Saturday, 28 May 2022


(The final instalment of ‘Mutants Are Our Future’ arrives with yet more PLOT SPOILERS.)

After ’X-Men’ and ’The Tomorrow People’, ’Scanners’ (David Cronenberg, 1981) features a titular new generation with great telepathic powers. Except in this case the trope’s transposed to the body horror genre. The initial scenario has a remarkable similarity to the opening of ’Tomorrow People’, if Jedikiah had got to Stephen first. But from there it shifts to X-Men, with the mentor/good mutant/bad mutant central trinity of Professor X/Cyclops/Magneto replaced by Dr. Paul Ruth/Cameron Vale/Darryl Revok.

But of more interest to us is the setting, which is far from the sticky-back-plastic Futurism of ’Tomorrow People’. It starts out in the smooth sheen of a fast food outlet before panning out into a shopping mall. And from there locations remain urban-on-default, metropolitanly anonymous. The HQ of ConSec is about as corporately bog-standard as the company’s name, the sort of building which stands fifteen stories tall but is so ubiquitous you pass by without noticing. And over here the liminal space of a train station - all steel, plastic and plexiglass. It’s the settings which don’t conform to this anti-aesthetic which stand out, such as the bare bricks of the Doctor’s warehouse base.

There’s a practical necessity behind this, given away in the end credit for ‘the Canadian Film Development Corporation’. A Toronto native, Cronenberg had filmed there (and in nearby Montreal) simply because it was cheaper. Not only was home to hand, tax breaks were to be had.

This was part of a general phenomenon, called Hollywood North, where film production was induced to go North, much in the way manufacturing was heading south to Mexico. Just two years earlier Toronto had become the third largest film production centre, after New York and Los Angeles.

Cities had effectively become interchangeable anyway, the same urban architecture the same streets with the same brand-name stores. Why go to New York, when you could just shove in some stock footage of the Statue of Liberty at the start, shoot the rest somewhere cheaper and save some bucks?

Ironically, ’Scanners’ seems to have arrived here from the opposite direction. A film overtly set in Canada risked looking provincial to international markets, so they chose to cut down the local references as much as possible. And yet, however it was hit on, this featureless look did so much to set the mood. An anti-aesthetic has its own aesthetic, deliberate or otherwise.

Added to which are the performances. The style is ‘dry’, with dialogue undynamic to the point of stilted. There’s a similar distancing effect to watching a dubbed film. Again, it’s unclear how deliberate this is. Cronenberg is not exactly an actor’s director, and other films of his (particularly from this era) feel much the same way. But it’s noticeable that two key early scenes are a public lecture and a corporate board meeting, habitats where undynamic dialogue can feel at home. The film also has long sequences without music, merely ambient sounds.

Okay, but why make a film in this anti-style? While both ’X-Men’ and ’Tomorrow People’s faith in the kids of tomorrow may have been informed by Sixties counter-culture, ’Scanners’ is specifically about what it calls “a Scanner underground”. Hippies had given themselves the nickname ‘heads’. (As John Basset McCleary has said “the counterculture seldom called itself hippies.... More often, we called ourselves freaks or heads”). And, living up to their name, had shown a proto-New Age interest in mind powers. We see some of the Scanner underground sit in a circle around a shining light.

It turns out what’s turning people into Scanners is a pregnancy drug, Ephemerol, their powers an unintended side effect. Most commentators see the influence of the real-life Thalidomide scandal here, and they’re doubtless right. But there also seems a reference to the CIA’s role in spreading the take-up of LSD in the counter-culture, by being so keen for test subjects. (A story so eulogised by Ken Kesey.) And LSD was forever being feted by hi… sorry, heads for being mind-expanding, if not mind-blowing.

Except of course that by 1981 the counter-culture was going if not gone - and that’s exactly the way it’s portrayed. While corporations have remade the world in their image, the last of the Scanner underground are secreted in a safe house, hiding behind outwardly normal suburbia. These aren’t homo superiors about to inherit the earth, but scattered, isolated and afraid. At that corporate conference, there’s a disparaging reference to “dolphins and freaks”.

Most commonly in popular culture, the later hippie underground (from ’68 on) gets divided into hawks and doves, the ones who had the good grace to admit defeat versus those fanatical bomb-planting Weathermen. And people are forever trying to map Professor X/Magneto to Martin Luther King/Malcolm X, or essentially similar variants, which they in turn map to reasonable moderation/incendiary extremism.

And indeed there’s a brief clip of a younger Revok still institutionalised, spouting aggressive psychobabble and sporting a third eye drawn on his forehead. Which can’t help but recall that other great negative exemplifier of the Sixties, Charlie Manson, with his similarly placed swastika tattoo.

But this film seems closer to the trajectory of the two ex-Yippies, Jerry Rubin versus Abbie Hoffman; one becoming a Wall Street hotshot, the other staying a radical campaigner even as the public eye left him. By taking over Ephemerol production and eliminating his competition by rather literal means, Revok essentially becomes a capitalist - joining them to beat them. (It’s said of him: “We were the dream, he’s the nightmare.”) While Vale starts out the film as a vagrant, foraging for left-overs.

(For all that, 1981 may still seem a strangely late date to be dealing with such a theme. Perhaps this reinforces how rooted the trope is in that era. Or just how provincial Toronto then was.)

The film is exceptionally wooly about what these Scanner powers actually are, culminating in the gloriously absurd insistence they can hack computer networks because both have a “nervous system”. On the other hand, despite the Eighties being so much his era Cronenburg was in many ways a throw-back. Though not to the Sixties, but before. He’s like one of those old-style science fiction writers who saw their job as chewing their way through ideas. And his ‘body horror’ is more often physical manifestations of mental states.

So the downside of possessing these powers, soon dismissed in ’Tomorrow People’ as mere teething troubles, is never let go of here. Even ’Carrie’ assumes the problem all comes down to social acceptance. Here being a Scanner brings its own intrinsic problems, but neither is this the cautionary tale, the Do Not Enter sign, so common in SF. Being a Scanner is a crisotunity on about every level.

Regular doses of Ephemerol are required just to keep the crazy clamour of thought voices at bay. (Meaning Ephemerol somehow both grants your powers and limits them. But never mind.) Scanning and being scanned are inherently painful, a nosebleed if you’re lucky, if you’re not - in the film’s most infamous scene - your head blowing clean off. While the powers often seem inherently empathetic, you may feel others’ pain even if you were the one who caused it.

And if minds can meet and probe one another, what does that say about the self? Identity confusion seems perpetual, with a frequent motif a flickering inter-cut between faces. In the first ’Tomorrow People’, Stephen is excitedly told “you’re becoming one of us.” Here, encountering another Scanner, Vale equally excitedly proclaims “I’m one of you.” To be met with the confused reply “you’re one of me?”

Hippy culture was deeply conflicted between individualist egoism (“don’t lay me down with your rules, man!”) and collectivism (communal living and so on), and this is embodied by the central conflict. Revok’s scheme is to wipe out all the other Scanners so he might be in control. While the Scanner underground, in their group-mind seance, intone…

“Scan together
“And our minds will begin
“To flow into each other
“Until they become one
“One nervous system
“One soul
“One experience
“And frightening
“So frightening to lose yourself
“To lose your will
“To the group will
“To lose yourself
“To the group self
“ the group self
“The power we can generate
“We who focus our scans
“Together is fantastic

…even the good guys accepting the duality of the process.

Formally, the film’s main innovation is to turn the central trinity into a family. Of a particular kind. If the X-Men are an honorary family, non-siblings who look after one another anyway, here we have the opposite relationship, a feuding family, as if out of a Greek tragedy. They find that Dr. Ruth was both Vale and Revok’s father, and they have spent the film as feuding siblings. When Revok can’t persuade Vale to join him, he decides to instead psychically absorb him, blackly declaring “you’re going to be with me, no matter what. After all, brothers should be close”. In the final twist, it’s Vale who absorbs him.

And one reason why so many stories keep events within the family is that it more easily allows us to frame the drama as warring aspects of one bifurcated mind. And this is all over ’Scanners’, as in the scene where Vale argues with the artistically inclined Scanner inside a giant model of his own head. It’s not particularly clear how things go after the credits, or what “we won” means. But we can assume the plural term counts, that “we” are the Scanners in general, that Vale usurps Revok’s role and maintains Ephemerol production, but without intending to press his charges into any kind of programme. If Revok’s philosophy is “join ‘em to beat ‘em”, Vale joins him in order to transcend him.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ruth and ConSec’s security head Keller are similarly bifurcated, Dr. Ruth rejecting what Revok has become and in denial of his own role in it, Keller scheming with him. Culminating in the scene where Dr. Ruth soliloquises his mistakes to himself, as Keller assassinates him. As the hippies liked to say: “it’s all in your head, man.”

Saturday, 21 May 2022


Pavilion Estate, part of the Brighton Festival

”There are many groups like this one, all over the country, all over the world, just waiting for the moment of transformation”

TRIPLE LOCK PLOT SPOILERS! Normally I stick up a plot spoiler notice just in case anyone might care. This time, spoil means spoil! If you’re going to see this show, which is on till 12th June, you really don’t want to read this review first!

Anyone else old enough to remember the old ’End of Part One’ sketch where the cinema patrons end up getting seats within the film itself? The performances of DreamThinkSpeak, which in their own words “interweave life performance with film and instillations to create extraordinary journeys” are something similar.

Rather than setting up fixed areas for stage and audience you wander round an environment, coming across actors and interacting with them, as if you’ve been dipped in their world. After ’Before I Sleep’ and ‘The Rest Is Silence’, this the third of their Festival performances I’ve seen.

The Pavilion estate (for non-locals, a large area in central Brighton) is presented as a town in itself, under the dominion of the Governess. But steps are afoot to remove her, with a group of revolutionary cells led by her own brother Lucas. Buying a ticket is enough to get you mixed up in all this.

The politics, it has to be be said, were typical of this type of thing. The system is a semi-feudal affair, focused on the Aunt Sally figure of the Governess, not a social and economic relation which requires changing. (Though the olde-worlde look of the Pavilion estate may have been a factor here.) Revolutionaries are well-meaning middle-class types, cops hard-working proles. And those revolutionaries are divided into big-hearted idealists and violent fanatics. They first denounce the Governess’ dinner debate as a farce, but then participate in it. In fact, there’s too much formal debating in general. Their plan seems to be to tell her she’s not wanted, at which point she’ll be obliged to leave. Good luck with that…

However, I’m not sure how much that matters. Because it wasn’t really what the thing was about. Playing up the immersive nature of the drama, the actors don’t broadly soliloquise but directly address us, look us in the eye. At various points, we’re appealed to by both cops and revolutionaries. And we’ve no notion who we can trust, or whose plans are even credible. So, bewildered, we follow the guides around like human baggage hoping some resolution is reached.

Which, pretty much, is the state we live our lives in. But, by standing so near the spotlight, we start to feel singed by it. And I’d have to say I know this feeling! You turn to radical political groups because you want to get unchained, but before you know it you’re tied in knots.

I kept thinking how much this miasma of mistrust felt like descriptions of pre-revolutionary Russia. Forgetting that the Festival programme had already confirmed this was based on Dostoyevsky’s ’The Possessed’, which is about… as you may have guessed… pre-revolutionary Russia. In its own words, “plunging [us] into the feverish and hallucinatory world of Dostoyevsky’s vision.” This isn’t agitprop, but absurdist tragi-comedy for us to get ourselves mired in.

And then there’s technology. I’ve not read Dostoyevsky’s book, but assume characters in it don’t lug tablets around, which dispense clues and instructions of doubtful provenance. And of course modern activist culture does organise on-line, for both better and worse, the smartphone replacing the Little Red Book.

The show starts several days early, when you’re sent an email containing a weblink to Lucas speechifying. Then ends with a room of screens, each devoted to a character (both activist and cop), all talking at once. Which becomes a kind of summation of the experience. Remember the William Burroughs phrase, “Ain’t nothing left here now but the recordings”? (And modern life as an indecipherable babble seems a theme of the company.)

Everyone has to have a kind of origin story which led to them getting involved in the underground. Its pretty much the first thing we’re told. This is something commonly done when activist culture gets represented in the media, as a kind of instant motive, despite it not being at all accurate of that world. But then something smarter is done with this…

One of the things you run past is a Jam exhibition currently on at the Pavilion. And it’s hard not to think of those famous lines: “What a catalyst you turned out to be, Loaded the guns then ran off home for your tea”. They prove apt, when Lucas takes the opportunity to bump off his dominating big sister. All those grand, fine-sounding political speeches, and it had been a simple case of sibling rivalry all along.

Crucially his motives are not despotic, to seize control from her, but narrow and entirely personalised. You could call them petty, insofar as that term could be applied to murder. On accomplishing this he immediately disappears from the narrative, his real work done.

Though, as you’re arbitrarily assigned different guides on arrival, your perspective might change accordingly. Ours was Stela Maris, presented as the idealistic heart of the group, who begs troubled head Lucas not to shoot. (When you hear them clashing, off-stage but audible, it’s not unlike being a child and hearing your parents argue.) But Lucas was guide to his own group, who might well have seen in him a more tragic figure, playing out a kind of Greek tragedy in which the rest of us were more incidental.

Similarly, while my group did some very English squirming and eye-averting when asked by both sides to join up, I wondered if others might become more engaged. Arifa Akbar’s Guardian review suggests her group did. While a review in GScene commented more sourly: “We listen to radicalised young people talk of lost childhoods and a system which crushes them, we look around and admire the baroque and rococo back rooms we find ourselves in. We stay silent.”

All of which is to the good. However…

The show is not short of incident, sometimes quite dramatically so. But incident is not necessarily the same thing as narrative. And the hectic rushing from one supposedly ‘safe’ place to another, then again, did feel at times like incident was trying to take the place of narrative.

And the use of technology did seem a little half-hearted. It mostly seemed additional, the tablets we were asked to carry just underlining things we were already seeing or being told by our guide. Had someone switched theirs off at the start, there’s little they’d have missed. Dramatically, there should have been more times when the tablets were guiding us, demanding our trust.

I wondered if this was out of concern that some more technofeared attendees might fail to follow along. But a suggestion at the initial briefing that we’d need to work together, moving as a group, might have allayed that. Perhaps a more extended period at the start, where the tablets try to guide you to your guide, with plans getting stymied at the last minute.

Overall… well, it’s a hard thing to get a grip on. If it often feels like a frustrating experience, that we pass through spaces without really engaging with anything – well, that’s kind of the point. It is, by a strict definition of the term, Absurdist. Things make no sense, then they’re over, and it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to deal with that. And that conflicts by definition with the standard dramatic needs, for closure and all of that. If you come away feeling dissatisfied and uninvolved, that’s kind of the point. What might feel like basic audience needs can just be at odds with the event.

But then again, other things have been Absurdist without this seeming so much of a problem. While it has much to commend it, you feel like it’s not *quite* there yet, it needs a little more road testing and fine-tuning. It couldn’t be claimed it equals their previous two festival offerings.

And finally (as they say on the news)… if this was more absurdist tragicomedy than political drama, there was still one clue which side the company might fall on. In the room of screens, both activists and cops supply a personal anecdote of how they came to be involved. And each activist has their own story while, like a troll farm, the cop tales are all identical…

Saturday, 14 May 2022


Kings Place, London, Fri 5th May

Put together two existing folk outfits, the trio Gigspanner with the duo Edgelarks, and you come away with the Big Band. Ex-Steeleye Span member Peter Knight is their founder. But their chief asset is the voice of Hannah Martin.

It’s unassuming, at times barely pitched above the level of the instruments, but has something mesmerising to it. It feels like its being sung straight at you, like a child sung a lullabye, rather than addressed to the room. It is, in short, the ideal voice for British folk. Knight sings numbers too, in fact two other members get a go, and none do badly. But Martin’s is the voice.

They also, at times, have a harmonica. Which drives the tracks its on, as much as it worked on Sixties beat numbers. A feeling perhaps accentuated by their having a bongo player rather than a full drummer. It feels like the track’s being propelled from the front, not pushed along form behind, and so is more spirited. True, this is possibly not the most authentic folk instrument. But then most things we think of as ‘authentic’ folk actually aren’t.

While their chief drawback is a tendency to muso-ness. My general attitude to solos is that they’re okay for consenting adults, but should really be done within the privacy of the home. Here, they’re relay soloing by the third number. And it never seems a good sign when the audience applaud at the end of a solo, as if tacitly agreeing that it’s been inserted into a track rather than rising out of it. By the time we’ve had a… yes, really… a bongo solo, it does feel like the path of wisdom has been abandoned for the road to excess.

And these two things, the folky voice and the endless soloing, seem entirely at odds with one another. Perhaps best demonstrated when the opening lyrics “I’ll tell you a story and it won’t take long” did indeed turn out to take long. Leaving me feeling like this was a gig constantly flipping between heads and tails.

The opening number, ’Awake, Awake’. Though, if Kings Place looks to have been redecorated, this is not from the gig…

All Saints Church, Hove, Wed 11th May
(Part of the Brighton Festival)

Contemporary composers, I continue to dabble, though I do sometimes feel I’m just looking for the soft centres to suck. I find this music runs the whole range from enthralling to endurance test, with little to tell you which you’re getting until you’re actually getting it.

This programme was a sampler of six short pieces. (Down from the original seven, after one was found on closer inspection to not be short enough.) Which in one way is handy. If it’s just sandpaper for the ears, at least it won’t be rubbing against them for too long. But on the other hand sometimes you need to get thoroughly soaked in a piece before it starts to make sense to you.

It was Iannis Xenakis’ name which most attracted me… okay then, his was the only name I’d previously heard of! I had found myself enjoying his work before. I was to find out, however, that his piece (‘Paille In the Wind’) was shortest of all, less than five minutes.

A sonorous cello was interspersed with a rather harsh piano, plonking notes like heavy droplets of rain, with the two never playing at the same time. The programme noted that Iannis the Greek “is not known as a miniaturist”, but more for “granite monoliths”. And I’m not sure he’s done one now, as it seemed to me to stop without really starting. (The programme also spoke as if parallels between the instruments would reveal themselves, while my cloth ears only found distinctions.)

When you hear Kaija Sarriaho composed ’Light And Matter’ after watching the play of light across the park from her apartment window, into might sound more like something from the Romantic era than the granite monoliths of the Contemporary world. And low and behold it did seem like an interchange between the two. Never too syurpy, never too austere, it proved a good place to hang out.

Peter Copley ’Scherzos And Arias’, at about twenty minutes, was the monolith of the night. But to me it occupied the same interchange, lifted up by some lively clarinet. In short, it was the two ‘inbetweenish’ works who served up porridge just right form me.

So not a high hit rate for me. But the engaging nature of the Riot Ensemble was refreshing, not at all serious and austere, even offering to meet everyone down the pub after!

Saturday, 7 May 2022


(More of the series ‘Mutants Are Our Future’. With PLOT SPOILERS, albeit for a 1976 film.)

Does ’Carrie’ (Brian de Palma, 1976) belong in a series about mutants, alongside the X-Men and Tomorrow People? If not commonly seen in their company, that’s because this came out under the heading of a horror film. Rather than mind powers being evolutionary and futuristic, here the suggestion is they’re inherited, a rare witch gene, as in ’The Shining’. What’s more the film needs this, to be based around inheritance and lineage. If her power were to come from, say, a green-glowing meteorite she found it wouldn’t be a trivial modification - everything would be changed.

But if we accept that the root of the thing is puberty manifested as powers, this should be at the head of the queue. As Carrie White’s first period comes in the film’s second scene, we can’t definitely say she didn’t have her powers before. Yet movie logic assumes events are causal. And her first manifestation is almost immediate - she makes a light bulb smash.

A repressed and repressive mother has left her entirely unprepared for this moment. So, just like someone gaining mutant powers, she simply doesn’t know what’s happening and freaks out. She says later she thought she was dying, and in a sense one Carrie does die and gets replaced by another. Carrie White becomes Carrie Red. They’re even separated out into two people on the poster (up top).

(Though we may have happy happenstance to thank for this. The original opening scene, where Carrie’s powers manifested as a child, was shot but then abandoned for technical reasons. And there’s an added reason why we’re better off without it. With the narrative structure we have, we wonder alongside her teachers how a girl of sixteen could be completely ignorant of menstruation. Then run into the mother-sized answer shortly after.)

The scene works, of course, because all the other girls do know what’s happening to her. As we do in the audience. And audience awareness in horror films is always an interesting subject. They often accept we know the tropes and rely on timing their reveal, feigning shocks and throwing jump scares at us like a ghost train ride. With ’Carrie’, at the very least from her outburst in the Principal’s office, we’re let in on what’s going to be happening. Even if you went in not knowing the premise, you’d have guessed by then. But significantly, there’s not a moment where Carrie herself becomes aware. Figuratively, and for quite a long stretch literally, we’re aware there’s a bucket of blood up on a ledge that’s about to tip.

Though this is double-edged. There’s a brief scene which tellingly shows White being the last name in the register, a sign of her place in the pecking order. In such moments our sympathies naturally go to our protagonist. She’s warm-hearted and smart. When her powers manifest she sensibly checks books out of the school library, which will help explain them.

But even as we witness the strangeness of her upbringing, we do more than that - we identify with her. The film may be able to get away with this because the rough-house world of schooling leaves us all convinced that we were our school’s Carrie, the weird outsider kid no-one really liked.

For that reason, while the film suggests others have these powers, Carrie’s the only one we actually see. So the social power of telepathy, such a mainstay of ’The Tomorrow People’, doesn’t show up here. Carrie’s telekinetic. Her powers relate to things, not people.

…which takes us to another often overlooked feature. While it’s ostensibly a horror film (marketed for those with “a taste for terror”) for long stretches it works as an effective High School drama. While Horror films can contain such scenes they’re normally perfunctory, we instinctively understand they’re only there as set-up prior to the chop-up. A ‘normative’ has to be established just so the jump-scares have somewhere to burst into.

Whereas you could be shown whole scenes and think this was something like ‘American Graffiti’. There’s frequent moments of diegetic music, where characters listen to what’s on the radio, and a couple where the background sound just comes from a TV. Which we subliminally associate with ‘real world’. (The string of poorly received attempts at re-makes is probably a testament to how many different and even contradictory elements the film has to juggle.)

One effect of this is that when the mother starts ranting about devils and demons, in a more straightforward horror film we might associate her with the harbinger role, clueing us in what’s a-coming. Here we know straight away she’s deluded.

But another, more important effect comes in the Prom scene. While rightly recognised as a bravura sequence, the most important part of it may be overlooked. We know that bucket of blood is up there on the ledge. But right up to it being tipped, we need to invest in the moment. We need to believe that we’re watching the happy ending to a quite different film, a Cinderella ending where Carrie falls in love and becomes the Prom Queen. Our special power as an audience, knowing what’s coming, was earlier being fed. Now it’s the grain we’re being run against. And the scene being so well played, even before the part everyone remembers, sets us up for this.

Inevitably we come to the famous retribution section. The set-up to this is the step-by-step elimination of direct connection between sound and vision. First we hear only the soundtrack, characters mouthing but their words going unheard. Then only the bucket swinging on the rope. We still see people mouthing. But Carrie’s thinking only about the bucket. Then the laughter starts. We can see most people in the crowd are shocked, not amused. But Carrie can only hear the laughter. Not coming from them, we realise. A projection of her own head.

Next the split screen. This has a long history in cinema, though it was normally used to convey parallel events such as telephone calls. (Though ’Village of the Damned’, 1960, uses it in a similar way to this.) But its effectiveness here is its being restricted to just this scene. I quite vividly remember the moment it first appeared on my first viewing.

And in it’s way it’s as diegetic as the sound. Like a forerunner to the later use of bullet time, with Neo and Quicksilver, it’s a visual correlative of Carrie’s powers. The bucket of blood can only be tipped by an elaborate rope system, lingered over by the means of one character discovering it and tracing it back, in other words a pan shot. While Carrie shuts doors the other side of the room just by thinking about it, a split screen.

But the really horrific thing isn’t what she does, it’s that it’s Carrie who does it. The sweet, innocent lass who we’ve so identified with up to now. Sissy Spacek’s performance underlines this, switching from hopeful girl to vengeful monster, yielding no expression either from her face or rigidly held body, speaking not one word to anyone. Did Carrie White cry when you taunted her? Meet Carrie Red.

We’re all used to the trope of the child being picked on by the school bully, then at the vital moment her powers manifesting to save her. We are, truth be told, pretty bored of that scene by now. ’Carrie’, in its way, stretches that scene out to film length. But with two key differences. Firstly, she doesn’t act in self-defence but in retribution. And when she does, everyone gets it. Even those who took no part in her persecution, even those who looked out for her. Our sympathetic heroine turns mass murderer.

And after all, bullied and demeaned your whole life, which would you be more likely to do? Decide in that moment to don a colourful costume the better to help humankind, or get your own back on the bastards? But crucially our identification with Carrie doesn’t break at that point. We identify with her until it’s too late to bail out. ’Carrie’ essentially rebukes the ’Tomorrow People’ notion of powers advancing in parallel step to goodness. Its message is “with great power comes great bloodshed.” Sometimes it takes horror to tell us the truth.

And this unleashing of her powers seems intrinsic. Carrie the child was virtually the heroine of a girl’s comic, virtuously enduring her life’s travails. But not the post-pubescent Carrie. Every previous iteration of her powers comes about through anger. There’s no moment where she experiments with them or uses them to perform helpful tasks. Just as it’s a power brought on by puberty, it’s triggered by rage.

And this is the theme of the film. When Chris gets punished by Miss Collins for taunting Carrie in the shower, literally being slapped down, she resolves to get revenge. Which Carrie follows with her own revenge. It’s a perpetual cycle of blame and punishment.

Some see this as a “women’s picture”, or even attempt to claim it as feminist. Which would seem unlikely for a de Palma film, even if there wasn’t that paedoish lingering look round the girls’ changing rooms early on. (Yes the actors are all older than the girls they play. Still creepy.) True it’s woman-centred. But it’s more reverse Bechdel, where the male characters (such as they are) act only at the behest of women. And so, by marginalising them, the film marginalises patriarchy. Which only really rears its head in the mother’s crazed babblings about Satan. It more captures the gender apartheid world of High School.

The Prom scene is the centrepiece of the film, inevitably the one which shows up on YouTube. And most likely many would misremember it as the ending. But the payoff and finale is Carrie’s confrontation with the source of her problems, her mother. Who has a phobia of/ obsession with penetration, manifested by the creepy religious statue studded with arrows which she keeps in her ‘prayer closet’. (Presented as though of Jesus, but more likely St. Stephen.) She tells Carrie that she conceived her through marital rape, then says in the next breath that she enjoyed it, suitably twisted logic. Her attempt to kill Carrie, and Carrie’s response, are both stabbings.

The mother is perhaps best understood as Carrie’s phobic side, the part of her still freaked out from that shower scene. The part of her that baulks at going to the Prom, that looks for excuses to get out from it. In short, the part of her that has to die so she can grow up. The house, with its Gothic moodiness, endless candles and creepy icons, seems an extension of the mother. And the collapsing house is a Jungian symbol for the death of the old self, like a forest fire allowing for new growth.

But in the film’s bleakest twist Carrie doesn’t make it out alive either. In truth, it’s a little hard to work out what happens here. Does she kill her mother but then die from being stabbed herself? Does she, knowing she’s about to die, cause the house to collapse? But every previous instance of her powers are demonstrated through a close-up of her concentrating, then the result. Whereas the house starting to break apart seems, if anything, to take her by surprise. To make it work we might need some combination of these readings, stuck together with fuzzy logic.

The film works so well as a film, as an effective sequence of visual events, it’s tempting to not look under the hood. Particularly when you realise how messed up things are under there. As mentioned, it’s punishment which leads Chris to want to prank Carrie with the bucket of blood. But her classmate (and, it’s suggested, former cohort) Sue responds differently, persuading her own boyfriend Tommy to invite Carrie to the Prom, even rigging the vote so they become the winning couple. (Proms have to have a winner, it seems.)

This may be because the film needs to introduce this bit of grit in the works. With so much made inevitable, we need some element of mystery to focus on. Which is provided by Sue’s motivations. Innocent but not a fool, Carrie’s immediately suspicious. (“They’re just trying to trick me again”.)

As it turns out, Sue intends all this positively. But the manipulative element of it is raised only to get buried. For the Prom sequence to work, Tommy has to go along with it but then fall for Carrie. But then what of Sue? She just gives up her boyfriend? Plus there’s a more functional problem. Carrie can only get bucketed by going on stage. But there’s no sign Chris knows anything of Sue’s plans, any more than Sue knows of hers. How would she know to do this? We may be better off not looking under the hood after all.

Coming soon! The thrilling conclusion to Mutants Are Our Future…