie is coloured by being a girl, and having seen the movie post-puberty…when her craziness seems just that little bit more understandable. There is a nagging feeling throughout that, though her emotions are exaggerated and accompanied by telekinetic power, there was a touch of kinship in this movie relationship. And perhaps even a moment of vindication and relief…the vicarious living out of puberty fantasy, where the boiling emotions inside could result in flipping over a car or burning down the school!

Again though, the film’s director Brian De Palma – in a career kick-starter – defies our cheering dualism. Carrie is still lost and terrified, and after her cathartic high-school revenge, returns to her state of confusion and horror. She is no devil, despite her mother’s fanaticism, and wants only to be loved. Her tragic avowal of this is her inability to continue living with what she has done – the revenge now seemed outside of herself, and beyond her control. When she returns home to her mother, seeking reassurances and some semblance of love, she is greeted with the biggest betrayal of all…and her emotional collapse at this final insanity is so painful to watch that it bleeds onscreen. But at its centre, under the complex psychologies and emotional rendering, Carrie is still a horror movie – and its beating heart is terror. Carrie might be sympathetic, she might be understandable…but she is still a supernatural murderer, who wreaks a terrifying revenge. The prom-night massacre is no simple matter – she methodically locks the doors, and picks off her victims one by one as her eyes flash and the music soars. Spacek, covered in pig’s blood, stands compressed on the platform, electricity surging through her movements and fists clenched in concentration, slowly and gruesomely murdering her foes. And the final terror is yet to come – generations of movie-goers have still to discover that unbelievably horrific final jump. How I envy anybody who has never seen Carrie, who has yet to experience that moment of release as you think it’s all over, before it delivers its final, terrifying, screaming, wake-you-up-sweating-in-the-middle-of-the-night punchline. If you’ve got a taste for terror, take Carrie to the prom!

Bloody Hell!

It’s one of those films that everyone thinks that they know – so embedded in our collective consciousness that even those who have never seen it feel as though they have. Carrie emerged from a hive of creativity and innovation in 1970s Hollywood, where directors were defying boundaries and making waves in every genre, blowing apart preconceptions of what a movie should be. No other horror movie is so lovingly rendered and artfully shot, and very few shlockers manage to cross the barrier and impress the Academy with its skills. Echoes of Carrie still ripple through horror movies today, as the formula of sympathetic terror is often copied but never equalled in its nuances – and there is no greater compliment to the prescient status of its iconography that it has remained a benchmark for the psychological horror.

What terrifies and enthrals about Carrie is the slow pace – the loving introduction of its main character, and her terrible life. The persistent bullying and aggression, followed by her mother’s religious freak-outs, are all underscored by Sissy Spacek’s soft-voiced, sad and lonely Carrie. She is a fully rounded psychologically realistic character – a rarity as a horror film antagonist – and within moments, our sympathies are fully with her. In fact, our compassion is so closely contained in Spacek’s unprepossessing portrayal of this little girl that as the climax excruciatingly builds, we almost wish the apocalypse upon these townsfolk. When that iconic pigs blood begins to pour, we yearn for the flames and carnage – vicariously cheering on Carrie’s revenge, then breaking down alongside her in terror and fear at her (and our) horrifying actions.

Perhaps my viewing of Carrie is coloured by being a girl, and having seen the movie post-puberty…when her craziness seems just that little bit more understandable. There is a nagging feeling throughout that, though her emotions are exaggerated and accompanied by telekinetic power, there was a touch of kinship in this movie relationship. And perhaps even a moment of vindication and relief…the vicarious living out of puberty fantasy, where the boiling emotions inside could result in flipping over a car or burning down the school!

Again though, the film’s director Brian De Palma – in a career kick-starter – defies our cheering dualism. Carrie is still lost and terrified, and after her cathartic high-school revenge, returns to her state of confusion and horror. She is no devil, despite her mother’s fanaticism, and wants only to be loved. Her tragic avowal of this is her inability to continue living with what she has done – the revenge now seemed outside of herself, and beyond her control. When she returns home to her mother, seeking reassurances and some semblance of love, she is greeted with the biggest betrayal of all…and her emotional collapse at this final insanity is so painful to watch that it bleeds onscreen. But at its centre, under the complex psychologies and emotional rendering, Carrie is still a horror movie – and its beating heart is terror. Carrie might be sympathetic, she might be understandable…but she is still a supernatural murderer, who wreaks a terrifying revenge. The prom-night massacre is no simple matter – she methodically locks the doors, and picks off her victims one by one as her eyes flash and the music soars. Spacek, covered in pig’s blood, stands compressed on the platform, electricity surging through her movements and fists clenched in concentration, slowly and gruesomely murdering her foes. And the final terror is yet to come – generations of movie-goers have still to discover that unbelievably horrific final jump. How I envy anybody who has never seen Carrie, who has yet to experience that moment of release as you think it’s all over, before it delivers its final, terrifying, screaming, wake-you-up-sweating-in-the-middle-of-the-night punchline. If you’ve got a taste for terror, take Carrie to the prom!

 

 

Check out our blood-soaked countdown of Halloween Horror here

 

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