Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Association. Volume 40, Number 3. March 14, 1977.
Film — Review — Cinderella spooks
Imagine this as a fairy story ... Poor little Carrie. In the midst of a steam-enveloped self-caressing reverie in the school shower, after yet another embarrassing failure on the volleyball court, you suddenly discover blood running down between your legs. And the other girls all throw strange things at you. Oh dear, how nasty. First period in your graduating year at high school and you don't know it's coming. What a shock, eh? The principal keeps calling you Cassie and sends you home. You ask your mother why she didn't tell you and she gets you down on your knees to pray for 'the sins of Eve and do penance for the terrible curse of blood. What's more, she locks you in a cupboard!' Shocking. Caught between a religious nut of a mother (whom, it later transpires, actually likes sex) and a bunch of cruel and very trendy classmates, what can you do?
What could anyone do, but become a total introvert and develop whatever powers one has to hand. However Carrie is not just anyone. Carrie is telekinetic. One more taunt from those horrible girls and...well, they'd just better watch it.
They're not that bad really, though. Just human. So when the gym mistress, with the aid of severe detentions, makes them see the error of their ways, one pretty lass persuades her boyfriend to take Carrie to the school prom. That's decency for you, and even though this sports-star Adonis hasn't got a brain in his head, he is still a very nice boy. (Honestly, all this high school characterisation, it really takes you back). Carrie shakes off the mantle of her mother's paranoia, and starts to become 'normal'. She becomes so normal, so pretty in fact, that she and Tommy even win the prize for best couple of the evening. Jolly good show, tears to one's eyes, etc. But, oh dear me, one particularly unpleasant girt just has to go and spoil it for everyone, and our happy heroine blows her mind ...Almost the end of story.
Carrie is unabashed high-camp gothic horror. There's not a serious moment in the film. Take the telekinetic element. Initially it is the means by which we become unedged, but it's still rather funny. For example, a boy on a bicycle who taunts Carrie suddenly comes a cropper. In the retribution scene it is not Carrie so much as the special effects men who go off their trees. King Kong could scarcely do better. The following scene, back home with the by-now completely deranged mother, ends on a note of pure, if incredible and horrific, farce. Any possibility of investigating the state of a mind with powers beyond the norm is swept aside in favour of spectacle.
Take the religious theme. Without even a hint of the thorough development which did so much for The Omen, this whole aspect operates solely on the level of banal motivation.
And finally, take Carrie herself. The slow-motion fantasy of the opening shower sequence finds its ultimate development when she is proclaimed queen of the prom. Again in slow-motion, the colours, smiles, music, the whole ambience, create one of the most laughable and dream-like Cinderella sequences of all time. Because the same structural characteristics are present, the earlier scene is utterly stripped of its import. Even when midnight strikes and Carrie stays to turn everyone else into pumpkins there is a strong echo of that shower-box, the outrageously phallic nozzle has become a leaping and spurting fire-hose.
All the elements are reduced to the level of plot device, to being the means of instigating the next bit of humour or the next bit of horror. The consummate ease with which de Palma pokes fun at everything from high school behaviour to psychological drama and the conventions of the horror genre cannot be the stuff of good cinema. Indeed, by incorporating the agonies of Carrie's menstrual awakening into the dominant mode of humour he is being positively derogatory.
Rising star Sissy Spacek does the best she can with such a situation, which is definitely not enough to win her an Oscar nomination; while the rest of the cast, including the other Oscar nominee Piper Laurie as the mother, do no more than adequately delineate their roles.
Actually, Carrie is based on a single idea which propriety demands I remain silent about. While this idea is quite devastating and even makes the whole thing momentarily worthwhile, it also confirms the essential emptiness of the film. Suffice to say, Carrie is the best piece of frivolous entertainment in town.