How could we have a Horrorfest without this classic film? Even though this film came out a good nine years before I was born (feeling old yet?) it still maintains a solid foothold in the Horror genre, and for good reason. This Brian de Palma film is a gold mine for anyone looking to analyze Pop culture and American fears during the 1970s.
For those of us living under a rock for the past thirty-something years, let me break down Carrie for you. Carrie is, putting it mildly, the freak of her small suburban community. She is the target for bullies everywhere. Most likely this is a result of her religious fanatic mother who restricts her from any type of normalcy, isolating her from the community and her peers. The story begins during Carrie’s senior year of high school, when Carrie enters puberty and begins to realize that she has telekinetic powers. To make a long story short, the other girls scar Carrie for life the day she begins menstruating in the school showers, and the gym teacher punishes them harshly for their actions. Of course, this really frustrates the alpha girl, who feels she should always get her way, so she plots to really humiliate Carrie at the senior prom. The story ends with Carrie going berserk over the prank played upon her, killing everyone at the prom and burning down the school. She then gets stabbed by her crazy fanatic mother, who is then in turn murdered crucifixion style by Carrie’s telekinesis before the entire house collapses, burying them both in rubble.
Now, I remember being terrified of this movie when I was a kid. Watching it again as an adult evoked different feelings for me. I found myself feeling pity for Carrie, hatred for the other bratty children, and anger at the crazy mother. Perhaps this comes with time and from being a teacher myself; but really I didn’t feel fear at all. I think probably this stems from having a fear of my body as a little girl–things like menstruation and puberty, seemed like terrifying hurdles I would someday have to deal with. As an adult woman, I’ve grown used to bodily functions and they do not cause me fear or worry.
It’s obvious to see, though, that bodily functions–particularly female ones–greatly worried the population in the 1970s. Throughout most of history, the mysteries of the female body were not discussed. Carrie brings those bodily functions (and the deeper significance they hold–mainly that of the awakening sexuality in a woman) to the forefront, which would have seemed like a taboo concept to people during this time.
The main symbol is blood, repeated over and over throughout the film. We see blood in the very first scene, when Carrie begins menstruating in the shower. We see her fear at her own body, the fear of the principal when he looks at the gym teacher’s shorts and sees dried blood, and the fear of Carrie’s mother over the fact that she has started to bleed and what that means in a larger sense (i.e. her daughter’s budding sexuality and possibility of sin/corruption). We see the blood on the various religious iconography strewn throughout Carrie’s home, and of course, the pig’s blood dumped all over her at the prom before she has her epic meltdown.
This suggests a definite fear of the female body, reproduction, birth, and death. It also hints at a latent power associated with female puberty, perhaps in the power women have to create life. Carrie’s powers arise around the time she begins to bleed, suggesting her womanhood has given her power. Naturally, in a patriarchy, we are taught to fear women with power, and to view them as outcasts. Based on Carrie’s fate, it suggests that the emerging roles of women as powerful, equal beings leads to their downfall (when Carrie stops being a submissive pawn for her mother, bad things end up happening).
Of course, we are only scratching the surface here with the examination of the female body as a major area of focus in this film–and throughout the Horror genre. We can also definitely make a point of the religious implications in this film, and even connect this to the bodily functions that are so despised. After all, the body is a playground for sin, so it makes sense that these two themes coincide so beautifully in this film.
Perhaps the truly “scary” part of this film occurs at the end, during the prom. The use of the slow motion, the cuts from each angle builds up suspense before Carrie is soaked with blood. Then of course, as Carrie implodes, we have the frantic scenes of teenagers running, screaming, and being knocked around as the camera pans the auditorium. Creepily, it cuts back to Carrie, standing motionless on the stage, dripping with blood. And lets not forget the end, when Sue has a nightmare that she is laying flowers on Carrie’s grave (for lack of a better term) and Carrie grabs her arm with the intention of dragging her “down to hell” with her.
Something worth mentioning is also the fact that both films so far have been adaptations of literature. However, I have not read either book, so I could not offer a valid analysis of book-to-film adaptations, but I would be curious to see what your opinions are if you have read and viewed both versions.