Posted on February 2, 2016

Short Cut: Carrie’s Final Girl and the Precariousness of Survival

Dawn

Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) is the quintessential horror film, opening with a scene that showcases one of its central themes: what is repressed inevitably gets unleashed.

The opening famously features Carrie (Sissy Spacek) getting her first period in the shower at gym (yes, we’re in the terrain of real horror here!). The other girls (of course) mock her, throwing pads and tampons and screaming at her to “Plug it up.” Carrie does “plug it up”—in all kinds of ways—and what she plugs up gets spectacularly released in blood and death on prom night.

The most compassionate of Carrie’s high school acquaintances, Sue (Amy Irving), survives the blood bath, however (perhaps because of her kindness)—becoming one of the first Final Girls of horror (arguably preceded only by Lila from Psycho [1960], Sally from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974], and Jess from Black Christmas [1974]).

1. Carrie, ending, hand

The frame above is from the ending of the film, as Sue tries to recover from the trauma of her prom night (sound familiar?). As she moves toward a cross marking where Carrie’s house stood, there are markers of efforts to forget. Sue brings flowers, a sign of the movement of time, rebirth—an effort endorsed by the “For Sale” sign. The cross, of course, suggests transcendence in death—the hope of an afterlife, although Carrie seems damned only to an afterlife in hell.

2. Carrie, ending, cross

Sue bends down, offering flowers in the hope that she might achieve some kind of closure, might finally be able to move on, survive the horror in some meaningful way—because that’s what Final Girls do—they survive.

Instead, however, a hand bursts from the grave, grabbing at Sue, seemingly trying to pull her into the grave, refusing any possibility of moving on.

3. Carrie, ending, hand2

What this ending shows, I would argue, is that Carrie makes clear, very early on in the evolution of the Final Girl, that the “survival” of the Final Girl is immensely precarious. Like Final Girls that follow her, Sue may live beyond the horror, but her survival is never easy, never assured, perhaps never really attained. This is the horror film, after all, and what you “plug up,” what you put in the ground, doesn’t stay plugged up—or buried—for long.

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