Carrie is a 1976 film directed by Brian De Palma based on the first novel by Stephen King. It was an incredible success at the box office and it changed the sentimental lives of both Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma who found their future wives on the set… but I’m already writing about something else. The movie was also crucial for the careers of various people including De Palma himself, John Travolta (here in a minor role), and Sissy Spacek, the protagonist. What’s Carrie about?
Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a girl in her final year of high school (in Bates High, a reference to Norman Bates from Psycho, 1960), and let’s say that she’s not exactly popular. She’s extremely shy and she lives with a very religious mother (Piper Laurie) who forces her to live a life that is anything but normal which also includes occasional cruel punishments. One day, after a physical education class, Carrie gets her first menstruation and, not knowing what it is, she panics. Her classmates waste no time making fun of her and only the intervention of the teacher (Betty Buckley) puts an end to their harassment.
This event has three major consequences:
- All her classmates are punished for a week, and the most popular of them, Chris (Nancy Allen), is forbidden to participate in the prom.
- A classmate of Carrie, Sue (Amy Irving) feels pity for her and convinces her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to go to the dance with Carrie.
- Mum attacks Carrie for her sin (the 100% natural menstrual cycle) and, shortly thereafter, for being invited to the dance by a boy.
And here I stop in order to not spoil the surprise to those who haven’t yet seen this great horror classic of the Seventies.
Needless to say, Carrie is a classic for good reasons! The story is compelling and well developed, the actors are credible despite being much older than the average high school students, the music of the Italian Pino Donaggio is nothing short of splendid, and De Palma does some amazing camera work. As if that were not enough, the film deals with various themes in a very intelligent way. So, did I convince you to give this movie a chance?
De Palma deals with religious fanaticism and shows its most dangerous side, with Carrie’s mother who, although almost caricatural, is scary due to her absurd beliefs and her mania to ask for forgiveness for absolutely natural things which don’t imply anything negative. The consequences of these obsessions can be seen in Carrie, a poor introverted girl who doesn’t have an easy life at school. And here’s another theme of the film: it seems obvious to me that King had no good memories of his adolescence! The school is like a jungle where the most popular girls control the weaker ones, and the teachers in turn control the pupils (the physical education teacher slaps her students!). In fact, the real horror in the film seems to come from everyday life (both school and family), the whole society comes out as scary!
And speaking of horror, at the end of the movie many pay dearly for their attitude thanks to Carrie’s supernatural powers (I told you that it all comes from a King’s book, didn’t I?)… the final scenes are among the most memorable in the history of cinema! But in reality the whole film is unforgettable: there are great uses of both slow and fast motion (the latter for comic purposes); there are at least two incredible long takes (the shower scene at the beginning of the film, and the camera revolving around Carrie and Tommy dancing and quickly losing control foreshadowing what would happen shortly afterwards); the soundtrack is fantastic, and in some cases it seems to interact with the actors; the cinematography is impressive with its strong colors (above all, red); the rhythm grows little by little, with all the pieces of a puzzle that in the end reaches its inevitable conclusion… What a movie! Every dialogue is well written, every scene well constructed (think of the death of the mother which reminds of the statue of Saint Sebastian in the closet where Carrie gets locked up periodically), and every line is well delivered. Most of the young actors in the film then had respectable careers in the world of cinema (in addition to those already mentioned above, I cannot fail to mention P. J. Soles who two years later would work with John Carpenter on Halloween, for example).
King’s book has been re-adapted two more times, in 2002 with a TV movie and in 2013 with a remake that I avoided like the plague, and in 1999 even a sequel came out. For me, De Palma’s Carrie remains the only product worth watching, a memorable classic, a horror cinema masterclass (far from today’s standards full of jumpscares) that builds tension and carefully constructs the climax with an impeccable script.
By the way, I hated going for five years to high school, and I actually appreciate the fact that Stephen King wanted to burn, at least metaphorically, all the bullies and arrogant students who populated his school, even if only in a book… Ciao!
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