Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Mitchell, Neil. Carrie

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Mitchell, Neil. Carrie

Article excerpt

Mitchell, Neil. Carrie. Leighton Buzzard, UK: Auteur Press, 2013. 112 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-906733-72-8. $15.00.

Neil Mitchell's exploration of Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Devil's Advocates series devoted to the classics of contemporary horror cinema. The series targets a wide audience and solicits contributors from an array of fields, such as academia, journalism, and fiction. Approachable and informative, Mitchell's book presents the key concepts, themes, and motifs necessary to grasp the significance of Carrie within the fields of gender, genre, and horror studies.

Mitchell's interpretation of Carrie is a robust example of formal analysis, paying close attention to themes, stylistic tropes, technical approaches, use of color and sound, dialogue, and visual symbolism. The volume is divided into four parts. Part One, titled "Birth of a Monster," focuses on the determining factors that led to Carrie's status as a classic of horror cinema (15). Part Two, "From Page to Screen: Bringing Carrie to Life," concentrates on De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's eponymous novel published in 1974. Part Three, "Carrie: An Analysis," illuminates the key themes (religion, the supernatural, adolescence, women, authority) and motifs (blood, duality, the Psycho-inspired musical score, split images) of the film. Part Four, "Life After Death: Carrie's legacy," investigates the influence of Carrie regarding themes, structure, and milieu (85). All things considered, Mitchell's book foregrounds the intersection of gender and genre as central to horror studies, reminding us that Carrie is a source text for nearly half a century of horror cinema and media, if not the basis upon which horror's most prolific era (1968-1982) is imagined.

For the reader who is unfamiliar, the story of Carrie White, played by Sissie Spacek in De Palma's adaptation, focuses on the bullied daughter of a religious fanatic, played by Piper Laurie. Due to her unorthodox attire and social anxiety, Carrie is the target for a wave of abuse that culminates in the movie's violent denouement. With unapologetic delight, Carrie's shy mannerisms are laid bare in the opening sequence of the film. "Split in true De Palma fashion into two separate scenes," writes Mitchell, Carrie "is slapped with a baseball cap, bombarded with sanitary towels and tampons and slapped again" (60). Tormented by Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and her dimwitted boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta), Carrie, despite the patronage of Sue Snell (Amy Irving) in the form of prom date Tommy Ross (William Katt), exterminates the majority of Bates High School in a fit of rage after being doused with pig's blood.

In the first chapter, Mitchell situates the film in the contexts of horror film history and contemporary American society. He argues that Spacek's embodiment of Carrie White, not unlike Boris Karloffs performance in Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931), "was a new 'monster' for the modern world--an adolescent girl, frightening to her peers, unsettling for the adult patriarchy and confusing to herself" (11). Mitchell attributes the complexity of Carrie's female-centric, youth-oriented narrative to a variety of factors that emerged in the 1960s and 70s, most specifically linking it to the rise of feminism and changing gender roles.

Yet the difference between Whale's Frankenstein and De Palma's Carrie has more to do with the age and gender identity of the audience member than the representational status of the monstrous-feminine. As a theatrical experience, Frankenstein was a Depression-era counterpart to Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), a dark romance marketed primarily to adults. After World War II, the teenager, both as icon and consumer, radically altered the motion picture landscape, setting the stage for a new wave of horror fandom. The boyhood of Stephen King, for example, was galvanized by the televisual, rather than cinematic, exhibition of the Universal Monsters (1931-1956), a trend that affected the tastes and artistic vision of a number of horror luminaries, including John Carpenter and George A. …

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