Sunday, October 9, 2016


Original art by Stephanie Murr 2016
I was very, very young. Younger than five, I know. I don't remember which house we lived in (we were moving every six months), but I remember the green carpet in the living room and being up with my mom waiting for my dad to get home. For whatever reason she didn't start making me go to bed until I was about five. I'd just be up playing with my Mego figures in front of the television. Often times I'd fall asleep right in front of the TV and I'd wake up when my dad was taking me to my bed. I usually didn't care about what was on TV, but I'd be half way watching it anyway. One night there was a movie on that I especially didn't care about, until this girl got a bunch of red stuff dumped on her.
"What did they just pour on her?" I asked
"Oh, it was just paint."
Then everything started going crazy. Doors were slamming shut, things were moving through the air, people were panicking. 
"What's happening?" There was this dread building in the pit of my stomach, I think it was that girl's eyes.
"Carrie's moving things around with her mind."
"She has a power."
Ah, like Spiderman, got it.
I distinctly remember that night, that movie, from the Prom scene to the end credits. I remember talking about it for days. Why did they pour paint on Carrie? Why did she use her power on everyone? These weren't questions that got serious answers, but I never forgot that movie. (Side note; Carrie was one of four horror films that one or both of my parents watched while I was in the room, pre-kindergarten, the other three were Jaws, which I loved, Alien, which I liked, but didn't fully get, and Dark Night of The Scarecrow, which scared the shit out of me.)
Well, it wasn't paint. It was pig blood. I found that out when I caught the movie on TV when I was about ten. I was pretty excited and I made note that the film was based on a book by Stephen King. The summer between fifth and sixth grade I got to read my first King novel, which was Cujo. The second was Carrie, which was King's debut. The film was directed by Brian DePalma and to me is still one of my favorite King adaptations. DePalma changed the narrative approach to the story, but that doesn't hurt the film as an adaptation at all.
Carrie is about a high school girl who develops telekinetic powers. Carrie is an outcast, raised by an insane, fundamentalist mother, and tormented by her classmates. After some bullies pull an incredibly cruel prank on Carrie she unleashes the full force of her powers on the entire school. It's a tale of budding sexuality, teen angst, and a lesson in being nice to the weird kid. 
The book came out in 1974 and the film in 1976. Carrie is as much responsible for my interest in parapsychology as The Uncanny X-Men and Scanners. I haven't reread the book since sixth grade, but I liked it better than Cujo and not quite as much as Pet Semetary. The film still holds up very well. For my money it's as indispensable a classic as The Exorcist, Halloween, Deep Red, or Psycho. It stars Sissy Spacek, Nancy Allen, PJ Soles, Amy Irving, and John Travolta.
I was an 80s kid, growing up in a Southern Baptist home, and I was an outcast. I had a lot of restrictions at home and was called faggot at school so much, I think some people actually thought that was my name. Though much more extreme than my reality, I identified with Carrie, and watching her revenge was a cathartic experience. 
The best thing about revisiting the film though has always been Spacek's performance in the climax. The look on her face, her unblinking eyes, and the silent menace she exuded remains awe-inspiring and entertaining. Add to that DePalma's amazing direction, the technicolor nightmare, the use split screen- it's really innovative and nightmarish-something Dario Argento has done, spread out into full features like Suspiria and Inferno. DePalma's stylish approach to filmmaking in general made him, at least with his earlier work, the closest we have to an American Argento, though he's often been accused of being nothing more than a Hitchcock wanna-be, which is so rudely reductive that it should never be brought up again.
DePalma masterfully pulls off one of the great bait-and-switches in cinema in the opening credits with a long, slow motion tracking shot inside of the girl's locker room. It's all very steamy, giving the shot a dream-like quality, showing several girls in various states of undress, including some full frontal nudity, before focusing on Spacek, the camera lewdly crawling up and down her body in extreme close up. DePalma is clearly trying to turn us on with some blatant soft core, right before yanking the rug out from under us by shoving Carrie's menstrual blood in our faces. The subject of a woman's period can still, in 2016 even, make some men queasy at the thought. That discomfort that many male viewers feel is reflected in the principle's clear uneasiness discussing the issue with the gym teacher after Carrie is brutally harassed and ridiculed for not knowing that the blood is natural. Spacek goes into full freak out mode, running to the other girls for help. They just laugh at her. They've known for years about their periods and here is the school outcast acting like she's dying. Depalma turns titillation into something cringeworthy, he continues to screw with the viewer until the climax. Going from a high school drama, to a story of twisted child abuse, to delving into the paranormal, and then to a brutal and graphic scene of school violence.  
Not to be dismissive, but I still haven't watched the remake starring Chloe Grace-Moretz and Julianna Moore. The trailer looks great, but I don't feel like I'd have any great kinship to the more modern take. I literally grew up with DePalma's version and it has made a lasting impact on my life. I mean, just this morning I rewatched it with my wife, and I could still remember how that old living room smelled the night I first saw Carrie covered in pig's blood. It has remained a horror touchstone for me, that I'd rank up there with Night Of The Living Dead and Halloween as an influence in me becoming a horror author.   


  1. Can you imagine if DePalma HAD tried to film it with the book's narrative point of view? Epistolary movies are, for the most part, boring as fuck. The split-screen, and huge chunks of film with no dialogue, really help get the story over cinematically. A classic, for sure.

    1. Yea, I can't imagine that! Some times changing the source material is ok. Of King's pre-Insomnia books, I don't think it's one of the stronger ones. This might be one of those rare occasions the movie is better than the book. Rewatching this told me something too; I need a lot more DePalma in my life.