by Evan J. Peterson
Tuesday will be the first night of SHRIEK: A Women of Horror Film and Discussion Class at Scarecrow Video. We’ll watch Carrie (discussed below in this post), I’ll tell you some things to look for and some things you probably don’t know about the film, and then we’ll have a community discussion.
Seats are expected to go quickly at SHRIEK, but you can reserve your space in the class here.
Stay tuned for next week’s session on Rosemary’s Baby!
The SHRIEK community film class is designed to offer everybody an affordable, accessible way to learn about film and women’s studies while enjoying kick-ass heroines in some of the best horror films ever made. We hope to inspire more women to get involved in film making, especially in the horror genre, where women are severely underrepresented behind the camera.
Check the Scarecrow calendars for the Tuesday night horror flicks during October and November.
Now, to whet your appetite for Carrie:
Stats on Carrie (1976)
Body count: 134 people, 1 pig (calculated by bodycounters.com)
Nudity: Yes, but only women
Does it pass the Bechdel test?: Yes, very early
Major protagonists: All women
Villains/Antagonists: Mostly women
Major actors: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Lawrence D. Cohen (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)
Does it stick to the book: Yes, quite closely
Carrie is a film all about relationships among women: teacher and student, mother and daughter, friend and friend, bully and scapegoat, killer and victim. The only major relationship not explored is the romantic/erotic relationship between women (we’ll get to that the week of Halloween when we watch The Hunger).
While I don’t usually care for Brian De Palma’s early brand of zany exploitation flicks, Carrie is one of my favorite books, and I’ve grown to appreciate how he handles its transition to the screen. The film sticks pretty closely to the book, with deviations having a lot to do with technical limitations of the time in which it was filmed.
Carrie is a slow burn. Just like the book, the film shocks the audience immediately with a bloody mess of menstruation, followed by an attack (a sexual assault, I believe) as the girls of Carrie White’s gym class pelt her with tampons and chant that she should “plug up” her vagina. This is where we begin: women ganging up to sexually abuse another woman, and in an unusual measure of restraint for De Palma, this is shown to us in a tone of both sympathy and seriousness. This isn’t a madcap sex thriller in which women are only objects; it’s a study in the psychological debasement of a human being that leads to a killing spree. Sissy Spacek is fantastic in her first film role, so good in fact that she was nominated for an Oscar, which at the time was practically unheard of for a horror film.
After the locker room sequence, Carrie is beaten by her deranged mother, who blames the onset of her menstruation on sinful thoughts. From there, the overt horror subsides for most of the film, slowly building tension without many of the usual scare tropes.
Carrie’s simultaneous struggle in home and outside of it leads her to finally stand up to her mother and, in a way, her bullies when she defiantly attends the prom with a popular boy. Although essential minor characters, the boys and men of Carrie aren’t so important to forwarding the plot. Usually, they act on the requests of women.
Of course, this is a horror film, and although I root for Carrie every time, it never ends well for her. Or anyone else, for that matter. What began with blood ends in blood, but the best part of the film is watching how we get from the triggering event to the final act of violence. If Carrie didn’t involve supernatural elements and a horror film style, it could easily be a tragic drama.
Come down to Scarecrow next Tuesday and we’ll geek out over this classic horror film in which a young woman kicks major ass.
Evan J Peterson is a journalist, professor, 2015 Clarion West writer, Lambda Literary Award finalist, and author of Skin Job and The Midnight Channel.