I hope you all enjoyed your Halloween celebrations! This past week, I participated in a screening of the classic adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie (1976). No, I have not had the opportunity to see the new Carrie featuring Julianne Moore, but the mixed reviews have deterred my interest. If you have seen it, let me know! The classic adaptation is a classic for a number of reasons. Sissy Spacek’s telekinetic and deadly stare cannot be topped. However, I believe Piper Laurie’s depiction of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, is the most gut-wrenching and terrifying aspect of the film. This brings us back to monstrous mothers.
Frankly, Carrie’s telekinesis does not chill me to the bone. The destruction of her school, enemies, and teachers seems like an act of justice within the narrative. Margaret White’s psychological, internal, and mildly physical abuse of her daughter in the name of the Lord is earth shatteringly disturbing to me. Her every utterance of “Eve was weak!” causes me to hate my own gender in fear of disappointing her and being thrown into a closet to meet my Maker (who, apparently, has glowing yellow eyes). Perhaps my own convictions and personal beliefs filter into my interpretation of “Mama”, but the combination of religion and using it as a weapon against a teenager is one that causes uneasiness in my stomach.
Let’s take a moment to sympathize (or empathize) with Carrie White. If you’re not a fan of spoilers, stop here. I think we can all agree that the last thing we want is for our mother to be right —that’s our stubborn human nature. Picture your mom telling you the entire student body will make fun of you. “Yeesh, Ma! What do you know?” Everything. Psychopathic or not, mothers know everything. Then, after destroying your entire school with telekinesis and fire, you just want to take a hot bath to remove pig’s blood from your hair, put on your schoolmarm nightgown, and hit the hay. But no, your mother confronts you and tells you all about the night you were conceived (gross!) and her sinful nature for enjoying intercourse. Then, just as you think you and your mom are having a “moment”, your mother literally stabs you in the back with a knife. Think your prom night was bad? Think again!
The extreme low angle shot of Margaret White performing the Sign of the Cross with a bloodied knife as she floats towards Carrie to murder her is only topped by Margaret’s own death as Carrie crucifies her with kitchen utensils. I find this scene incredibly ironic, completely to DePalma’s credit, as the mother is generally considered to be in her domain in the home, and more specifically the kitchen. Margaret meets her demise in the domestic sphere and the maternal monster is vanquished.
I don’t know which film I find more satisfying in terms of justice for the children of these mothers. Carrie, of course, ends tragically for all parties… and Mommie Dearest (1981) depicts the end of Crawford’s life as a whimper because, even in death, she is incapable of loving the children she “chose” to love. These films stick out in my mind mostly due to the maternal horrors that incapacitate the emotional, physical, and spiritual growth of children. Although my experience with my mother does not resemble these encounters in the slightest, I feel like this type of horror is closer to reality than slasher films, ghostly apparitions, and zombies walking the earth because… it could happen to you!