Moving into more modern masterworks of horror cinema, this week I decided to show my boyfriend the 1976 Brian De Palma flick Carrie. This film is an intensely unsettling look at the clique-based nature of high school, bullying, religious oppression and feminism, through the horrific story of Creepy Carrie living up to her nickname. Widely regarded for its stylish yet unsettling quality, I was incredibly excited to show my boyfriend this film, especially seeing his only prior knowledge of the film was that “she’s psychic, telekinetic and evil.”
However, in order to watch the film, I also had to watch it with parents. My house only has one (admittedly very large) television which is in the lounge, so in order to show my boyfriend films on a screen bigger than my laptop I also have to watch it with my parents.
The reason that this was going to be awkward is ably demonstrated by the first scene of the film, which depicts a large number of naked females running around a locker room. Finn noticed that “this seems oddly sexualised.” Well, it was until Carrie starts getting her period and panics. Adorably, my boyfriend tries to comfort her through the screen; “Calm down. It’s okay, no-one saw.” It’s of no use and soon she is being viciously bullied and taken to the principal’s office who, as Finn keenly points out, “has no idea who she is.” Her friends are punished by a kindly teacher.
Later, when Carrie arrives home, we see her mother.
“She’s a witch!” suggests Finn excitedly.
“She’s worse,” I say nervously, having seen this film, and been horrified by the evil mother, before.
“She’s a bitch,” Finn says definitively. As we see the mother’s obsession with religion, he notes that she thinks “Jesus is always watching.”
The next day, at Carrie’s school, a teacher suggests that the girl’s hair would look better up.
“She can’t,” says Finn. “Hairspray’s the devil. Everything’s the devil.”
One of the sympathetic girls from the school, Susan, asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom. Things are looking up.
That night, however, some of the crueller students plan their vengeance. They go to the local pig farm, with an odd painted mural next to it, upon which Finn notes a familiar name;
“Bates motel!” he says joyously, “Like from Psycho.” I nod, pointing out that the music has at some points sounded exactly like Bernard Hermann’s famous shower scene score. Brian De Palma, you old Hitchcock fan, you.
At the pig farm, some of the jocks violently attack one of the pigs with a hammer. “Sick bitch,” says a horrified Finn.
Later, we arrive at the most famous sequence from the film; the prom. Finn is largely unaware of how horrific this scene will become. He guesses that “the problem is that he has a girlfriend, but likes Carrie.” For me, this scene became incredibly ridiculously tense.
Carrie is voted prom queen and is so happy. Finn, however, isn’t so easily fooled; “Oh no. She thinks it’s real.” It was around this point that I had to put my pen down and stop taking notes or I foresaw that I was going to accidentally stab myself in anticipation. I do remember, however, that Finn felt so sorry for the teacher who accidentally gets killed and that the death of the mother was clever, as her death exactly resembles that of a Jesus statue used to torment Carrie. He also guessed the final twist, which I’m not going to spoil here (because it’s too creepy. I jump every. Single. Time. So embarrassing).
At the conclusion of the film, I ask Finn for his opinion.
“That was good,” he says, but when I ask why he’s lost for words. “It’s hard to analyse myself sometimes.”
“Did you find it scary?” I ask.
“I definitely thought it was very suspenseful and tense but not really scary. It was much more tense than The Birds.”
“For me, I think what makes this film really effective is that, unlike most horror movies, the killer is incredibly sympathetic. Do you agree?”
“You really did feel for Carrie. I can kind of relate to her because [in school] I was an outcast and bullied.”
“And we also don’t seem to be positioned to like any of the other characters,” I say.
“Well, Sue seemed regretful and the teacher did want to help her,” Finn says, accurately.
“I particularly find the mother to be a hateful character.”
“The mum is a crazy bitch. She takes everything way too far.”
“Let’s talk about the prom scene. Do you think her actions justified? And why do you think there is no music in this scene?” I ask, hoping to get into the nitty-gritty.
“There’s revenge, but that’s not killing them. She snapped. That scene is very focussed, it’s all happening in her head. She doesn’t hear anything. But I was a little confused, because [the audience] were all serious and shocked but she seems to imagine their laughter.” Finn says, making an intriguing point.
I hadn’t noticed this but it could easily be read that Carrie imagines the prom school body laughing at her, which is even more powerful in regards to the depiction of the oppression that high school seems to promote.
Returning to our discussion, I ask Finn what his favourite scene was.
“I don’t really know if I have a favourite scene. The prom scene has lost some of its shock value, but unlike Psycho, it was still effective and I sympathised with Carrie. I was expecting the cliché that it was just a joke in Carrie’s face, but it was more than that.”
“Any closing thoughts?” I ask.
“They’re taking a while to make Carrie 2,” he says grinning.
He gave the film 4.5 stars and says that he’ll never rate a film 5. It just became my goal to change that.
Overall, this was a great film to watch with my boyfriend. It was admirably creepy and didn’t lose much of its unsettling nature even after over 30 years. And my parents? Well about halfway through the film, they went to bed. When I asked her why the next day, mum told me that it was too scary, it had hit too close to home. This seems incredibly impressive for a classic film. I did feel very guilty though…
Next week, our mini horror movie marathon (like it did last year) concludes with John Carpenter’s 1976 terrifying film Halloween. How will Finn react to one of the scariest movies ever made? Join us next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!
Thanks,David Gumball-Watson & Finn