"They're all gonna laugh at you!"
Edgar Allen Poe wrote incredibly effective horror stories because he was able to weave in and out of what was even scary in the first place. His characters were ultimately familiar, yet unpredictable. The reader picked up on the strong hints of underlying damage in each antagonist. Two common themes in some of his best writing were revenge and religion. These by themselves are scary because they grow from completely human desires – the desire to break even or to understand humanity.
This is the exact type of horror that is seen in Carrie. Brian De Palma is able to weave a Poe-like web of basic human feelings that eventually grows into something far more terrible. Though the characters are based off the novel by the famous horror writer Stephen King, it is De Palma’s sinister shooting style that spins the movie out of our control. He uses the camera to tell the audience when they should be afraid. This is not an unsophisticated horror flick; there are no cheap startles or suspenseful tunnel-shots. Rather, De Palma chooses to use perfectly framed human emotions like fear, anger and maybe even love.
Of course, he is helped out by two brilliant, Oscar nominated, performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Spacek plays the title character, Carrie White, with such shrill and fragile body language that the audience is surprised that she never shatters on the floor. Her skin is as white as porcelain and her smile is practically nonexistent. Carrie has long, straight blonde hair that she uses to isolate herself from her classmates by covering her face. She is quiet, shy, afraid and honestly quite creepy.
The movie begins with Carrie getting her first period while showering after gym class. Unaware that this is a normal thing, she reaches out and desperately begs for help from her classmates. Rather than understanding, the girls taunt Carrie. They heartlessly throw tampons at her while mocking her inability to understand what his happening with her body. It is unusual that a high school senior would not know anything about starting her period, but Carrie is scarred by it. She thought she was dying. And what if she had been? She probably still would have been mocked by her classmates.
When she arrives home from school everything begins to make sense. Her mother (Laurie) is a religious fanatic who believed that if Carrie remained sinless she would never have gotten her period in the first place. She reads from the Bible: And God made Eve from the rib of Adam. And Eve was weak and loosed the raven on the world. And the raven was called sin. The first sin was intercourse. Eve was weak. And the Lord visited Eve with the curse, and the curse was the curse of blood! She forces Carrie into a small, dark closet and demands that she beg Jesus for forgiveness. Mrs. White has been deeply damaged by her husband leaving her for another woman. She has over–indulged herself in the aspect of sin to the point that she has almost created a religion of her own. She disallows her daughter to have any personal friendships and refuses to allow Carrie to attend the senior prom – even though she was invited by a nice, popular boy.
But she cannot keep her daughter from attending the prom because underneath her fragile manner, Carrie can move things. She has the gift/curse of telekinesis – the ability to alter things with her mind. It is hinted that her mother knows about the powers. Carrie looks into a mirror and it shatters. Her mother rushes into the room to find the mirror reassembled. After being confronted with Carrie’s power, Mrs. White assumes the work of the Devil. She begs Carrie to not go to the prom. “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” she says. And that is almost exactly what happens.
Most of us already know what happens in the final twenty minutes of Carrie. The popular couple, Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy (John Travolta), rig the prom queen election to have Carrie win so that they can dump a bucket of pig’s blood onto her head. It is important to note that her date, the popular boy, was not in on the joke. He was legitimately giving a previously hopeless young girl her first feelings of acceptance and beauty. That does not mean he does not pay for the crimes of others. It is impossible to know whether or not Carrie chose to kill all of those people or if her powers become uncontrollable due to her rage, but the final moments hint that she is no longer in control.
Carrie is a tragic tale of a young girl who never stood a chance. She does not feel normal because she is not normal. The horror in the movie is not realized through anything other than the audience watching her lose control. Even in her, brief, finest moment Carrie is never beautiful. The audience knows that she is something much more terrifying. I do not think De Palma would say that he was trying to make a “treat people nicely” statement with the movie, but it may scare some people into thinking twice before throwing tampons….