If you ever need to know how build up of tension can affect the climax of a movie, you need only see Brian De Palma’s Carrie. It is a horror movie that understands completely the meaning of the word “horror”. It captivates and intrigues, and then it shrieks with terror. It is made all the more horrifying by its characters, particularly Carrie White and her mother, Margaret, who know that there is evil brewing within their household but are too emotionally and religiously tormented to do anything about it.
The story is based on the novel by Stephen King, and it’s the first of his writings to be made into a film. It is a truly enchanting story, not in the way that Cinderella is enchanting. It deals with humanity’s deepest desire to be accepted for who you are. Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is not your typical movie heroine (villain), nor is she the stupid teenager who stumbles into a horror movie without knowing it’s a horror movie. She is an everyday girl, and many of us will recall her type from our days in school.
Her character is disarming. She is the sweetest thing, tainted only by her mother’s psychotic devotion to a religion that acts as a scapegoat for all her problems. The White household is eerie in an unnatural way. It resembles a medieval tavern but with less drunkards and more portraits of Jesus Christ. When Carrie enters puberty and has her first period, her mother sees it as a sign from the devil and locks her in a closet no bigger than Bender’s apartment in Futurama. Pray for your sins!
At school, Carrie’s life is no better. Her classmates taunt and tease her, which results in her being incredibly skeptical of everything she does. When the handsome Tommy Ross (William Katt) asks her to the prom, she recoils in fear. What prank does he have in store for me? She lives her life on thorns; every move could be fatal.
Her only quirk is that she has telekinesis, the power to move and manipulate objects with her mind. At first it works subtly. She breaks a mirror, then uses her mind to put it back together. She flips an ashtray off her principal’s desk. She glares at a rude passer-by and he falls off his tasselled bicycle. It seems her power is only triggered by moments of fear or confusion.
What this story builds up to is the prom. Before this Carrie could have passed itself off as a romance movie, targeted at teenage wallflowers. But the prom is where all the built up tension finally releases itself. I will, of course, not spoil it for all of you. I will only say that the entire prom sequence is approached with flair, and it’s truly a terrifying piece of cinema. It’s partly unexpected, but the part that is expected unfolds as an assault, chiefly because we’ve been waiting for it to.
Spacek is charming as Carrie. Heavily freckled, she masters the recoil. But it is not such a straight forward part. Her character also requires her to yell abuse — mostly towards her mother, played by Piper Laurie — and glide, open-eyed, as she exercises her terror. A number of the young actors in this movie have since gone on to bigger things. You will recall Nancy Allen from the original RoboCop movies. And John Travolta, of course, as Edna Turnblad. The cast is important, because Carrie’s dread manifests itself in them. It is a horror that is born naturally from the people it aims to haunt, not manufactured as a means of getting people in the audience to scream. Though, to be sure, there is a shock near the end that is as frightful as any. And I almost screamed. Almost.
Best Moment | The entire prom sequence. Or yes, the shock at the end. Or the shot of Carrie’s mother standing motionless behind her bathroom door. *Shivers*
Worst Moment | The sped up dialogue as the boys try on tuxedos at the tailor’s. What’s up with that?