Carrie (1976) – Brian De Palma

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Here’s an old campy horror flick, in true Halloween spirit.  I noticed Kimberly Peirce is remaking this film to come out in 2013, which is what inspired me to watch it.  Should be interesting.  Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a high school girl who is ostracized and bullied by her schoolmates.  When a prom night prank pushes her over the edge, Carrie unleashes her telekinetic powers to destructive effects.

The film’s real selling points are its gore and suspense.  Otherwise, the characters are two-dimensional: the pretty, vicious popular girl; the football jock; the kindly teacher.  Carrie herself is somewhat sympathetic (at least at first).  Her classmates pick on her cruelly, and her mother is fanatically Christian, calling Carrie a sinner for things like getting her period and wanting to go to the prom.  Carrie walks with her hair hanging in front of her face, too frightened to speak to anyone.  By the end of the film, however, she is our villain—the bringer of destruction, and the bloody hand reaching out from the grave. What?

Never mind the plot or characters.  The whole film seems to be an excuse for cheap thrills—and cheap thrills we will get.  The violence and destruction is over the top, both in the high school gymnasium and later in Carrie’s home.  De Palma also makes the most of opportunities for suspense: the buildup to the prank at the prom is excruciatingly slow, especially in the moments before the prank’s actual execution.  Likewise, when Carrie returns home, the house is filled with candles but her mother is nowhere to be found.  Carrie goes into the bathroom and turns on the light, and we see her mother standing eerily behind the bathroom door—but Carrie does not discover her mother for another five minutes or so.  These suspenseful moments keep an otherwise insubstantial film engaging.

What was really interesting to me about this film were the striking parallels between Carrie and De Palma’s 1980 thriller, Dressed to Kill (which is phenomenal).  The films are dissimilar except for their shared genre, and yet I found that they mirror each other in the way they begin and end.

Both films begin with an excessive shower scene with our heroine (is Carrie our heroine?) that is set to soothing music.  The women’s bodies are eroticized in the shower—something that is fitting in Dressed to Kill because of the sexual themes throughout, but seems out of place in Carrie, which does not otherwise sexualize its title character.

Dressed to Kill:
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Carrie:
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These shower sequences are both abruptly cut short by imagined violence—in Dressed to Kill a strangulation nightmare, in Carrie the confusing arrival of her first period.

Dressed to Kill:
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Carrie:
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The way the two films end is also almost identical.  In both films, a female character—who is different from the heroine featured in the shower—has a nightmare about the villain’s return…

Dressed to Kill, with a grisly throat-slitting:Image

And Carrie, with the famous trope of the hand from the grave:Image

…only to be awakened and comforted by a loved one.  The women’s screams and the loved ones’ words of comfort are the last things we hear in both the films, accompanied by the dramatic musical scores, as the camera slowly pulls back.

Dressed to Kill:
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Carrie:
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I’m not really sure what to make of these parallels.  It’s possible that they are the mark of an auteur, but it seems more likely to me that they display a lack of ingenuity on the part of De Palma.  If I had to recommend one film over the other, I would go with Dressed to Kill, which is absolutely terrifying and a great homage to Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho.  Michael Caine fans will also enjoy it—believe it or not, he plays neither a wise, elderly British man nor a butler.

For either film, I would not recommend a meal after watching.  Carrie left my stomach feeling a little weak—not necessarily because of the violence (the gore is charmingly dated), but because of the general aura of creepiness that pervades the entire film.  Get ready.

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