Thursday, October 14, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 14: Carrie

It’s a shame that the King didn’t think up the title Misery until Fifteen years after Carrie. It would have fit perfectly.

Adolescent rage was King’s first subject matter (predating even Carrie with the novella “Rage.” Which is now virtually unavailable after it was pulled in the wake of Columbine for... well... predicting it. The curious can find it in the old paperback versions of “The Bachman Books” Though beyond morbid curiosity there is not much to recommend it) and in an many ways it has served him the potent. It’s something that has powered book after book.

Everyone knows the story of pitiful Carrie White. That poor hopeless girl, who marked as an outcast from day one, and preyed upon by her peers until beaten down resentment gave way to, well their deaths and in the book the deaths of half the town.

It’s a story that I think, has the best chance out of King’s canon to be damn near eternal. Because as long as there are high schools there are those who are going to know what that furnace of rage that grows in your belly can feel like. And those who imagine what it would be like if they just let it explode (Or implode. Am I the only one to notice that the only difference between the rash of teen suicides that swept the country recently and the rash of school shootings that happened about twelve years ago is that this time the kids are turning their guns on themselves rather then others? I don’t know what this generational shift means. Or if it can even be termed as a generational shift. I just know that either way it saddens and disturbs the hell out of me.)

The point is that King has told a story, hell let’s call it a cautionary tale, that looks like it will sadly never be out of date. And De Palma matched him beat for beat. The difference is that King’s book is as blunt as the sledgehammer Billy Nolan brings down upon the pig’s skull, and De Palma’s film is as subtle and deadly as the invisible force Carrie creates.

Of course Sissy Spacek deserves as much if not more credit, for the way she brings the role of Carrie to life with such wounded pitifulness, that she instantly brings a whopping dose of humanity to the film. Erasing, along with Amy Irving’s benignness (no matter how badly it blows up in her face) the traces of the erector set clinicalness that infects some (not all) De Palma films.

Piper Laurie as the most seriously freaky Church Lady of all time (“And The Raven Was Called Sin” Jesus lady) though Marcia Gay Harding in The Mist sure gave her a run for her money (Hmm… now what to close out Stephen King Week with tomorrow?) One of the things that has always set De Palma aside from his New Wave contemporaries like Scorsese, Coppolla, Friedkin and even Altman, is here is a man with absolutely no love nor nostalgia for the Catholic Church. It’s not the last bastion of moral clarity; it’s a breeding ground for lunatics.

I’d argue that never before or since has De Palma’s virtuosity blended so unobtrusively with his subject matter.

Take the infamous split screen finale. What has to be the best use of split screen in De Palma’s career (and thus by extrapolation, maybe the best use of the split screen ever). Here he turns it into a kind of cinematic meat grinder. A meat grinder that runs on for a subjective eternity before it finally ends. Perhaps the finest thing I can say about it, is that I always forget that it is inter cut with non split screen shots until I actually watch it.

And that’s just one of the film’s set pieces. Think of any of them, the impossible dance, the closet, the cruifixition, the pig’s blood falling, falling, falling. All of these as hyper stylized, melodramatic and self aware as anything De Palma shot in a film like Dressed To Kill or The Fury.

And yet not once does it distract from the film. Carrie is as perfect a wedding of emotional, thematic, and stylistic content as I know.

One thing that King notes about DePalma’s version of Carrie in his utterly essential story of the horror genre "Danse Macarbe" (Seriously, if you don’t own it. Buy it. Now.) Should be very interesting to DePalma fans. Keep in mind, this is written pre Dressed To Kill. The accusations of misogyny that would dog De Palma for the rest of his career hadn’t even been articulated yet.

“ … in its film incarnation, Carrie belongs almost entirely to the ladies. Billy Nolan, a major- and frightening- character in the book, has been reduced to a semi supporting role in role in the movie. Tommy, the boy who takes Carrie to the Prom, is presented in the novel as a boy who is honestly trying to opt out of the caste system. In the film he’s little more then his girlfriend’s cat’s paw, her tool of atonement for her part in the shower room scene.

“I don’t go around with anyone I don’t want to,’ Tommy said patiently. ‘I’m asking because I want to ask you. Ultimately, he knew this to be the truth.”

In the film, however, when Carrie asks Tommy why he is favoring her with an invitation to the Prom, he offers her a dizzy sun ‘n’ surf grin and says, “Because you liked my poem.” Which, by the way, his girlfriend wrote.

The novel views high school in a fairly common way as that pit of man- and woman-eaters already mentioned. De Palma’s social stance is more original; he sees this suburban white kid’s high school as a kind of matriarchy. No matter where you look, there are girls behind the scenes, pulling invisible wires, rigging elections, using their boyfriends as stalking horses.

Against such a backdrop, Carrie becomes doubly pitiful, because she is unable to do any of these things- she can only wait to be saved or damned by the actions of others. “

I’ve always thought that DePalma’s reputation for Misogyny is half earned at best. Setting aside for a moment the question of whether DePalma’s violence against women is exploitative in itself, or a commentary on exploitative violence against women. I think if you chalked up scene for scene all the violence that occurred against women, with occurrence’s against violence against women in other director’s careers, Francis Ford Coppola’s say, to choose a contemporary. I’m be pretty sure that they come up just about dead even. Like violence in general DePalma is penalized for doing it well.

Furthermore I don’t think any true misogynist could ever have made Casualties Of War. If there is a movie that portrays violence against women in general and rape in specific as a more cowardly and despicable action, then I guess I can only be grateful that it has escaped my knowledge.

DePalma really does get in some fantastic satire about the battle between the sexes. Most in small grace notes tucked away in the scenes. Note the nonchalant way an oblivious Ms. Collins says, “It was just her period for God sakes.” After the principle has just reacted to the menstrual blood on her shorts in roughly the same manner that Frankenstein reacts to fire. Or just look at the way a clever cut juxtaposes the way Sue Snell gets a favor from her boyfriend, with the way the odious Chris does. Or the way Sue hardly allows her boyfriend to speak an entire sentence in their talk with Ms. Collins.

But at the end of the day as incisive as it might be, the gender studies portion of the film, is just window dressing. Carrie speaks for everyone who have ever been an ostracized outcast.

I know she spoke for me.

And that should scare the hell out of people more then any psychic powers ever could.


stonerphonic said...

sorry to totally shift into leftfield straight up Bryce, and possibly detract from such a well written review, but how fuckin cool is that damn Carrie promo poster? i honestly can't say i've ever seen that 1 before, and upon closer inspection, it contains some pretty damn hardcore imagery.

that poster, and your review, def didn't suck one little bit...

Biba Pickles said...

I remember when I started my period in the shower, then killed half my school with my psychic powers at prom. We had a small graduation after that. Ah, high school!

Bryce Wilson said...

Many thanks stonerphonic.

And no worries about shifting. Those were exactly the same words that flashed through my mind.

In all fairness you probably haven't seen it because it's from a theater in Texas, who creates their own posters. If they have a poster for a film I'm writing about, chances are I'm posting it.

Now I know the question you must have.

Can they all be possibly as cool?


Yes they can.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Biba: Yeah, one of the many reasons I'm glad you graduated after me.

Stevee Taylor said...

I need to watch this movie again. It used to be one of my favourites when I was 11 (crap, I was that young?!).

Fantastic review=)

deadlydolls said...

I had an argument with a coworker recently when I said this was a genuine classic. He'd said he'd never seen it and believed most people didn't know it or much about it. Eff that. I'd say one of the most respected (rightfully) genre films of modern times.

Kindertrauma just did a really interesting post about it as well, going into how Carrie, like you said, could easily stand for the gay kid or any outcast. It's why the film remains so powerful.

Damnit I hope they bring back the musical!

quizshowbob said...

This was the first movie that I ever bought on laserdisc. After that technology went kaput, I used it as part of a halloween costume.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Stevee: Many thanks. Yipes though! Eleven is pretty young for this. The ending alone must have been traumatic.

@ Emily: Yeah that really is bizarre. I can't really wrap my head around the idea of Carrie being "Unknown". She's pretty damn universal IMO.

@ QSB: Formats from beyond the grave?

Andrew said...

What October collection would be complete without Carrie?
Excellent analysis. I always related to this chick...especially in high school.

le0pard13 said...

Fine examination of this De Palma classic, Bryce. Now, having read the Stephen King novel it is based on decades ago, I've always been of the mind it is that rare case where the film was better than the source text. No slight toward that first SK published work, it remains a powerful novel. But having someone as masterful as Brian frame and choreograph this story, along with powerhouse performance by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, was like catching lightning in a bottle. A few years ago, someone finally released that particular King novel in unabridged audiobook... with Sissy Spacek reading the master's words. I keep hearing it's excellent because of that similar magical pairing. Timing is everything, and so because of your review (and since I'm an audiobook fan), I'm going to do that novel one more time. Thanks, Bryce.

Cinema Du Meep said...

God I love Carrie. One of the best horror films ever. And I really love that Saul Bass-esque poster art!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Andrew: Many thanks man.

@ Le0pard: I listened to it last Halloween. Take it from me. It's phenomenal. So fascinating to listen to her reinterpret the character.

@ Cinema: Seriously, the Drafthouse knows how it's done.

le0pard13 said...

I took your recommendation for the Carrie audiobook, Bryce. Many thanks.

Bryce Wilson said...

Oh Hey Leopard glad you enjoyed it!