My first semester at Mills they were having a horror movie night. What was the movie? Carrie. I was so there. The girls loved the movie, although some of the scenes were unintentionally funny (the naked gym scene at the beginning), cheered when John Travolta graced the screen, then screamed in horror at the end. I sat there thinking, yeah. They get it. They get the movie.
We need to backtrack: Forty years ago Stephen King went with a friend to a high school girls’ locker room. His friend pointed out how the girls had walls around the showers so they could have privacy, plus a Kotex machine. Interested, King went home and wrote it as a short story, but threw it away. His wife Tabitha saved the pages, told him that he should do something with it. And sure enough he did.
Thanks, Ms. Tabitha King. (The story is taken from his wonderful memoir/handbook, On Writing) Thanks for being smart enough to know your husband’s writing and know it would work, and thanks for the book Carrie. But I want to focus on the movie made from the book.
To begin with, I’m not into horror movies. Oh, sure, I love a Hitchcock thriller, but I could never understand the appeal of Halloween, Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street. But the one horror movie that spoke to me when I was fourteen was Carrie.
Who could forget that opening scene when Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is in the back row, playing volleyball. The teacher (amazing Betty Buckley) encourages the other girls to let Carrie hit the ball. You know this will not go well (or maybe it’s because I’m terrible at volleyball). Carrie misses the serve. A girl hits her with her baseball hat. Another girl with feathered blonde hair swears at her. At fourteen I thought, God, I’m not the only one. But watching it was awful.
We then see the girls changing in the locker room in various stages of undress. Carrie is taking a shower after PE class, and blood is going down her leg? Not knowing what is going on, she is positive she is bleeding to death. She cries out in fear. In utter cruelty, the girls in her class throw tampons and pads at her yelling at her to “plug it up, plug it up, plug it up!” Because of this scene I was terrified of changing in my high school locker room. Even though the showers didn’t work. And I knew the basics of menstruating (Thank you Judy Blume!)
That scene is the the start of the unraveling of Carrie White. She lives in an old house with her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) who is obsessed with Christianity and goes door to door to spread the Word. She’s the type that gives Christians a bad name. After learning Carrie gets her period… well, let’s say this: they don’t have a lovely mother-daughter bonding moment. Margaret brands Carrie as a sinner and locks her in a closet to pray for forgiveness. In that scene, when Carrie looks helplessly at the cross, you can feel how sad she is and the damage of child abuse.
In the meantime, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels guilty and decides to try to make it up to Carrie by asking her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie to their prom. He agrees, mostly because he’s a decent guy, plus Carrie liked a poem he wrote for their English class.
In the meantime, Carrie has discovered she has a gift to move things or make things happen: breaking a mirror, make a kid fall off his bike after he teases her. She is amazed by her new powers, and is amazed that Tommy asks her out to the prom. She accepts after a pep talk from Ms. Collins.
In the meantime, Chris Jorgerson (Nancy Allen, the girl with the great feathered hair) plots revenge; because of the prank at the locker room, the girls are assigned to after-school detention. Chris leaves early, forfeiting her prom tickets. She plots revenge with her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta). In one classic scene, the two of them are in his car, listening to “Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves, and Travolta eyes her breasts. There’s no embarrassment to it– it’s so matter of fact, so teenage boyish, it gives you shivers down your spine.
The night of the prom comes, and Carrie is thrilled. Chris arranges it so that they win for King and Queen. And that’s when things go wrong. And Carrie unravels. Let’s say this: it’s not pretty.
Carrie works on so many levels; the direction by Brian DePalma is so good as he shows a town that is so small that everyone knows everyone. In Carrie’s case, that’s not a good thing. All the actors are great– Travolta, Amy Irving, and William Katt. One of my favorite scenes is when Katt goes with his friends to try on tuxedos. It’s so seventies (they of course go with the ruffled tuxedos), but also so true and bonding.
But it is Sissy Spacek that is the heart and soul of this movie as Carrie. All Carrie wanted, as good Jon Lovitz (as Harvey Firestein) once said, is to be loved. Is that so much to ask? When people pay attention to her (Tommy, Ms. Collins), she blooms. In one scene she tries on lipstick in the drug store, trying to see what looks good on her, feeling like a pretty girl. This wasn’t a girl who wanted to kill her classmates and her teachers. This wasn’t a girl who was evil. This wasn’t a girl who had malice in her heart. She just wanted to be loved, to be pretty, and go to the prom and have a good time. Spacek makes Carrie real, and she makes us love her, and she makes us cry as she goes on her rampage.
They’re remaking Carrie, and to me that feels so wrong. First off they’re setting it in current day, and I’m sorry, but Carrie is so seventies. It is platform shoes and tuxedo shirts, frosted hair and macrame purses. Yet bullying is still there; a friend just shared a YouTube video a girl made, saying she was killing herself “because of them.” When I saw Carrie at fourteen I felt a release when she finally took her revenge, because I hated the bullies who made fun of me in school. But now it is so forbidding; back when Carrie was made, Columbine was a flower, not a symbolism of high school shootings. Maybe someday, bullying will be as dated as Chris’s hairdo. One can only hope.