My friend Dennis Paoli says there are two kinds of horror movies, and since his screenwriting credits include Re-Animator, I treat his categories with respect. Either you organize a movie around nine decapitations, he says, spacing them at at ten-minute intervals, or else you work up to a single big decapitation at the end.
Carrie is a notable example of the latter type: a movie with a long, long buildup, culminating in general slaughter. The big question, then, is, “What happens on the way to the bloodbath?” In the case of Carrie, the answer is, “Not much.” If you watch the picture today, twenty-three years after its release–and you should, to get the most out of Katt Shea’s The Rage: Carrie 2–you will be struck by its lack of incident. The fatal prom takes up a full twenty-five minutes of the film; another fifteen or twenty are devoted to the bloodshed in the prom’s aftermath, and to the coda and closing credits. Nearly half the movie is payoff, and that half is realized at the pace of an adagio, so that Brian De Palma may demonstrate what his studies of Hitchcock have taught him.
It is not enough for De Palma to set a bucket of pig’s blood over the spot where Carrie will stand. He also must track the course of the attached rope, starting from the lair of the pranksters and craning slowly to the rafters. Then, for good measure, he retraces the route, following it through the eyes of good-girl Amy Irving. I doubt the mechanics of a practical joke have ever been so exhaustively demonstrated–especially when the response to the joke will defy the laws of physics. And what is Sissy Spacek’s Carrie doing, while this minimal plot device is being put into place? She’s getting wet, literally and figuratively. From the opening credit sequence (a montage of autoeroticism in the shower) to the prom itself, where Carrie deliquesces in the arms of her date, De Palma keeps his protagonist moist with anticipation, though for a climax other than the one she gets.
To give a more general answer to the question posed above: On the long road toward a horror movie’s bloodbath, we learn why revenge will be taken. In Carrie, the explicit reason for the rampage is that the protagonist has been mocked and ostracized. The implicit reason: She’s been denied sexual pleasure. And then there’s a third justification, which may be imputed not to the character but to De Palma himself. As master revenge-taker, he humiliates and destroys Carrie because she’s the girl who won’t put out. Take it from someone who is close to De Palma’s age and can recall the sexual mythologies of the sixties and seventies: All women were supposedly begging for it. Unfortunately, too many of them were repressed and wouldn’t come through.