Design a site like this with
Get started


Director: Brian De Palma USA). Year of Release: 1976

A school volleyball court. It’s Match Point. Someone mutters something like “they’d better not send it to Carrie.” Sure enough, after the ball passes from person to person, it ends up hurling towards a hapless girl who flails helplessly and misses it entirely. The girls go back into the changing room for a post-match shower where the camera lingers a little too long on the tits and pubic hair of the teenagers, especially as this is supposed to be a film about female emancipation.

In the showers, as in life, Carrie is alone. Suddenly, she shrieks. Her legs are covered in blood. Carrie is having her first period. Although she’s one of the last girls in the class to have a period, she has no idea what is happening. Her religious fundamentalist mother has refused to talk to her about anything as sinful as menstrual blood. She pleads with her classmates to help, but they just start laughing at her, before pelting her with tampons, while shouting “Plug it Up!”.

The gym teacher, Miss Collins has obvious sympathy for Carrie’s plight and tries to calm her down from her obvious hysteria. Miss Collins convinces, the principle – who can never remember Carrie’s name – to send her home. She then assembles the other girls and tells them that if she’d had her way, they’d have all been suspended and banned from the school prom. She was apparently overruled, but they still have to do an extra hour of physical training with her every day for a week.

The film has a traditional setting – a high school where the kids look like they’re in their Twenties, the boys drive big cars. and nothing is more important than the end-of-year prom. It also carries some of the usual tropes of Horror films – like Regan in the Exorcist or Damien in the Omen, Carrie has paranormal powers, in her case telekinesis. Yet where Regan’s and Damien’s powers are clearly a force for evil, Carrie uses hers to assert herself and loosen the link of her domineering mother.

Ah yes, Carrie’s mother, who we gradually learn about as the film develops. We first encounter her telling one of her neighbours to learn the Love of The Lord and repent. Later we learn that mom was so appalled at enjoying conceiving Carrie that she started to punish her daughter. She says that her husband was taken by the devil, but in fact he left with another woman. We last see mom posing like Saint Sebastian with several pieces of cutlery sticking out of her chest.

Sue, one of the tampon throwers, feels sorry for Carrie, and asks her boyfriend Tommy to invite her to go to the Prom with him. This might seem to suggest a certain lack of agency, but Carrie is seriously fucked up. What with her mother constantly telling her that she’s worthless and randomly locking her in a cramped closet full of scary Jesus icons, it’s safe to say that Carrie’s level of self-belief is pretty low. It takes Tommy several goes to persuade Carrie to accompany him.

Meanwhile, Chris, the ringleader of Carrie’s adversaries is planning her revenge. She’s in a tempestuous relationship with a young John Travolta, who she convinces to knock out a pig and drain its blood. They set up a complicated device from which they can pour the blood all over the homecoming queen. All they have to do then is rig the ballot so that Tommy and Carrie are voted King and Queen of the prom.

All this is leading up to a not-quite-final scene in which Carrie wreaks her revenge. Again this goes slightly off-piste from the usual horror tropes. Normally, evil is located in one individual, who is tamed so that society can go on as normal. But while Carrie is as near as we get to a good guy, because she feels let down by everybody, she punishes everyone, even the few who tried to help her. The problem does not lie in individuals but in society as a whole.

Carrie is not a film about how a misfit can survive by learning how to fit into society, quite the reverse. It understands that however weird, evil almost, the misfit may be, their isolation is a result of the way in which society – and individuals within this society – has treated them. Why would anyone want to conform to the very system that has been oppressing them? It is a very bleak analysis, rejecting conformity, even when the only practical alternative is annihilation.

We’re not over yet. Carrie has an often parodied ending, deservedly considered to be one of the best film endings of all time. The message here – which I’ll skirt around to avoid plot spoilers – is also disturbing. Mybe the film has been wrong to suggest that Carrie’s problems have social roots, maybe she is truly possessed. I’m torn on this ending. Artistically, it is a tour de force, but this is at the expense of the case that the film has been making about the exclusion of women.

I’m not a great fan of director Brian de Palma – can I put it on record that I find the Oscar winning Untouchables one of the most sentimental cop-excusing films that I have ever seen. But he barely puts a foot wrong here (though the early shower lechery is entirely unnecessary). Carrie tells us as much as we need to know and no more. We know that something important will happen, and the suspense dangles without giving away the ending too early. One of the best paced films I’ve seen.

%d bloggers like this: