When it comes to keeping up with the classics, I have a lot of catch-up to do. This even applies to classic horror films – I’ve been a fan since college but slipped out of the groove for a decade or so and now I’m working my way back in. Recently I watched Carrie for the first time. Considering that it came out in 1976 (I still remember the original trailers), it has held up remarkably well. The story of the child struggling to become an adult against the wishes of an overweening parent never goes out of style. In keeping with a long-term theme on this blog, the religious element was fully represented as well.
The portrayal of Margaret White as a religious fanatic included incongruous elements that had clearly been selected for their ability to set a creepy mood. The statue of St. Sebastian with an abdomen full of arrows seems a strange fit for a Christianity that is apparently Protestant. Mrs. White’s veneration of the Bible settles better in a Protestant milieu than the Catholic background of director Brian De Palma. The decidedly unnerving scene where Carrie returns home from the prom to find hundreds of candles burning recalls a more Popish atmosphere, but the prayer closet resonates better with reformed traditions. This unholy mix creates a disturbing lack of specificity, as if religion itself is the danger.
Writers and movie-makers attempting to scare audiences have long drawn on the stock character of the over-zealous religious believer. One reason may be the lack of understanding such characters demonstrate towards those who do not share their views. While it would be comforting to suggest that this is a mere caricature, experience unfortunately belies this assertion. Religions around the world all have adherents who brook no rivals and claim victory only in convert manifests or body counts. Truly classic horror films draw their power from a deep honesty. And many people are honestly afraid.