Hey all, let’s go in the way-back machine to five years before my birth, 1976. Disco and roller skating were the thing, big hair was as much for boys as it was for girls, and then there’s that movie that opens with a woman having her first ‘surprise’ period while showering after gym class in front of her classmates. I’m talking, of course, about CARRIE.
Let me be clear, this is the original CARRIE from 1976 (ya know, our destination in the way-back machine), not to be confused with the terrible sequel (THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 (1999)), the NBC miniseries (CARRIE (2002)), and I am most certainly not talking about the remake that gave new meaning to the word ‘disappointment’ (CARRIE (2013)). However, we will briefly touch on these craptastic offshoots of the 1976 classic, CARRIE, later especially the 2013 remake because I have a HUGE problem with it. A HUUUUUUUUUGE problem. But we’ll talk about that later. For now, joy and happiness.
Based on Stephen King’s ‘first’ book (as Stephen King, anyway. He published several short stories and a book under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman), and the first of his books to be adapted for the screen. CARRIE tells the story of a high school outcast (Sissy Spacek plus all of the freckles in the world) who comes to learn she has telekinesis, and the rest of the story is what she decides to do with those powers. Of course, there are obstacles aplenty. The biggest one, of course, is her mother, a born-again, fundamentalist, and just all around crazy (played to feverish heights by Piper Laurie), that rules over Carrie’s life.
Just how batshit is Carrie’s mom, Margaret White? Well, when she finds out about the ‘surprise’ period (which, first off, she never told her daughter such a thing existed. In the opening scene Carrie doesn’t think “Oh, it’s that time of the month again”, she thinks “Oh my God, there’s blood, I’m dying. I must be dying”), she tells Carrie that it means she isn’t devout enough and let evil into her. That is freakin’ full on nuts! And that’s just the beginning of the long strange journey that is Margaret White’s throughout the film.
The group of girls at the beginning who make fun of Carrie in the shower are forced into gym class detention, with the caveat being that any girl that quits gym class detention is to be banned from the upcoming prom. Teenage girls in the 70s being denied the prom? That’s practically the end of the world for them. One girl quits, and convinces her boyfriend (John Travolta in his first big screen role) and friends to play a cruel joke on Carrie. Meanwhile, another girl sees the error of her ways and convinces her boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom. At first Carrie thinks it is part of a cruel prank, but through persistence she finally agrees to go.
Meanwhile Carrie is discovering her telekinetic abilities, focusing to make it stronger. Her mom finds out, says the devil is in her. Then her mom finds out about the prom and, in an attempt to reclaim her control over Carrie, warns her that everyone will laugh at her. Carrie does some magic devil juju and heads off to prom with the—by 1976 standards—dreamy Tommy Ross. And that’s when everything starts to go off the rails.
I was gonna not talk about this originally, but the movie came out in 1976, with one sequel (that may as well be a remake) and two direct remakes, so if you don’t know what happens at the prom, tough luck or spoiler alert. Of course, the rest of my review is closely tied to the climactic prom sequence, so you’ll have to know about it sooner or later. May as well be in the next paragraph.
The mean kids get their revenge on Carrie, dumping a bucket of pig’s blood all over her as she stands on the stage, as she was just awarded prom queen. But now it’s time for Carrie to get her revenge, her bloody, graphic, shocking, indiscriminate, revenge against the whole student body at the prom, including faculty members (I always felt a sad sting in my heart every time the gym teacher that tried to help Carrie out throughout the film gets cut in half). Why? Because her mom was right, they’re all laughing at her. Well, actually they’re not, they’re shocked by what they see, but all Carrie can see is the audience laughing, so it’s time to rage.
The prom sequence, the whole thing, not just the pig’s blood and the mess that follows it, is an excellent display of showmanship from director Brian De Palma (one of the truly great directors who kept changing the way films were made, then he did the Nic Cage movie SNAKE EYES and that was the last anyone ever popularly saw of him. But you can see De Palma’s fingerprints all over the prom sequence. From the shot where Tommy and Carrie are dancing together, on a spinning wheel, which is going the opposite direction as the camera, spinning around them, as they spin around faster and faster. Then, after the pig’s blood, all of the chaos that unfolds in the gym is actually very controlled, as several cameras are picking up the carnage from different angles. These angles are superimposed next to each other on the screen, like comic book frames on a page. The lighting, which goes strictly primary at this point, helps wash out (especially the red) some of the characters, turning them more into an undiscernible mob, than individuals. When finished, Carrie leaves and burns that mutha to the ground!!!
The only students to escape the gym before things got crazy are the mean girl and John Travolta, and the nice girl who set Carrie up with her boyfriend (who is perishing in the burning down gym along with everyone else that did, or didn’t, deserve it). Whereas the evil couple gets theirs, Sue (the nice girl) escapes entirely safe, the only survivor.
Then the weirdness factor turns to eleven as Carrie comes back home and has a come-to-Jesus with her mother. It’s harrowing, but also a bit sad. To go from horrifying to sad is quite an accomplishment. Again, Brian De Palma can be thanked for that.
So what’s my problem with the 2013 CARRIE remake? In an age of school shootings and bullying problems, Chloe Grace Mortiz’s Carrie is shown as a superhero type character. In the original, CARRIE killing everyone, whether they deserved it or not, show us the dangers of rage, anger, and revenge. However, in the 2013 remake, Carrie is suddenly capable of rational thought as she spreads murder and chaos throughout the prom, only killing the bad people that deserve it, and making a conscious effort to NOT kill the gym teacher (which, as I said earlier, was always the biggest punch-to-the-gut that CARRIE 1976 had to offer). I find this to be irresponsible filmmaking, telling its audience that Carrie and her powers are something to strive for and it’ll be okay because you can control your anger. But that’s the problem with anger. Once you choose to unleash it, a lot of innocent people get hurt, and no innocent people got hurt in the 2013 remake. That, and Chloe Grace Moritz doesn’t have a single freckle. Also, whereas Sissy Spacek’s Carrie was so badass during the prom sequence that she just looked at stuff with her ultra-wide, scary, eyes to make bad stuff happen. Chloe Grace Moritz’s Carrie needs to lift her arms and kinda sorta point at stuff in order to manipulate. Which Carrie has more power? The answer is obvious as Sissy Spacek’s Carrie didn’t have to so much as lift a finger. There, I’ve said my peace, the 2013 remake sucks. As for the 2002 mini-series remake, I had high hopes because it was longer and I thought it would incorporate more of the book, which it did. As it turns out, Brian De Palma, Sissy Spacek, and Piper Laurie were the secret ingredient that made CARRIE (1976) a cut above the rest. Although Julianne Moore did play crazy pretty damn well in the 2013 remake.
And one last thing, the ending of CARRIE (1976), the very end? I remember seeing this first as a young kid, I had nightmares for days after seeing that.
So disregard the imitators, go with the original, the instant classic, CARRIE (1976). Go ahead, take Carrie to the prom.