"So, how was prom?"
Hello and welcome to the unofficial Brian De Palma website.
Here is the latest news:
a la Mod:
Two of the other four films in the Glasgow "Anniversaries at IMAX" series are James Cameron's Aliens and Tony Scott's Top Gun, both released in 1986. A 1996 film will be voted on and chosen by readers of The List from among three candidates: From Dusk Till Dawn, Scream, and Trainspotting.
David Greven, Professor of English at the University of South Carolina
Hitchcock’s Psycho, with its sense of an essential bleakness at the heart of modernity, is the greatest horror movie ever made. But to choose my personal favorite, it is without question Brian De Palma’s 1976 film Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie and based on Stephen King’s novel.
The film has a mythic, fairy tale, revenge-plot narrative that speaks to timeless themes – the outsider, the ostracized, the pariah. “The Outcast of the Universe,” to use Hawthorne’s phrase. Carrie White, played so magnificently and poignantly by Sissy Spacek, is the the pariah we can all relate to. We get to know and understand her and like her and root for her so intimately that all of the pain and terrible abuse she suffers hurts us as well. The queerness of the film emerges in part from this shared experience of shame and abuse. Brian De Palma’s masterful, voyeuristic, deeply emotional filmmaking style makes the whole experience of watching this film uncannily, intimately personal. Carrie White’s emergent telekinetic powers are directly linked to the terrors and the pleasures of her emergent sexuality — and it is this dynamic that makes the film so queer. In addition, it has a dreamy, fantasy aspect in which we are put in the position of longing for but then – fleetingly –attaining a romantic ideal, in this case the blonde, charming, sensitive prince Tommy Ross (William Katt).
The other queer dimension, oddly, is that this is a film entirely dominated by female power. Carrie’s crazy, sensually passionate religious fundamentalist mother Margaret White (Piper Laurie) commands attention, but so do the gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), the would-be do-gooder Sue Snell (Amy Irving) whose misguided attempts to solve Carrie’s problems put the horror-plot in motion, and the smudgy-lipped teen villain Chris Hargenson, played with aplomb by Nancy Allen. Male power takes a decided back seat to these vivid, memorable women and the dark power they wield. Miss Collins, far from a blandly sympathetic character, is actually quite suspect. You wonder if she may indeed be laughing at Carrie at the prom! She certainly seems to have an overly intense need to punish Chris and may be the person that Chris really wants to punish.
As I argue in my book Representations of Femininity in American Genre Cinema, the movie retells the story of Demeter and Persephone. The famous prom sequence is justly celebrated, but the sequence at the climax – largely De Palma’s own invention – in which Carrie kills her mother by telekinetically impaling her with kitchen utensils, is just as brilliant. One thing about De Palma: you can be laughing, or feeling terrified, and then suddenly you’re emotionally wounded in a profound way. The keening cry that bursts out of Carrie when she realizes that her mother is dead and that she is now utterly alone – that’s the true moment of movie horror.
I’m always reticent to say what my favourite horror film is, as you will probably appreciate there are so many. At the moment and regularly throughout my life, Carrie often thrusts its undead hand into my consciousness. Despite De Palma’s tendency to rip Hitchcock: the style of direction, use of colour and editing are often wildly excessive.
Excess I think is what appeals to the queer viewer, taking pride (and shame) in outrageous spectacle: the frenzy of split screen slaughter, the scenery chewing hysteria of Piper Laurie’s Margaret White, the pig’s blood spattered palette of the red, white and blue of the American dream. It is a nostalgically campy and cult film, it is genre-bending, it is a spectacularly made, classic teen-melodrama-horror. Empathising with the burgeoning sexuality of Carrie, her humiliation, the fantasy of revenge – the film speaks clearly to the queer spectator as a coming out tale. The shame Carrie experiences resonates with the queer spectator who fears that “They’re all gonna laugh at you!”
It’s hard to pick one favorite, but if I had to it’s probably one that a lot of others will choose: Carrie. There’s really nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before about this film, but the real horror of the movie isn’t the supernatural stuff. It’s all the supposedly normal stuff in our everyday lives.
From a queer lens, in which the normal evokes horror, Carrie seems to have all of it, but I’ll follow the rule of three here and just point out the following three big observations, which, again, are hardly original: first you have the adolescent body that becomes an object of horror in the context of the American high school (the opening scene [of Carrie having her period] in the girl’s locker room), then there’s the violence latent in Christianity and its ability to transform parenthood into filicide (Carrie’s mother), and finally the bloody rites of a social hierarchy that stigmatizes outsiders (when Carrie is literally marked with pig’s blood).
The best part of this horror film is that it’s not really possible to identify a single villain: Chris Hargenson and Carrie’s mom are not really individual villains, they’re basically stereotypes and agents of the larger cultures (the church and the schoolyard) that they parrot. I would entice a friend to see it by either saying “It’s so good!” or, y’know, subtle intellectual shaming, because academics are trained to persuade people to consider media in this way.
I can’t believe it was 39 years ago. Oh, man!
Carrie, my first film. I was lucky… a friend of mine, his wife was the casting director on it. So she got me an audition for it. And I got it. It was amazing. It was the first movie for a lot of us, and… it was just playing, we just had a great time. It took three weeks to shoot the prom scene, so there was lots of sitting around, and we just had so much fun, exchanging stories, and bonding, and then we just really became great friends from it. And I already had some friends who were in the film, too, so that was a lot of fun. You get to work with your friends. What’s better than that?
It was interesting, because at first we thought she was a little standoff-ish. And then we realized, no, she’s in character, because her character Carrie was different from the rest of the kids. And that was the way she got into her character. It was fun hanging out with Betty Buckley, who was the teacher. Was a great friend. She always had her little dog with her. John Travolta, it was terrific, and Nancy Allen, Amy Irving… because we were all around the same age. Like I said, it was the first film for a lot of us. We had no idea it was going to be a big film. It was just this low budget little horror movie. And we had no idea that it was going to turn into what it did. And the Academy Awards nominations that it got. We were shocked! It was so much fun, also, the first time I saw it. I went with a bunch of friends to a midnight show in Hollywood. And to see yourself on the big screen like that, and get laughs, that was the best part.
I played “The Beak” in Carrie. I was originally going to be the drummer at the prom, in the band, the drummer in the band. And we got to the first day of shooting, and Brian said, “Mmmm… I don’t know about that. Let’s give you a camera.” So I became the photographer. And I don’t know who’s idea it was to give me the T-shirt with the tuxedo printed on it. But it was a gift, believe me. Because it made me different from everybody else, at the prom. And I had this hat—I still have the hat. [Gets his hat] This is the hat I wore in Carrie—there’s even still some fake blood spots on here someplace. This is my own hat. I got this at Famous-Barr, and, I don’t know, I guess I wore it to the audition, and Brian, the director, said, “Keep it!” So it helped me make the character. And it was a lot of fun. I was really lucky, because I’d worked on the film, I’d been released, I was done shooting, and then like a week later, they called up and they said, “Brian’s come up with another scene. Are you available?” So that’s where we got the tuxedo shop scene, which was all improvised. And improv is what I do, so it was a lot of fun, just coming up with stuff. And a great time—me, and Bill Katt, and Harry Gold—we were the three guys in that scene. We spent a lot of time together, and really became great friends. It was a lot of fun. And here it is, almost 40 years later. Hard to believe that it’s still playing. And it plays every Halloween on TV all over the place.
Newer | Latest | Older