• Claire L. Smith

Carrie (1976) and The Horrors of Womanhood

(spoilers ahead… although if you haven't seen Carrie yet, I really don't know what to say. Also, I'm referring to the 1978 film alone, not the recent adaption or book.)

Brian De Palma's 1976 classic Carrie (based of Stephen King's novel of the same name) is by far one of the most iconic films within the horror genre. The titular character, Carrie White (played by Sissy Spacek), has also earned her own iconic status as one of the most well-known horror heroines of cinema.

Yet, as years have passed, many critics and fans have interpreted the film in many different ways, adding more and more value to the already horrid tale of the Carrie White. Although it's easy to pin Carrie as a story of the consequences of pushing the wrong person too far (and that's a very fair insight), there are many elements that contribute to a greater message within the narrative. For example, the narrative may well have been an exaggerated (and supernatural) metaphor for the horrors of becoming a woman and the societal consequences many women face once they transform from girl to woman.

Carrie's story begins as she 'becomes a woman' upon the arrival on her first period (fun times), an event that sets the theme for the rest of the film. As not only is it a graphic example of the horrors of high school and how awful teenage girls can be, but it is the first time Carrie is directly punished for 'becoming a woman' which then fuels the exploration into the horrors of adolescence and womanhood.

This punishment continues as she returns home to her unbearably abusive and religious mother, Margaret (played by Piper Laurie). Margaret continues to punish Carrie for being a woman in various ways, for example, the horrific scene where we first see Carrie being locked in the cupboard to 'pray' after her mother ridicules her for getting her period.

Margaret calls women sinners, referring to Eve as the reason why women are inherently weak and sinful. She continues to do so by calling natural womanly features such as breasts, 'dirty pillows'. It's even more saddening as Carrie continuously tries to reason with her mother ("breasts, Mama. They're called breasts, and every woman has them"), wanting guidance and acceptance which is constantly rejected.

Yet, as Carrie continues to grow into womanhood, expressing her beauty and sexuality at prom, her powers continue to develop and grow with her. Yet, of course she is once again punished with a humiliating dip in pig's blood.

Carrie's revenge could not only ben seen as a violent outburst prompted by years of abuse, but also possibly a metaphor for her finally embracing her womanhood/power and unleashing it on those who would punish her for it (well and a lot of innocent civilians).

Carrie is easily one of those horror films that you can enjoy at surface level or by digging deeper into possible messages. As if high school wasn't bad enough, becoming a woman in a world that would punish you for it is truly terrifying and all the more makes Carrie a sympathetic character and her story all the more telling of the horrors women experience every day (… although not always to the extent of telekinetic powers of course).

CLAIRE L. SMITH is an Australian author, poet and filmmaker. Her debut gothic horror novella, HELENA is due for release via Clash Books in October 2020.

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Copyright © Claire L. Smith 2020