Well, here we are: another year of celebrating camp queer classics has flown by, and we find ourselves at the most important time of the year. The season of the witch is upon us, and with it brings the most highly anticipated edition of The (Not) Gay Movie Club. Previous Halloween editions have included ghoulish gems such as Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Addams Family Values, and Hocus Pocus.
Expectations may be exceedingly high (and rightly so), but this year’s entrant is truly like no other, and arguably our most spinetingling pick. One of the most celebrated horror movies of all time, this gal goes through the ringer and reminds all: don’t mess with the weirdos. Welcome to the stage (and stand away from the splash zone), Brian De Palma’s 1976 thriller Carrie.
Carrie White is the ultimate tormented teen: her mother is an abusive religious fanatic, in the first scene she gets her first period in front of a gaggle of ghoulish bullies in the locker room, and no one really seems to be in her corner except her teacher Miss Collins (because who doesn’t love having their teacher as their best and only friend?). Oh! And she has telekinetic powers. So, when her bullies prank her at prom, dousing her in pig’s blood, she unravels a world of terror and sets the gymnasium ablaze. Suddenly your prom doesn’t seem so bad, huh?
Sissy Spacek does such an incredible job portraying Carrie’s fragility but becomes utterly horrifying in the film’s final act. Her face and body transition to something so villainous… and we are here for it. As soon as that bucket dropped, decades of gay Halloween costumes were born. The supporting cast is strong and has some iconic faces in the mix.
Renowned heterosexual John Travolta, for one, looks glorious: he is an absolute 70s dreamboat, even if he veers a little on the sleazy side. Then there’s the film’s unofficial MVP: P.J. Soles as Norma, the iconic red hat-wearing leader of the treacherous teens. She even wears the hat to prom! (Sidenote: why does every 70s teenager look like they are in their 70s?) But we can’t overlook Mrs Margaret White, a role for which Piper Laurie was nominated for an Oscar. She is an inch away from becoming Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest (with which we have no issue), but she somehow manages to cultivate empathy for this monstrous mother. Truly, the worst part of Mrs White is not her cruelty, her violence, or her religious fixation, but her hair: straw-like, brittle, and hard to look at, her barnet looks as flammable as a 70s prom decoration.
But I’d like to dedicate a little space to Miss Collins, played by Betty Buckley, who is the only adult calling out these harpies for their odious antics. The irony of Carrie’s teacher punishing the bullies only to galvanise their cruelty is not lost on us. After all, it is banishing Norma from prom that ultimately drives her to concoct the pig’s blood stunt on Carrie, and we know how that turns out…
But there is something deeply moving about Miss Collins’ heart-to-heart with Carrie at prom, the day-glow lighting fluctuating, and the off-brand Linda Ronstadt music in the background. Her death stings more than anyone’s, given she’s the only one really in Carrie’s corner. Fun fact #1: Betty Buckey reprised her role as Miss Collins in the ill-fated 1988 Broadway adaptation, one of theatre’s most infamous box office bombs. But as her final appearance in Carrie proves, worse things could happen.
While she is not queer, Carrie’s experiences and difficulties as a tormented, isolated teenager who doesn’t fit in certainly strikes a parallel with that aspect and has surely helped cement her connection to queer audiences for decades. Carrie’s powers and alienation evoke X-Men, a group of outsiders eternally persecuted for their abilities, who also share a loyal queer following. I’m sure she and Jean Grey have a lot to catch up on. Consider this: the bullies torment Carrie for no fathomable reason, her very existence provokes alienation and torment. And, with some goading, she initially relishes the opportunity to try and fit in, be seen as normal and be crowned Prom Queen, only to be rejected. Ring any bells? She’s also terrible at P.E., and I hate to generalise but…
However, the film is more than just campy teen horror fluff (not that there’s anything wrong with that). De Palma is one of Hollywood’s most bold and innovative directors, and he elevates the story to something truly beautiful, harrowing, and darkly funny. Take Carrie and Tommy’s seemingly innocent dance sequence. The scene begins sweet and moving, but as the inevitable tension builds, De Palma’s spinning camera becomes terrifying and borderline nauseating. Or look at the split screen in the prom vengeance sequence; the screen splits, symbolising how polarising high school can seem.
His use of colour is divine, prom’s pulsating reds and blues are glam and eerie in equal measure. The humour, perhaps, stems from really knowing the pain at the core of the movie; there are key scenes I find hard to watch, but the tension is cut with a biting line of dialogue or outrageous telekinetic stunt. Fun fact #2: De Palma and George Lucas were so skint they had to pool together their actresses in casting for Carrie and Star Wars, which means Spacek and Carrie Fisher auditioned for the same part. Imagine Carrie as Carrie!
Carrie may be a little darker than its (Not) Gay Movie Club counterparts, but there’s no denying its rightful place in our illustrious hall of fame. The film caters to outcasts, the bullied, or anyone floating on the outside of the norm. True, Carrie doesn’t get the happy ending she deserves, and her final act of vengeance – arguably one of the most horrifying and electric moments in cinema – may not be the best example of conflict resolution for those tormented by bullies; but for decades, Carrie has cultivated a loyal community of followers, united in feeling ostracised and denigrated. Maybe that’s where her true powers lie after all.
But seriously, how much better would life be if, when Tracey from accounting is making your life an unbearable exercise in tedium, you could blink and career her across the room?