Carrie (1976)

I have come to the realization that along this “journey”, if you will, to educate myself, I’m going to run into movies that are iconic. So much so that everyone knows just about everything about them without having seen them. This is to the degree that the full impact of these films is lost on me. I hate that Carrie is one of those films, but alas, it is. Now I wish my parents had allowed me to watch it when I was a little kid. But nooo! They thought I’d be scared! Isn’t that kind of the point?

It’s a fantastic movie. There’s no doubt about that. Sissy Spacek is phenomenal, and terrifying at the prom. Piper Laurie as the villainous Margaret White, Carrie’s Jesus Freak of a mother, is heinously evil and manipulative. I’m pretty sure every mother who watched this film found her deplorable, thereby proving that she served the role brilliantly. She’s despicable.

What I wasn’t aware of prior to watching the film were the Psycho references made throughout. The score uses the same four violin chords used throughout psycho, not to mention the mommy issues. Granted Carrie’s mommy issues were because she was an abusive, psychotic, religious fanatic who treated her like a bad puppy that wet the rug, as opposed to a son with obsessive issues storing his mother’s dead body and dressing as her to kill debaucherous women, but still.

It’s a great film, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s truly iconic. It’s been sampled to death (such as Adam Sandler’s recordings where he imitates Margaret White’s “they’re all gonna laugh at you!” plea), poked fun at, referenced, mimicked and replicated (sometimes entirely unsuccessfully.) But it didn’t scare me. Not even the ending scared me because I distinctly remember my mother telling me how it ended when I was little. I’d listen to the movie in the background as my mom and brother watched the movie in our living room, and just squirm wondering what was happening. So to make sure that I wouldn’t go and put the movie on by myself, and because I was probably annoying as hell and wouldn’t stop asking about it, my mom told me how it ended. I hate younger me: all shock and surprise gone!

It’s still a well crafted, sick and demented coming-of-age story. You feel for her, and you root for her, right up until the very end. She has her moments of villainy but generally speaking she’s simply a misunderstood, awkward teenage girl, coping with becoming a woman and all the stigma that comes with it.

Now from a cultural studies perspective I could analyze this film to death. The notion of the monstrous feminine is a constant area of focus throughout the film, and not exactly in the most subtle of ways either. Her mother hammering her about the head with the bible thumping concept that women are the bearers of ultimate sin doesn’t help matters when she gets her period and thinks she’s dying.

The mother figure is portrayed as the bearer of all evil, the bringer of life and destroyer of dreams. She encourages all reclusive behavior in her daughter and the suppression of all sexuality.

The book The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis by Barbara Creed has an entire section dedicated to the analysis of Brian De Palma’s Carrie and the abjection of woman’s blood, as the chapter details. The entire text is about the role of women in horror films, and how within them women are constructed as monstrous, in this case Carrie and her mother (especially her mother.) Shelley Stamp Lindsey wrote in the Journal of Film and Video on Horror, Femininity, and Carrie’s Monstrous Puberty, comparing and contrasting differing views on the repression and explosion of Carrie’s sexuality. She is portrayed as a scared little girl repressed by her monstrous mother and typical North American conventional values, and triumphs (as they say in the article, if but for a short while) over the popular girls.

As stated before in my snippet on The Thing, I don’t have the energy to really dig into this at the moment, nor do I have the research. However, one of the beautiful things I love about horror is that it has virtually no boundaries whatsoever. Cleverly done horror knows no bounds, and confronts issues in the vein of sexuality, politics, consumer culture, family, and identity (to scratch the surface) in a brutal, no-holds-barred manner that only it could accomplish.

That being said, while Carrie may not have scared me like I’d wished it would, more than ever has it supplied me with food for thought. That’s part of what makes it iconic, it did what horror does best: it slapped you in the face with something ugly and forced you to think about it.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on October 30, 2011.