By Simon Miraudo
October 30, 2012
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
Brian De Palma's Carrie is widely regarded as one of the most chilling horror movies ever made, and my memory of it and the sleepless nights it wrought confirms that reputation is an accurate one. I had forgotten, however, how little of the flick is concerned with scares and gore, despite what the bloody poster implies. The only "horror" on display in the first hour is that of a girl's awkward, supposedly "shameful" sexual awakening and the frequent bullying by her awful classmates. Carrie is one of the most heart-breaking and cringe-worthy high school dramas ever made, and that's before she even gets to her apocalyptic revenge.
Yet another Stephen King story brought to the screen, it opens with Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) getting her first period in the most unfortunate of places: the school shower. She freaks out, not having been educated about these changes by her devout Christian mother Margaret (Piper Laurie). Carrie's kindly teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) tries to make life easier for the girl, and a sympathetic classmate (Amy Irving) offers her boyfriend (William Katt) as a potential prom date, but the popular kids (Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, John Travolta) conspire to shame her at the end of year dance by dousing her with pig blood. That climactic and iconic sequence is a not-so-coincidental echo of her earlier public misfortunate, and a reminder that, above all, Carrie is about the trauma of being a teenager.
That's not all it's about, though, and Carrie White is no regular teenager. She's got some latent telekinetic powers bubbling under her pale, freckled surface, and being able to harness the dark arts isn't going to endear her further to her cruel, fundamentalist mother (who already suspects her of being cursed and devilish merely for evolving into a woman). Piper Laurie was Oscar nominated for her hilarious, histrionic turn here; a role which miraculously spoofs the ultra-religious without remorse while still being grounded in flesh and blood. Spacek received an Academy Award nod for her leading performance too. She evolves from tormented teen to one that is almost comfortable in her skin, before culminating as a take-no-prisoners angel of death.
Adapted for the screen by Lawrence D. Cohen, the film works as a profoundly sad feature with flashes of dark humour. De Palma's delirious camera-work suggests something isn't quite right no matter how close to home Carrie's plight might seem (the swirling dance scene is virtuosic and vomit-inducing). There's much more to be said about the picture, as both a commentary on school shootings and on religion's ongoing war against sex; subjects that are still resonant today. But the scares - confined to the end as they may be - shouldn't be underestimated. Carrie builds to an almighty crescendo, concludes with a maddeningly disturbing showdown between mother and daughter, and delivers perhaps the all-time creepiest final scare in its dreamy coda.
Carrie is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.