If you've got a taste for terror... take Carrie to the prom.
Year of Release: 1976
Running Time: 98 minutes (1:38)
Director: Brian De Palma
Sissy Spacek ... Carrie
Piper Laurie ... Margaret White
Amy Irving ... Sue Snell
William Katt ... Tommy Ross
Nancy Allen ... Chris Hargensen
John Travolta ... Billy Nolan
Betty Buckley ... Miss Collins
P.J. Soles ... Norma
Edie McClurg ... Helen
At the center of the terror is Carrie, a tortured high-school misfit with no confidence, no friends... and no idea about the extent of her secret powers of telekinesis. But when her psychotic mother and sadistic classmates finally go too far, the once-shy teen becomes an unrestrained, vengeance-seeking powerhouse who, with the help of her "special gift," causes all hell to break loose in a famed cinematic frenzy of blood, fire and brimstone!
Carrie, remindin' us that as long as you've got some nice classical music playin' an you film in slow motion, nobody seems the least bit uncomfortable about your nekkid mean girl montage in the high school showers. I mean, granted, half the girls've either got C-section scars or those little pressure wrinkles you get around your eyes from operatin' a day care center, so it's kinda obvious that nobody's really under-aged here, but cripes, is there a faster way to make it clear that the teenagers in your movie might be not be as advertised? Really though, if you wanna see a teenage shower scene that'd get you thrown in jail you've gotta check out Roman Polanski flicks, cause Brian De Palma's got a bit too much class for that kinda thing. I guess I shouldn't complain, at least they didn't have that real fat girl from the shower scene in Porky's scrubbin' down 'er rhino lining in there anywhere.
An speakin' of people who tend to get tangled up in under-aged controversies, after the Pope unloaded on congress the other day, Reverend Dollarhide decided he'd better send out the God Squad to rein in all the sheep who'd wandered off to pastures that hadn't been scorched by his fire an brimstone to get everybody back on the same page. Heck, I ain't even been in the same book ever since he took that gaggle of snake handlin' simpletons out to Skunky Hernandez' place to throw a cinder block party at his hydrochronic shed earlier this year. I'll give 'im this though; the man knows his audience, cause he deliberately sent his granddaughter, Chastity "bringing in the cleavage" Dollarhide over to the house cause she's got terrible eyesight an hasta lean way over to read the passages from 'er bible. So I watched 'er do that awhile til she finished up an asked why I'd decided to refuse Jesus entry into my heart, an that got me kinda P.O.'d cause the J-man is always present in my house, sittin' high atop the TV in bobblehead form. Took me about thirty minutes to get the concept of Drive-In Jesus through 'er thick skull, particularly the part where my house was well within the boundaries of His kingdom, but I still couldn't convince 'er that what I was sayin' wasn't sacrilege. Showed 'er the Alter of the Three B's (Blood, Breasts, and Beasts) an went over the 10 Commandments, chief of which is, of course; "thou shalt not kill, unless it's necessary to the plot," but she took the whole deal as a big joke an said I'd never commune with the holy spirit in this town again. Fat chance though, cause the people at The Land of the Rising Son Tabernacle in the Japanese district like me just fine, an even appreciate my enthusiasm for Godzilla. Reverend Dollarhide claims the devil just stuck Godzilla's bones in the ground to trick us, so you can see how that spiritual swap was a significant upgrade. I called up Billy Hilliard an Cleave Furguson to warn 'em that the holy trollies were on the war path, but they'd already been thoroughly chastised an shrieked at by the bingo brigade a la Donald Sutherland from Invasion of the Body Snatchers by the time I got ahold of 'em. Must be that time of year I guess, cause the holy rollers tend to get real uppity when Halloween rolls around. I think they resent havin' a holiday that utilizes dead body decor that ain't tacked to a cross. I'd pray for their souls, but I don't want God gettin' stuck with 'em for all eternity. He's got enough on his plate about without those hags hangin' around tellin' Him how to create all the time.
But anyway, that's not really important, cause we got movies to discuss, good ones even. I figure that with as much crapola as I watch durin' the rest of the year, that it'd prolly be a nice show of respect to only watch the good stuff durin' the month of October. Ya know, try to set a good example for the people who only hop on the bandwagon for a short time outta the year who might be put off by havin' to read about The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies. Somethin' about catchin' more flies with honey, ya know? So if we wanna convert 'em to our way of thinkin', we gotta deliver the goods an pull out all the flops. Which is why this week I went with Carrie, cause it's one of the classiest exploitation flicks of all time, right up there with The Silence of the Lambs, an The Pom Pom Girls. I figure the normals'll be all over this one like John Boehner on a tissue box, so here're just a few of the things you might learn if you pop this one in later this month when you're passin' out apples to kids who're prolly gonna egg your house. First, it's possible to ascend to the rank of principal despite not bein' able to get somebody's name right, even after bein' corrected a half dozen times in the span of five minutes. Course, they prolly don't remain principal for too long, since sooner or later they end up callin' the cops on some kid with a middle eastern soundin' name from the engineering department who brings a clock to school, but it's nice to know that brains aren't everything. Second, if your girlfriend talks to you about other women durin' oral sex, she's either the best girlfriend ever, or about to become the cause of your ultimate demise. Or both. An third, when a religious person seems disappointed by a monetary donation, run. Run fast and run far, cause they've prolly got a bomb strapped to themselves.
I do have one small question though, cause ya know how the fundamental Christian type people who understudy the role of Laurie Piper (with no intention of ever auditionin' for the stage adaptation) are always claimin' these kinda movies're makin' people reenact what they've seen on the screen? Course you do, they're everywhere. An I guess it's prolly pretty easy to get swept away in their zealotry, what with how many people get decapitated by windshields a la The Omen, or chainsawed by guys wearin' a tanned leather cowhide on their faces every single day. But what I wanna know is, if so many people're copyin' what they see in the movies, how come we never hear reports of proms bein' sabotaged by vital fluid fu? Seriously, how many outcasts've watched this movie an thought about how great it'd be to dump month old bacon drippins on Dixie Evans after some dork who couldn't get a date slaps that Burger King tiara on 'er head? I'm thinkin' a lot. I'm also thinkin' that the kids who'd entertain that thought're a lot smarter than John Travolta an his bimbo, an thus would prolly have a much easier time of riggin' up a nasty surprise for the royal couple. Yet, you never hear about this kinda thing happenin' in real life, even though so much time has passed since the movie's original release that half the country's faculty is to young to've even seen it, an would thus be even more likely to miss the telltale signs of the impendin' glopification hangin' in the rafters. Now is the ideal moment to strike, and strangely, no one does. It's almost as if some people just don't want us to enjoy the finer things in life, like BBQ crappie an a Friday the 13th marathon, even though there's exactly zero scientific evidence to back up their claims of cinema related disembowelment. An I don't wanna get sacrilegious or nothin', but do you suppose any of these people ever read the Christian Bible at all? There's some pretty grisly stuff in there, but you don't see 'em tryin' to get that banned due to a high level of concern that somebody might get nailed to a cross. Yet, somehow, we're all apparently gonna become Jigsaw if we go check out the latest Saw sequel, so how's that work? Maybe it's just "those people" who're gonna be affected by the more violent moments in cinema, not enlightened folks like you an I. I guess what I'm sayin' is, you may as well go ahead an soak the prom queen with somethin' gross if we're gonna be accused of bein' mindless puppets despite our pristine reputations. It's not like she wasn't gonna get hosed down in the bed of some football player's Dodge diesel later that night anyway.
The movie begins with these high school girls playin' volleyball in Gym class, only this little blonde girl who's more awkward than paternity test day at the Duggar house flubs the final serve an ends up gettin' run through the reverse spankin' machine when all the other girls slap 'er over the head with their hats like she's Bob Denver. Then all the girls bounce around the shower til Carrie's googlie gooch turns into Cherry Falls, an when she sees that the juice is loose she gets so freaked out that she hasta run around rubbin' 'er period in everybody's face. The girl's a natural, normally women don't start doin' that until they're married. So the rest of the class considerately starts peltin' 'er with absorbent materials an those "So you've become a woman" pamphlets they pass out at the free clinic where the children of fundie parents go to get birth control pills, only the teacher (Miss Collins) gets real P.O.'d when all the girls surround Carrie in the shower an start trackin' bloody footprints all over the place an she hasta tell 'em to go do somethin' less cruel, like givin' noogies to the quadriplegic kid. Then Carrie goes to see the principal about the biohazard she left in the shower, an after he gets 'er name wrong about a half dozen times she gets P.O.'d an uses 'er psycho brain waves to spike his ashtray on the floor like a football after a Cris Carter touchdown reception. Meanwhile, Carrie's Mom is over at the neighbor's house tellin' 'er about how she's gonna pray that the neighbor finds Jesus before he finds her, on account of 'er suckin' down a Long Island Iced Tea an ogglin' Bob Barker on The Price is Right. Then Mom goes home an gets a call from the school tellin' 'er about Carrie turnin' the locker room floor into a Shirley Temple, an Mom hasta beat the crap out of 'er with a Watchtower an quote scripture at 'er til she's been cleansed enough to be locked up in the doom closet with her Jesus shrine. The next day in Gym class Collins is P.O.'d, but unfortunately she tries appealin' to the sense of decency in a group of high school girls to make 'em understand what they've done, which garners about as much sympathy as showin' pictures of homeless people to the Koch brothers. So Collins bags the good cop routine an tells 'em all they've got a week's detention an that she's gonna make 'em bust their asses so hard that even their desperate, acne-infested boyfriends aren't gonna want what's left. Then she takes 'em out to the exercise yard an barks orders at 'em like R. Lee Ermey an makes 'em do squat thrusts til they're covered in grass stains an sportin' that not-so-fresh feelin', at which point the head bitch (Chris) gets in Collins' face an Collins hasta give 'er the Sean Penn treatment an ban 'er from the prom. Chris tries to unionize the rest of the girls against Collins, but by this point their spines've turned into tapioca pudding an they leave Chris hangin' like a Donald Trump pinata at a Mexican birthday party.
After watchin' this exchange, Sue (the daughter of Carrie's neighbor) starts to realize exactly how she must look to anybody with even a hint of compassion, an decides to be a nice girl an make it up to Carrie by gettin' 'er poodle haired boyfriend (Tommy) to take 'er to the prom. Elsewhere, Chris's gettin' slapped around by John Travolta for makin' disparagin' remarks about his intelligence, which, let's face it, aren't entirely without merit given how many years he spent in Mr. Kotter's class with minimal progress, til she decides to unzip John's flare pants an tell his little greaser how much she hates Carrie. The next day, Carrie's in the library doin' research on why she can send copies of Moby Dick down to the bottom of the briny deep in the library fish tank without the use of 'er hands, only Tommy interrupts 'er while she's readin' about Uri Geller, an when he asks 'er to go to the prom with 'im she hasta run away an say a few hundred Hail Mary's so she won't end up pregnant. Then Tommy goes by 'er house after school an extorts 'er into goin' with 'im by threatenin' to tell Warden Mama that she showed 'im her nekkid feet in a salacious manner, an Carrie agrees to go with 'im so he'll roll the tumbleweed he calls a head on outta there before Mama sees what's goin' on an mails 'er to a convent. Meanwhile, Chris's taught John to associate humiliatin' Carrie with gettin' his junk sunk, which leads the two of 'em to a local pig slaughterhouse where she makes John bash Babe's head in with a sledgehammer for use in an as yet undefined prank. John's happy to help so long as he gets to keep dunkin' his sausage in Chris's syrup, so he don't ask many questions. Elsewhere, Carrie's wipin' the Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup off 'er face after askin' Mama if she can go to the prom with poodle boy, an after several unsuccessful attempts to drag 'er into the 17th century, Carrie finally snaps an starts tunin' up the string section of the orchestra with the theme from Psycho an slammin' all the doors so Mama'll hafta observe the new house rules bein' instituted. Mama's still pretty sure the serpent's gotten to 'er in one way or another, but it's kinda dangerous to point that out when you know the kid might turn the place into the House of Flying Daggers at any moment. Then we got this extended sequence that alternates between Tommy an his friends tryin' on really bad leisure suits over at the rent-a-tux place while the fashion police call in a SWAT team, an Carrie takin' classes over at the trial and error school of cosmetic application in the free samples area of Woolworth's.
Later that night, it's just about show time, only before Carrie can get out the door Mom gets possessed by the holy spirit an Carrie hasta plant 'er butt on 'er bed so she'll quit tryin' to get Max Von Sydow on the phone. Then Tommy picks 'er up an they drive to the gymnasium an make awkward conversation, til Miss Collins shows up an manages to get Carrie to unclench all the tendons in 'er neck so she'll be able to slow dance. Which is good for Carrie's self esteem, but pretty awful for the audience, cause the camera's on this swivelin' pedestal that keeps goin' faster an faster til you hafta barf. So by this point, Tommy's just about managed to extricate Carrie from 'er shell by makin' 'er smile nervously at 'im every time he shows off his 116 teeth, an when it comes time to vote for the prom king an queen, Tommy convinces 'er to vote for themselves since even with unpredictable rage and telekinesis they're still the most decent human beings on the ballot. But as it turns out, their votes aren't entirely necessary, cause Chris's got Norma an 'er neckbearded boyfriend stuffin' the ballot box, an about that time the camera finally pans up to show a bucket of pig's blood hangin' up in the rafters like The Phantom of the Opera. This should give everybody an idea of what kinda monster we're dealin' with here, cause no amount of scrubbin' is ever gonna get that out of a prom dress. Then the dorky DJ announces Tommy an Carrie as the new prom king and queen, so they head up on stage to complete Carrie's Cinderella-esque evening of perfection, an it seems like maybe everything's gonna be okay, cause by this point Sue's snuck into the prom an noticed the bucket hangin' up above threatenin' to bring the movie to a bloody full circle. Unfortunately, Miss Collins thinks Sue's gone into full psycho girlfriend mode when she rushes the stage, an ends up havin' to throw 'er out on 'er hinder before she can warn Carrie about the gazpacho surprise danglin' precariously above 'er tiara, an pretty quick we've got a dry cleanin' disaster an a concussed prom king. Not too surprisingly, Carrie's a little bit miffed, an when she sees the whole school laughin' at 'er like a judge reviewin' the Kim Davis case, her eyes start bulgin' out like a carp an in ice chest an pretty quick we got the school locked up tighter'n a pair of Yoga pants on Chris Christie. Then she starts usin' 'er psycho waves to make the fire hose douse the electrical system an before you know what's happenin' the whole place is blazin' like a trailer park after a meth lab explosion. Think I'll cut it off here cause there's still some pretty good stuff yet to come that I don't wanna spoil for the six people who've never seen it.
Alrighty, well, for me, Carrie is one of those rare horror movies where things like the special effects, body count, and pacing are kinda left by the wayside in terms of relevance. Don't get me wrong, those things are all pretty good, as is the liberal usage of nude actresses in the shower scene, but what ultimately makes the movie work aren't the aspects that you're more likely to see in a lower quality exploitation flick, but rather, what the movie makes you feel. When you've seen a lot of these types of movies, you get desensitized pretty easily, and it takes something special to really be impressed by the intangibles after a while. Honestly, it's not too often that you get a horror movie where you really care about the characters, and when you do, it's generally at the expense of giving up the aforementioned aspects that accompany a sleazier flick. Carrie is not only one of the most sympathetic characters in movie history (not just horror history, movie history), but Brain De Palma didn't abandon the exploitation elements that often make up a horror flick just because he was making an A-movie, which makes it particularly marketable. It's really strange to watch the opening sequence and realize that he's basically taken the shower scene from Porky's and somehow managed to make it classy, which just seems impossible, yet, there it is. So what we've got here is a movie that should please both the mainstream movie audience, and the horror audience, with each group simultaneously snickering because each believes that the other has been taken in by something that isn't at all what they think it is. It's also one of the better adaptations to be taken from a Stephen King novel, of which there've been quite a few, with an equal amount of successes and flops ranging from Pet Sematary on the plus side, to Maximum Overdrive on the downside. But Carrie was the first of King's novels to be turned into a movie, and is also one of his favorites. This is not to say that every adaptation from book to novel is necessarily good just because the author liked it, because I've seen movies where the author positively hated the adaptation that I still enjoyed, but there have been very few situations where the author liked it, and I did not. And not only was this the big break that rocketed Stephen King to stardom, but Brian De Palma as well. De Palma had done several movies prior to Carrie, but none of them really got him much name recognition or offers to direct the kinda flicks that were likely to be big successes. Carrie was his breakout hit, and from there he pretty much became a legend with flicks like Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito's Way. But ultimately, it was a successful horror flick that got him to the dance. Something else that's kinda interesting about Carrie, is that it was adapted as a musical for the stage back in 1988. I think these days, where pretty much nothing is sacred, that might actually work, but not so much in 1988, and the show closed after just five performances. I've gotta believe somebody got soaked on that one worse than Sissy Spacek did in the prom scene.
Okay then, let's paint the crown red and find what happens when you don't hail to the queen. The plot doesn't seem particularly impressive these days, mostly on account of there having been so many clones since Carrie debuted in 1976, and I suppose it wasn't even terribly original for its time, though perhaps it was the first horror flick with that particular theme that really made it big. Despite all this, it's not all that problematic to have a plot that isn't exceptionally original, because the more sensational elements ultimately take a backseat to the characters until the last twenty minutes or so. Essentially, the telekinesis thing is somehow secondary to the attempt at normalcy happening in Carrie's life, and even more inexplicably, it not only manages to avoid becoming boring, but is really the lifeblood of the movie. So the plot's a little tired, but it doesn't really matter. The acting is easily the primary factor making the movie as good as it is. Sissy Spacek is superb in the Carrie role, and I think the character tends to resonate with people because most of us knew somebody like her. Less the towering inferno thing, of course. Equally enjoyable is Piper Laurie as Carrie's scripture quoting fundie mother who refers to Sissy's breasts as "dirty pillows" and suspects she only got her period because she's been gettin' friendly with Satan. She almost comes off as being over the top, but if you've ever watched a religious telethon on TV, scarily enough, she's actually not. Good supporting cast as well, particularly the higher ups in the mean-girl squad: Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles. Carrie's plight would never come off as sympathetic as it is without the suitably cruel popular girls, and those two in particular really deliver. You've also got Betty Buckley, who's pretty good as the slap happy Gym teacher who's got it in for the bitches, and John Travolta as the easily manipulated meathead. Probably not Travolta's greatest moment, but he's alright too.
Here's who matters and why, less P.J. Soles, Sissy Spacek and John Travolta, as they don't particularly need me to run down their list of achievements: Piper Laurie (The Faculty, Bad Blood 1 & 2, Possessed 2000, Trauma 1993, Ruby), Amy Irving (Hide and Seek 2005, Carrie 2, Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics, Rumpelstiltskin, The Fury), William Katt (The Man from Earth, House, House IV, The Unwanted, Paranormal Movie, Mirrors 2, Deadland, Alien vs. Hunter, Bone Eater, Descendant, Snake Island, Rattled, Piranha 1995, Cyborg 3), Nancy Allen (Robocop 1 - 3, Children of the Corn 6, Poltergeist III, The Philadelphia Experiment, Strange Invaders), Betty Buckley (The Happening), Priscilla Pointer (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics, Disturbed, C.H.U.D. II, Rumpelstiltskin, Twilight Zone: The Movie), Sydney Lassick (Alligator, An American Vampire Story, Future Shock, Ratboy, Silent Madness, Pandemonium, The Unseen), Stefan Gierasch (Megaville, Spellbinder, Blood Beach, Blue Sunshine), Michael Talbott (Manhunter), Doug Cox (Creator), Noelle North (Starchasers: The Legend of Orin), Blood Song, Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo), Cindy Daly (Beetlejuice), Anson Downes (Appointment with Fear), Rory Stevens (Ruby), Edie McClurg (Breaking Dawn, Inhumanoid, Stepmonster, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Pandemonium, Eating Raoul). Of course, as big a breakout hit as this was, much of the cast received a significant boost in the job department afterward, and many of them went on to some pretty unfortunate crapola, which is as follows. Piper Laurie played Sarah Packard in The Hustler, Grandma in Hesher, Mrs. Norman in Children of a Lesser God, and Aunt Em in Return to Oz. Amy Irving went on to play Rebecca Buchwald in Adam, William Katt donned that ridiculous superhero outfit to play Ralph Hinkley in The Greatest American Hero TV series, and Nancy Allen would work with De Palma again in Blow Out (she was also married to him at the time), as well as portray Liz Blake in Dressed to Kill. Additionally, Betty Buckley was Abby Bradford on the TV series Eight is Enough, Sondra Walker in Frantic, and played Carrie's mother in the ill fated musical version of Carrie as well. Priscilla Pointer would later work alongside Larry Hagman as Rebecca Wentworth on Dallas, Michael Talbott went on to play Detective Stan Switek on Miami Vice, while Doug Cox and Edie McClurg did most of their more family friendly nonsense in the field of voice acting. Cox was Cubbi on Adventures of the Gummi Bears, and McClurg voiced Mary in Wreck-It Ralph, Gerda in Frozen, Minny in Cars 1 & 2, Ora Henderson on Life with Louie, and Carlotta in The Little Mermaid 1 & 2. McClurg's better known live action roles include: Grace in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Mrs. Burns in A River Runs Through It, and Mrs. Patty Poole in the series Valerie.
The special effects would probably be where you expect a chink in the armor, but despite the fact that there weren't too many of them, they're all executed flawlessly. We really don't get that many until the last 20 minutes, but right about that point they keep coming pretty consistently. I'm not gonna spoil the three that come after I leave off in the plot summary, but they're all very good. Other than those two, you've really only got a couple of objects being controlled by Carrie's telekinesis, and the prom debacle. Something I find odd about a lot of horror flicks made in the '70s, is why nobody could seem to get their blood to look good, when they had this movie as an example. The hue and thickness of the blood that Sissy Spacek gets soaked with, as though her team just won the Super Bowl, is perfect, and is probably the most realistic of any '70s horror movie I've ever seen. So how come nobody else could get it to look good? Well, for one thing, the effects guys probably came up with their own recipe, which was nothing but Karo syrup and food coloring. And yet, it's better than just about any blood you'll ever see on screen until the '80s. The fire looks good too, and I'd guess that the interiors shots were utilizing real fire. The shots that show the exterior of the building were likely effects, but even those look as good as the best CG they can come up with these days. So a little weak on the volume, but exceptional in terms of quality, with regard to the special effects. The shooting locations I'd probably consider the weak point. Not because there's really anything wrong with them, but because the plot pretty much dictates that they be a little boring. The idea is to give the appearance of Anytown, U.S.A. and in that respect they certainly succeeded, as the locations all look just fine and are perfectly believable and appropriate, they just don't appeal to me personally. To their credit, all the locations were real places, and they didn't use sets. The houses were real houses, and the high school was a real high school, making the authenticity unimpeachable, just didn't really impress me much. The soundtrack is another resounding success, despite the use of the famous violins from Psycho. I always find it a little odd when I hear the same composition in two different movies, because it tends to stifle their individuality. That said, those few moments of violins are rare, and the rest of the music comes off as being perfectly tailored for the scenes in which they play. That's one nice thing about a big budget movie, the composer generally has a pretty good idea of a scene's mood when they're writing the score, where lower budget movies often don't. That missing perspective often leads to generic music. Most of the score is done in a classical style, utilizing the piano heavily, and then swapping to the violins when things go from calm to tense, making for a great one-two punch. Overall, Carrie is another heavy hitter from the '70s that makes you think twice before declaring the '80s head and shoulders above the other decades, because you can't get much better than this.