Anyone who has ever endured the horrors of being a bullying victim will be able to relate to the tragic and vulnerable Carrie. I was badly bullied during my high school years and have never forgotten how frightened and alone those tormentors made me feel. I’ve also never forgotten the hate and disgust I felt towards those individuals who loved to bully me.
Poor Carrie White feels all that too. The trouble is that she is so scared, shy and awkward that she can’t speak out about what she is enduring, instead she turns her pain and victimisation inwards. She keeps how she is feeling bottled up inside and wishes she could be invisible at school.
Anyone who says that bullying isn’t an issue and doesn’t do harm, or that victims can easily forget and move on from their experiences, is an absolute idiot and is a big part of the problem. The memories of bullying stay with the victims for life. It’s the bully who forgets and moves on because they don’t care about others and don’t see that they have done wrong. The victim can often be emotionally scarred for life.
Carrie has it doubly worse than most bullying victims though. She has no happy and loving home to go home to, nor does she have kind and loving parents/guardians/ family to comfort her as she tells them about the bullying. You see, poor Carrie also suffers abuse and cruelty from her mother as well. Margaret White is one of the scariest screen characters I’ve ever seen. She is a religious nutter who seems to embody more evil than anything she may read about in the religious texts that she holds so dear.
Mrs. White sees her own daughter as an abomination. She tells Carrie all the time that she is evil. She hits Carrie, locks her in a cupboard if she (in her mother’s opinion)does something supposedly sinful, neglects to tell her about the natural changes a woman’s body goes through during puberty(getting their periods etc), and shows her daughter no love whatsoever.
The tragic thing is that Carrie actually does have love in her heart for her mum, and she desperately wants her mum to love her in return. Mrs. White on the other hand does untold psychological damage to her daughter, and worse still, she does it all in the guise of supposedly being a decent follower of God/Jesus. Carrie is not only tormented and hurt at school, but she is also abused and scared in the one place that she should be safe and happy all the time. Carrie has no safe space or supporters to help her endure what’s happening to her.
Religious symbolism at Carrie’s home. Screenshot by me.
Interestingly I noticed how religiously symbolic Carrie’s home is. The interior of the White’s home is almost church like in its design. There are doorways and shelves inside that look like church windows. The walls are strewn with religious icons, and there’s even a roadmarking in the shape of a cross which be seen on the road outside their home. The fate of Carrie’s mum also mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus, with her body at the end of the film bearing a striking resemblance to his body.
Carrie may well be a supernatural horror film, but it is also so much more than that. This is a very human story. It is a film about how cruel and despicable humans are capable of becoming, but also shows us that we have the capacity for kindness and change. It is a film about bullying, parental abuse, human cruelty, peer pressure and human fragility. It is also a tragedy. I think that due to all of these themes, rather than just the supernatural horror content, this film has become the classic that it is today. This film feels very real, way too real for those of us who have been bullying victims.
The film is also rather unusual for the horror genre in that it was one of the few horror films to be nominated for Academy Awards. Sissy and Piper were both nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. It’s nice that the Academy could overcome their random snobbery towards horror films and acknowledge one. Shame they don’t do that more often. Some of the most emotive and powerful screen performances can be found in horror films.
Carrie’s bullying is actually so bad that I think if her story were a reality happening today and nobody helped her, then it would end in one of two ways. Either Carrie would take her own life because she couldn’t stand what was happening at school and home, or she would become one of those teenagers who takes a gun or a knife into school and causes a massacre because they have snapped. In so many ways Carrie’s story plays out as the ultimate anti-bullying campaign. We are shown the psychological damage that bullying causes, and we are also shown what can happen when a victim snaps and retaliates against the bullies.
Carrie is based upon the 1974 Stephen King novel of the same name. Stephen’s creepy tale of a bullied teenager who wreaks a fiery, supernatural revenge upon her tormentors, has become one of King’s most popular novels. As good as the novel is, I personally find it much harder to sympathise with Carrie and other characters in the book the way I do in the film. This film is one of the rare exceptions where its content improves upon the source material. Director Brian De Palma cleverly mixed horror, tragedy, comedy and social commentary into the film. Brian’s more vulnerable and sympathetic take on the character of Carrie White also ensured that the audience was in sympathy with her throughout, and because of that we feel morally conflicted by the time that horrific prom-night fire occurs.
Sissy Spacek deserves so much credit for helping to bring about that reaction from audiences. Through her remarkable performance, she makes Carrie so sweet, scared, innocent, pure, vulnerable and awkward. She makes our hearts go out to her and makes us want to protect her. When she transforms and uses her telekinetic powers later in the film, Sissy’s Carrie becomes utterly terrifying.
The way Sissy widens her eyes, does that cold, dead stare, and changes her body posture in the later part of the film, is so disturbing to witness. She turns into a monster before our eyes, and yet we can’t help but feel sympathy for her still. Sissy wasn’t the directors first choice for the role, but she won him over by turning up to her audition with Vaseline in her hair, and looking as dishevelled and unkempt as Carrie is supposed to.
Carrie White(Sissy Spacek)is a teenager who is badly bullied at school, and also at her home by her religious mother, Margaret(Piper Laurie). While showering after a school gym class one day, Carrie suddenly sees blood running from between her legs. Terrified by this, she runs to her schoolmates in the changing rooms screaming for help. They laugh at her, frighten her and all stand around throwing tampons and pads at her.
Gym teacher Miss Collins(Betty Buckley)intervenes and gets the girls to stop. Miss Collins punishes the girls involved in the changing room incident with a series of harsh detentions on the sports pitch, at which she takes great delight in pushing them to their physical limits in gruelling exercise routines. Miss Collins is the only person who seems to care about Carrie, and the way Betty plays the role it’s hinted that she may have been a bullying victim herself and sees something of herself in Carrie.
The leader of the bullies are Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), one of those girls who thinks they are the be all and end all wherever they go, and the giggling Norma( P.J. Soles).When Chris gets confrontational with Miss Collins, the teacher expels her, and also bans her from attending the upcoming prom which she had been so looking forward to.
Sue Snell(Amy Irving)is another of the bullies, but she seems to become genuinely sorry for what she and the others have done to Carrie. She asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross(William Katt), to take Carrie to the prom instead of her. At first Tommy, who is one of the most popular and cool lads in school, is aghast at this idea, but as he spends time with Carrie he genuinely starts to like her.
Tommy and Carrie gradually develop a connection. Unbeknown to Sue and Tommy, Chris and some of the others are plotting revenge on Carrie for Chris being expelled. The vote for prom king and queen will be rigged, with Tommy and Carrie being named the winners. When the pair come on stage, a huge bucket of pigs blood will be dropped on them; this will then cause Carrie to be humiliated in front of her fellow students and the staff.
What nobody apart from Carrie knows, is that once she got her period, she has been developing telekinesis. We see her unable to control this power and we see that it causes weird things to happen to objects and people around her if she gets angry or scared. On the night of the prom, Carrie’s power will lead the damaged girl to wreak a fiery revenge on those who pull the cruellest of pranks.
The ending of Carrie is both horrific and shocking. Carrie snaps and unleashes her power to kill everyone at the prom.Carrie doesn’t even seem to be in control of herself anymore, her power takes over and she mentally removes herself from what is going on around her. People that Carrie didn’t even really know are killed too, along with the bullies who made her life hell. The tragedy is that she thinks everyone there was laughing at her after the blood drops. Only Norma and one other person are shown laughing amongst the crowd, everybody else there actually looks horrified and sad. Carrie latches onto the laughter and then in her mind thinks everyone(even her beloved Miss Collins)is laughing at her. She traps everyone in the gym where the prom is being held and seals them in to burn. It’s difficult to watch, yet at the same time we remember that many who die were utter scum to this poor girl before this event, so our hearts don’t exactly break for them.
Sissy and Piper deliver the standout performances of the film. Piper is utterly convincing as a deranged and devout woman who not only hates her own child, but who also hates herself for having enjoyed the sex which resulted in Carrie being born.
The rest of the cast are all superb too. Nancy Allen plays Chris as a real super bitch, someone so mean that you can’t help but cheer when she gets what’s coming to her. Betty Buckley is excellent as the kind Miss Collins, her performance is subtle but affecting. Betty also dubbed the voice of the kid on the bike who taunts Carrie, only to be thrown off his bike by her power. Amy Irving is good as Sue, and she makes us wonder about her motivation and how much regret she feels about her actions towards Carrie. William Katt does a great job of the cool heartthrob who is at first unsure about getting together with Carrie, but then genuinely starts to like her and likes not having to have his guard up around her all the time. Through William’s excellent performance, we also see that he doesn’t have it easy at school either. Look out for a young John Travolta, in an early role as Chris’s booze and sex obsessed boyfriend.
The music by Pino Donaggio is absolutely beautiful. His music adds so much to the overall tone and atmosphere of the film. Moving from emotional and dreamlike, to suspenseful and eerie. The gorgeous cinematography and use of colours by Mario Tosi is also worthy of much praise too. The film looks beautiful.
I have to mention the infamous period scene. The scene is very difficult to watch and yet also very interesting due to what it has to say about women’s bodies. Periods are certainly messy and unpleasant, and your first one can certainly be alarming when it arrives, as shown in Carrie’s reaction in the film. But having a period is a natural process and shouldn’t be feared. I like the moment where Miss Collins gently tells Carrie to calm down and that she will tell her all about what has just happened to her. I always laugh at the scene where Miss Collins then goes to speak to the deputy head of the school about the period incident, he gets visibly uncomfortable with the subject matter being discussed, and becomes even more so when he sees blood on Miss Collins clothing from where Carrie grabbed her. The deputy head seems revolted by this natural bodily function.
Sadly even today there is still quite a stigma attached to the female menstrual cycle where men are concerned. Men, and even bizarrely some women, get incredibly awkward speaking about periods. It’s also been discovered that many women and girls are living in period poverty and don’t have access to pads or tampons, something which is absolutely shocking. We should be much more open as a society about periods and ensure that all women get access to sanitary products. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of periods. We must also make sure that girls are properly informed about periods when they’re younger so they know that they will happen to their bodies as they grow up.
Interestingly it is the onset of her period which also sees the start of Carrie’s powers developing. Is this coincidence? Or was the power always there but the stress of this traumatic event set it off in her? Carrie’s mum very worryingly sees her daughter getting her first period as being a sinful occurrence. In her warped view she sees her daughter as no longer being innocent or the same because her periods have started. Blood and the colour red play a key role in the film and feature heavily throughout. I think this could well be the most period centric film I’ve ever seen in my life.
The film was very successful at the box office, taking in $33.8 million dollars. Over the years the film has become one of the most popular and famous horror films of all time. Its famous shock ending/dream sequence inspired multiple similar sequences in both film and television.
Cool bit of trivia is that the hand in that sequence actually belonged to Sissy Spacek, who was buried for real beneath that dirt in order to perform in that sequence. This film has lost none of its power to shock, move or scare audiences. A 2013 remake lacked the emotion and horror of the original, although I did like the way that film brought the horror of modern day bullying home by showing social media and mobile phones being used as a part of Carrie’s bullying.
What do you think of this film?