Brian de Palma / US / 1976 / 98mins
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 4 Dec 2017
As Hollywood stews in its own sexual-harassment juice it should come as no real surprise that misogyny and Tinseltown go together like hotel suite and bathrobe. The nadir must surely have been the 1970s. Just as the Women’s Movement threatened to go mainstream, Hollywood’s depiction of the female species seemed more dementedly demeaning than ever. The Exorcist (1973) put a young girl through an unimaginable series of tortures. Now that film looks a tad silly with its pea-soup puke and animatronic head swivelling. Three years later came the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Carrie. How does the film hold up?
Creepy Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is your typical outsider. But she has weird powers; the result, possibly, of her bottled-up anger. She is most hampered by her shyness, her plainness and her mother (Piper Laurie), an evangelical wingnut of the sort usually found these days in Trump’s administration. When Carrie has her first period in the school locker room’s shower the other girls (including ringleaders Amy Irving and Nancy Allen) mock her relentlessly. Who said sisterhood is powerful? Then, in English class, Carrie says that she thinks Tommy’s (William Katt) poem is beautiful and the girls snigger and see red (there’s a lot of splashes of red in the art direction too). Only the PE teacher (Betty Buckley) seems sympathetic to Carrie’s plight.
The blond, snake-hipped Tommy is then set up to be Carrie’s date at the senior prom. She is excited but nervous. Her home-made prom dress looks like satin underwear and mad, frizzy-haired mom doesn’t approve: “take off that dress and we’ll burn it and pray for forgiveness!” Their home seems to have a life-sized tapestry of the Last Supper on the wall and a figurine of the crucified Christ looks like a hungover Alice Cooper. There’s not a lot of nuance.
Carrie carries on and transforms herself from lanky-haired high schooler to Cinderella. Naturally, she’ll have to be punished. The famous denouement at the prom involves a spectacular biohazard spillage which makes the film horribly one note. As momma, helpful as ever, says: “sin never dies”. In today’s world of social media trolls and virtual bullying Carrie has extra resonance. But as a meditation on the reality school bullying the movie leaves much to be desired. A little sympathy might have helped. The inferior 2013 remake made cyber persecution a major plot point.
How you long for the giggling wrongdoers who are so nasty to Carrie to get what’s due them. When Carrie’s witchy powers kick in no one is spared. As wish-fulfilment for anyone who’s ever been bullied it doesn’t get much better than the fire and brimstone finale.
There is no subtlety in Carrie in terms of story or characterisation (Spacek’s performance as the wide-eyed innocent is the best thing and makes the movie watchable). This is a far superior shocker than The Exorcist but that doesn’t say much. De Palma’s career was mixed. His 1980 Dressed to Kill was particularly vile and he was the wrong choice for Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). But his fat-free direction here delivers, towards the end, shock after delightful shock. This is a cult movie that’s stood the test of time and this Blu-ray comes with a Santa’s stocking of extras. As a revenge movies go this is the ideal Christmas pressie.