Horror is not a kind genre to women. Whether they’re the good guy or the villain, women typically have to face a lot of pain, suffering, and violence directed towards them. Rage and Revenge is a column dedicated to taking a deeper look at how these female characters direct their rage and/or get their revenge on those who have wronged them, and the unique stories that are created as a result.
In 1974, horror author Stephen King published his first novel Carrie, the tale of a young girl with telekinetic powers and a tormented life who wreaks havoc on her hometown and her high school after a cruel prank is played on her at the senior prom. Two years later, Carrie received the Hollywood treatment, as most of Stephen King’s future works would too when Brain De Palma’s Carrie (1976) was released in theatres. Even 45 years later, two remakes, and a brilliant (in my opinion) sequel, Carrie is still an incredibly important piece of horror cinema, especially for female horror viewers.
The opening minutes of Carrie start like many horror movies do, with a room full of naked teenagers. The girls are changing after gym class, where it’s made abundantly clear that Carrie White is the butt of everyone’s joke. After failing to show the same sporty prowess as the other girls in her class, she is ridiculed and laughed off the pitch. Yet in the locker room, there’s no telling the losers from the popular kids. As the girls shower, Carrie doesn’t stand out amongst those who have chosen to mock her. Stripped of their clothes, and not having to show off their sporty skills, Carrie seems to fit in with everyone else. That is until menstrual blood starts pouring down her leg.
I always welcome the inclusion of periods in horror movies, because honestly, there is nothing more horrifying as a teenage uterus owner than getting your period. Films like Ginger Snaps (2000) are a perfect example of how to intertwine the themes of puberty and horror, but Carrie was the OG menstrual horror movie.
What makes this scene all the more traumatic for Carrie is the fact she doesn’t know what is happening to her. Much like Vada in My Girl (1991), Carrie thinks she’s haemorrhaging and rushes to her classmates for some help and understanding. Despite their obvious dislike for Carrie, this is a chance for the rest of the girls in her class to show their sisterhood, and help her understand one of the most confusing times in a teenager’s life. Instead, they choose to use this as a weapon against her to emphasise her otherness.
By this stage, it seems as though all the other girls have already got their period, and rather than welcoming Carrie into the fold, they choose to continue to view her as an outsider and judge her for her lack of knowledge surrounding puberty. Her classmates then use period products to humiliate Carrie even further. Naked, asking for help, and bleeding on the floor, Sue, Chris, Norma, and the rest of the class pelt Carrie with sanitary towels and tampons, among cries of “Plug it up!”
The only sympathetic person in the locker room is gym teacher Miss Collins. At first, she reprimands the rest of the class simply for bullying Carrie, but when she realises Carrie doesn’t understand what is happening to her own body, she is more gentle, providing the care and understanding that the others failed to show her.
As Miss Collins tries to calm Carrie down, we see the first hints of Carrie’s powers as the lightbulb above them explodes. In the novel, Carrie has memories of using her powers as a child, but in the movie, her powers seem to manifest along with her period and puberty. Getting her period and ‘becoming a women’ like everyone else in her class has the potential to enable her to fit in, and yet people like Chris and Norma have made it clear this is never going to happen. Instead of giving her what she needs to fit in, her body has instead equipped her with the powers she needs to stand up for herself and start to win some battles instead of constantly being on the losing side. Her telekinetic powers are like a natural defence mechanism, ready to be used when things get too much for her to show that she’s not weak.
We soon find out that it’s not just in the classroom that Carrie has a hard time. When the school principal tries to comfort her after the locker room incident, he repeatedly calls her Cassie, leading Carrie to flip an ashtray off his desk. A boy on a bike also harasses her on the way home, calling her “creepy Carrie” before Carrie causes him to fall off his bike. However, the worst is waiting for Carrie when she arrives home in the form of her mother, Margaret White.
The reason Carrie had no knowledge of periods is due to her mother and her strong religious beliefs. Margaret thinks periods are connected to sin, and by keeping Carrie in the dark, she hoped to keep her ‘pure’ forever. Carrie wants to sit down and talk about the changes in her body, to get a better understanding of what’s happening to her, and to get the comfort she’s been craving all day. Instead, Margaret is only worried about her own feelings, and the way Carrie will be perceived as sinful. She locks Carrie in her prayer closet so she can pray for forgiveness, but really, it’s a way for Margaret to distance herself from her daughter. Instead of actually having to deal with Carrie’s problems, she turns it around and puts the emphasis on Carrie to pray and solve the problem herself.
Because of this, Carrie doesn’t know how to process or talk about her feelings properly. Her mother isn’t willing to discuss her issues with her, and with no other outlet to reach out to for help, all Carrie knows is the rage building inside her and the feeling of being shut away with her problems and no hope of escape. It’s no wonder that as the problems in her life get more complicated, Carrie adapts and finds a way to turn her rage into something that can help her gain more control over her life.
Due to the guilt she feels over the locker room incident, Sue asks her date, Tommy, to ask Carrie to the prom instead. While Carrie is initially hesitant, and mistrusting of Tommy’s true intentions, she eventually agrees to go and relaxes into the excitement of a night of teenage normalcy. She tells her mother, “I have to try to be a whole person before it’s too late.” It’s clear that Carrie feels that if she graduates high school with everyone still viewing her as an outsider and a weirdo, she’ll never be able to shed that label and explore a more normal life.
Carrie not only tells her mother she’s going to prom with Tommy, but she also tells her mother about her powers. Her mother once again tries to run away from the serious discussion, and not give Carrie what she desperately craves, which is just to have a normal conversation with her mother about what’s happening in her life. Carrie has always tried her best to stand up to her mother but is usually overpowered by Margaret and shoved into her prayer closet. Her powers not only give her the telekinetic strength to take on her mother and make her voice be heard, but the fear that her powers strike in her mother mean that for once her mother shuts up long enough to listen to her.
As Carrie gets ready for the prom, Margaret seems to recognise that she is unable to stop her in her usual ways. First, she tries to point out that everyone will be able to see Carrie’s “dirty pillows” and how sinful they are, but Carrie points out that they’re only breasts, and perfectly normal. Margaret then tries to suggest that Tommy isn’t coming at all, and it’s all been one big joke. Finally, she says the thing that sticks with Carrie when things go wrong later – “They’re all gonna laugh at you.” Carrie is angry and nervous here, and capable of a huge amount of power, and yet she chooses to merely subdue her mother, pushing her onto the bed and saying she cannot move until after Carrie has gone.
Once we get to the prom, Carrie blends in among the other girls much as she did at the start of the movie. She’s really no different than anyone here, and it’s clear that Chris, Norma and the others have chosen to pick on her simply because she’s an easy target who usually puts up with everything they throw at her. However, she’s about to prove them very wrong.
Chris was the one who started the bullying in the locker room, and the one who skipped detention and ended up getting herself banned from the prom, and yet she still takes no accountability for her actions and blames everything on Carrie for merely existing. If she doesn’t get to have a nice prom, then neither does Carrie, hence the pig’s blood prank.
When the pig’s blood hits Carrie, in the first moment she’s looked completely relaxed and happy in the entire movie, her world is plunged into silence. Carrie’s story started with blood and it ends with blood as well, with her covered in it, standing alone in front of her classmates, begging for help, and receiving only mocking. Norma is the first to burst into laughter, but it seems to Carrie as if the entire prom is laughing at her. Even though she managed to ignore them at the time, her mother’s words coming flooding back into her mind. “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” To Carrie, it seems as though the teachers, including her biggest supporter Miss Collins, are laughing at her as well. Feeling that she is completely alone in the world, Carrie channels all the pain, grief, and rage she has felt in her entire life and uses it to wipe out everyone in the gym hall. Sue only survives because Miss Collins had pushed her out the door moments earlier, thinking she was involved in the prank as well.
There’s no hesitation from Carrie here, she slams every door and means of escape in seconds, and gets to work electrocuting, crushing, and burning those left around her. No one has ever shown a moment’s hesitation about mocking her mercilessly over the years, so why should she falter now?
Carrie walks out of the hall, slaughtering Chris and her boyfriend, Billy, in their car on the way, before she finally makes it home. Once home, she seems able to relax a little, stripping off her blood-covered dress and washing the stains off herself in the bath. She then looks to her mother for comfort, but in a scene we’ve seen played out many times before, Margaret is only interested in centring the conversation on herself and offering no support to her hurting daughter. Much like Chris, Margaret is interested in shifting the blame for her own actions onto Carrie, so that she has someone to punish that isn’t herself. Though with Carrie’s powers proving that she may soon become too strong for Margaret, her mother decides the only logical thing to do is to kill her.
Literally stabbed in the back by her mother, the two fight, before Carrie uses her powers to stab her mother with various kitchen objects, pinning her to the doorframe and killing her. At this point, Carrie realises that she may not have been as in control of her powers as she thought, as the rage appears to have overtaken her. As the house starts to fall apart around her, Carrie retrieves her mother and heads for her prayer closet. While her mother was never able to offer any real comfort to her, Carrie chooses to die with her in the place that was meant to provide safety and security, but really just left her feeling trapped and more alone.
Overall, Carrie is a fascinating if extreme study of what it’s like to be a teenager. It shows how isolating and confusing it can be to get your period, how your parents can think they have your best interests in mind but really they are thinking about themselves, and how easily your peers can leave you feeling alone and bullied from actions that they probably don’t give a second thought to.
Had Carrie been allowed to grow up and escape the confines of her mother, her hometown, and her high school, she may have been able to become the “whole person” she’d always dreamed of being. Instead, like many of us who experienced bullying in high school, she’ll never be able to shake off that part of her and the damage they did to her.
Carrie’s rage is justified, and her revenge is a delight to watch, but it all feels a little heartbreaking knowing that Carrie is going to die with the rest of her senior class. While the 2002 television movie remake has Carrie fleeing town with Sue to hopefully start a new life, the original ending with Carrie dying does seem more fitting. With all that’s been done to her and all that she’s done in return, there was probably no chance of her living the life she had dreamed of all these years. We can only hope that her actions will have a long-lasting effect on the town, and remind others that the way they treat people can have devastating consequences.
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