Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Story of an Awkward Teenager

Thirty–five years ago today, the screen adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie" made its debut.

Almost immediately, the final scene, in which a hand reaches up from the rubble and grabs Amy Irving by the wrist, became iconic. Virtually everyone, it seems, even those who have never seen the movie, is familiar with it.

I, however, had not heard of that scene when I saw the movie a few weeks after its premiere — and I jumped in my seat when I first saw it — just as I did a few years later when I saw "Alien" on the big screen or when I saw the climactic scene of "Silence of the Lambs" more than a decade later.

If only one could enact an enforceable law that would prevent people from revealing the ending of a movie like "Carrie" to someone who hasn't seen it. It's like blowing the punch line of a joke ...

It was a story to which anyone who ever felt awkward as a teenager could relate.

Carrie (played by Sissy Spacek, who was mostly unknown at the time, at least in comparison to her status after the movie made the theatrical rounds) was an outcast in her high school, taunted and abused by her classmates.

Life wasn't any better for her when she got home from school, either, with a domineering religious fanatic of a mother (memorably played by Piper Laurie) waiting for her.

Of course, no one realized that Carrie had a very special power — telekinetic power — and Carrie herself was reluctant to acknowledge its existence. But when she was upset, it bubbled to the surface and almost took on a life of its own, and, when she could no longer deny what she saw happening around her, she felt compelled to research the possibility.

If only the folks in her world had been paying attention, they might have seen the tell–tale signs that her power was growing beyond her control and becoming more of a threat to others.

But, as humans are apt to do, they were obsessed with their own lives and didn't notice when a light bulb shattered in the girls' locker room and an ashtray sitting on the principal's desk flipped off and broke on the floor.

From most outward appearances, Carrie was a typical shy teenage girl fully engaged in the emotional roller coaster ride known as puberty.

But, if you were paying attention, she was boiling volcano about to erupt.

Well, I suppose the rest of the story is pretty well known by now. Carrie was set up to be escorted to the prom and then to be elected prom queen — and, as she was being crowned, a bucket of blood would be dumped on her — all of which transpired as planned.

But then the unplanned happened.

Carrie's telekinetic powers took over, slamming shut all exits from the gym and starting a fire that killed everyone who wasn't killed in another way. In a truly zombie–like state, Carrie strolled through the carnage out into the night and walked home, her dress still drenched in blood, where she killed her mother with flying knives that pinned her to the wall in a pose that resembled the crucifixion.

That part was a little heavy handed for me.

Both Carrie and her mother were crushed when Carrie used her powers to bring the house down, leaving a pile of rubble where Irving's wrist would be grabbed in the film's climactic scene.

In hindsight, I guess, that scene had the same shock value for that generation as the shower scene in "Psycho" had for the previous one.

And that really isn't surprising, given the admiration that director Brian De Palma has for the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Clearly, the name of the high school — Bates High School — was taken from the villain of "Psycho" — Norman Bates. (I don't recall the name of the high school in King's original novel, but I am quite sure it was not Bates.)

And, while it wouldn't qualify as a variation from the book, De Palma used the same violin theme from "Psycho" whenever Carrie had a telekinetic episode.

There were other differences between the movie and the Stephen King book that inspired it — as there always are — but King himself told an interviewer that it was a "good movie" — and so it was.

It is a bit dated now, but it is still a good movie.