Which, of course, leads us to Carrie!
Carrie can be very hard to watch in places, not because of its violence and death scenes, but because of the consistent humiliation and torture the main character goes through. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek in one of her BEST ever performances) is relentlessly teased by her classmates, mocked by her teachers and ignored by her principal. When she goes home to her supposed refuge she faces off with a mother (scary as hell Piper Laurie) who preaches a bizarre and twisted form of Christianity featuring a "tough love" that includes discipline "Mommy Dearest" would wince at. Yep, for a while it seems like layer upon layer of torture is meted out upon our girl to the point that whether the viewer was the lonesome loser or the most popular kid in school, the old heart goes out to Carrie.
However, the ball begins to roll after one of the most severe humiliations results in punishment for her peers. Naturally, this is Carrie's fault and must, in turn, be revenged. Of course when and where that revenge is to take place is a mystery to Carrie who pretty much sees betrayal everywhere. The bad girls' ringleader Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) sure as hell has something up her sleeve, and with the help of best gal-pal Norma (P.J. Soles) and her dark side boyfriend Billy (John Travolta in either his first or his second film role depending on which producer you ask) she's going to make sure that Prom Night is a bloody good time.
Poor Carrie's never had any friends, so she has no idea who is friend and who is foe, especially when it comes to Gym Coach Collins (Betty Buckley) and fellow student Sue Snell (Amy Irving). Things get even more complicated when Sue convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt, looking more like Robert Plant than "The Greatest American Hero") to take Carrie to the aforementioned prom while Sue herself stays home with mommy (Irving's real mother Priscilla Pointer).
Good or bad, doesn't this put our heroine directly into the hands of Chris and Company? Yep, Carrie's got a date with Disaster, fer sher, but the difference between Carrie and the rest of the pickees is that she does indeed have power. Man, this chick's got power dripping out of every pore, and it's only her lack of confidence and puritanical upbringing that keeps this power in check. It's not long before Carrie spins the tables right round like a record and Carrie's rage carries over from the page.
Even knowing what's going to happen (let's face it, even the previews and promos gave away "the finale"), watching the events transpire can be positively hand-wringing. This is a hell of a scary suspense thriller, even moreso because the source of terror is a character we feel for deeply by this point. Sissy Spacek is to be commended for her unenviable task of bringing Carrie White to scary light. We believe her as the tortured and frumpy sad kid, we believe her as the radiant prom queen whose beauty was just waiting to arise, and yes, yes, we believe her as the Angel of Vengeance she becomes. We root for her in every incarnation, every step of the way.
Director Brian De Palma was still experimenting with his own voice and in his desire to become "The Next Hitchcock" he rips off Hitchcock once again in Carrie. From calling Carrie's alma mater "Bates High School" to directly lifting the screeching violins from Psycho, De Palma is pretty damned obvious in his influence. De Palma and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen shoot for a more sensationalistic approach to Carrie and change the story of Stephen King's original novel, sometimes significantly, in certain places all for the more flashy and booming.
However, while some of the shortcomings of Carrie can be laid at De Palma's feet, so can the unquestionable successes. De Palma's experimentation simply works much, much more often than not! His use of surprising directorial techniques and inspiring camera angles, not to mention keeping a multi-faceted storyline coherent, helps make Carrie memorable today. Carrie's ripple effects in cinema are undeniable, and there's good reason to salute it as a horror classic.
Sure Carrie may feel just a bit dated in the third millennium, but digging a little deeper than the surface will reward the audience with one hell of a smart thrill ride, second only to reading the actual novel (which I highly recommend doing, by the way). If all this isn't enough, there's enough full-frontal nudity (including Sissy Spacek herself) in the first five minutes to make even Mrs. Henderson blush! Four Stars out of Five for Brian De Palma's Carrie. It shows its age in places, but still works quite well on multiple levels. I only hope that I don't find out the hard way that anyone I may have picked on has a roiling rage and enough Telekinesis to blow me to heaven in a hand basket. Folks, if you're out there... get some therapy. I know I'm getting some soon. After all... "Red Rain" isn't just the name of a cool comic book!
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