June 17, 2007

Carrie Me Back to the Senior Prom

Take One Magazine
Volume 5, Number 6
January 1977

Susan Schenker reviews CARRIE
Directed by Brian DePalma

Walking out of the sneak preview of CARRIE, I was both angry and embarrassed. Angry at the way CARRIE manipulated me to the point where my heart was thudding, and embarrassed because the film really works.

Stephen King's novel, "Carrie," was set in Massachusetts (moved for film to southern California, where everyone is, of course, a little "bent") and is, like "Salem's Lot," King's second novel now being filmed by Warners, a combination of OUR TOWN and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The people in "Salem's Lot" are nice New Englanders plagued by vampires; CARRIE, however, is chock full of the most vicious little high school females you can imagine. God (and the Devil) knows people just can't be like that in real life. Miss Collins (Betty Buckley, a N.Y. stage actress) is the high school gym teacher and she's about the only sympathetic woman in the film. CARRIE opens with a scene in the locker room which, although filmed very erotically, is tremendously grubby. Carrie, a social misfit, discovers she's got her first period. Since she's totally ignorant about it all, she freaks out. The other girls, who hate her to begin with, torment her with a barrage of every conceivable brand of tampon and sanitary napkin. (So much for the Modess ads.) Miss Collins, the "game warden," armed with her clipboard and whistle, comes to the hysterical Carrie's rescue and condemns the other animals in the zoo for their insensitivity. More happens. Suffice it to say that Carrie then makes a much more important discovery -- that she is telekinetic and can "will" horrible things to happen to her enemies. She finally gets her revenge at the Senior Prom. In the novel, she destroys her entire hometown. In the film, she merely wipes out the senior class.

As a horror film, CARRIE is a highpoint in DePalma's career, especially after the mishmash of OBSESSION. VERTIGO was DePalma's textbook for OBSESSION; PSYCHO is a cribsheet for his current effort. Just in case we might not notice, DePalma forces the point by setting the scene at "Bates" High School. However, on another level, CARRIE brings up some issues about attitudes toward young women. King's novel transcended statements and assumptions about women, while the film seems to concentrate on them. Are we really to believe that the girls in CARRIE, the film, actually exist? Why are the males in the film nice guys? Why are the females the ones who are crazy, from Piper Laurie, Carrie's demented religious fanatic mother, to Nancy Allen, Chris, the wickedest witch of them all? In the novel it was clear that Tommy (William Katt, cute and sexy) and Sue (Amy Irving) felt guilty about what the girls had done to Carrie and tried to repent. In the film, it almost seems as if Tommy and Sue are in cahoots with Chris in devising the ultimate trick that triggers Carrie's monstrous revenge. It's just a feeling I've got that DePalma and screenwriter Cohen (who, by the way, was a reader at Warner's and did the original synopsis of King's novel back in '73) have reworked things, not just for a better shock effect, but for reasons that have to do with exploiting conceptions that have to do with high school antics.

DePalma, photographer Mario Tosi, et al, keep the pace of the film moving at top speed. No time for audiences to think, only time to react. The burning of the Bates High School gymnasium, the climax of the film, was shot on the same lot where Atlanta was burned in GONE WITH THE WIND. There's a shocker at the end which is a direct quote from similar scenes in DELIVERANCE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The murder of Carrie's mother is another zinger, and makes a curious little statement about mother-cooks' relationships to their potato peelers.

The cast, mostly new faces, are effective, and to be sure, this film is going to make a bundle. It's just a bit sad that DePalma gets off on the more puerile elements of womankind. CARRIE is a high school flick with a junior high mentality.