Sissy Spacek's Shower Scene Shocker
Pimples are the Lord's way of chastising you - Margaret White
Maybe it's me, but I find Brian De Palma's "Carrie", the first of Stephen King's novels to be adapted to the big screen, rather dull and not in the least bit as scary as I hoped it would be. In fact it's not really scary at all rather more a little disturbing and strange. But strangely that's not my real issue with "Carrie", my issue is that it often feels like Brian De Palma being self indulgent as he incorporates various techniques and styles which fail to make the story work.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek - Four Christmases) is the outsider in her class, the one that her classmates make fun off, especially when whilst having a shower she unknowingly has her first period sending her into hysterics. Carrie isn't helped by the fact that her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie - The Hustler) is a religious nut who thinks sex is a sin and treats her daughter brutally now that she is a woman. But Carrie is different as she discovers she has the power of telekinesis and when made angry her powers become uncontrollable.
Having never read "Carrie" I can't say how faithful Brian De Palma's adaptation is but right from the start if feels indulgent with a girls locker room scene with half dressed and naked school girls flicking towels at each other before it culminates with the now infamous Sissy Spacek shower scene. It feels like "Porky's" meets "Psycho" as it mixes a teenage titillation with that of Hitchcock style suspense and horror which continues right up until the final scenes. The trouble is that the blend doesn't work, it makes those scenes which should be atmospheric and a little scary end up feeling watered down. That famous scene with Sissy Spacek in the shower experiencing her first period is a prime example because it should be disturbing and frightening but ends up more titillation for teenagers looking for nudity.
The focus on teenage angst as we watch Carrie struggle to fit in at high school ends up taking too much presidence over the horror side of things. It means that for well over the first half of "Carrie" we are dealt for the most a dry drama about teenagers, their issues, their horniness and all the predicaments you've seen in many other teenage movies. It feels like Brian De Palma is focussing on the wrong side of the story and ends up wasting the few early opportunities for scares as Carrie realises she has telekinetic powers as bulbs and mirrors break and ashtrays fly into the air.
And then when it seems that all the teen angst has been over worked and we get to the prom where having felt finally accepted Carrie yet again ends up the butt of the joke, Brian De Palma lets rip with various techniques and styles. So we get split screens, the noise of people screaming silenced in favour of the sound of blood dripping and various other almost experimental techniques which fail to embellish what we are watching as it comes across as being indulgent. And what this achieves is when the horror finally kicks in it ends up playing second fiddle to De Palma's stylistic side. Although the sight of Carrie standing on stage, dripping in blood is one of those iconic cinema moments and one of the most memorable moments in the entire movie.
In away it's not all Brian De Palma's fault as to why "Carrie" fails to work as having read other Stephen King novels which have been made into movies very few manage to transfer well onto the big screen. The issue is that King writes in a way which allows you to use your own imagination to generate fear but when adapted into a movie that is lost as all the frights are telegraphed and served up on a plate. For me it makes it dull, especially in the case of "Carrie" as there is not a single fright which isn't overly telegraphed.
The final nail in the coffin when it comes to "Carrie" is a collective of over acting and stereotypes with the only exception being Sissy Spacek. In fact Sissy Spacek is the only real bright light in the entire movie and not just because she appears naked. She manages to make the stereotypical character of teenage pariah a little more real and although those moments of telekinesis are wasted in the prom scenes she makes Carrie one seriously memorable character with that wide eyed stare. As for the rest well no one makes any real impact, not Amy Irving as Sue Snell, Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, Betty Buckley as teacher Miss Collins or John Travolta as the horny and girl hitting Billy Nolan. And then there is Piper Laurie as Carrie's over zealous and religious mother who basically over acts in every single scene making her character border on the ridiculous rather than real.
What this all boils down to is that "Carrie" is rather a dull and mediocre horror, not the classic which so many people proclaim. Between the uneasy blend of teenage angst and horror and the over indulgent styling of Brian De Palma it fails to deliver the scares which it feels it should. And to be honest whilst giving us a couple of iconic scenes, such as Sissy Spacek in the shower it is easily forgotten.
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