Movie Article

Give 'Carrie' a Hand!

What's the best out-of-nowhere scary movie swerve? Check out today's Ask the Critic question and post your own

LIVING DREAD After Carrie (Sissy Spacek) goes to her final resting place, De Palma delivers one last groundbreaking surprise
Image credit: Carrie: Everett Collection
LIVING DREAD After Carrie (Sissy Spacek) goes to her final resting place, De Palma delivers one last groundbreaking surprise

What's the best out-of-nowhere scary movie swerve?

What would you call the best ''pop-out'' or ''gotcha!'' moment in a scary movie? —Greg
To me, there's one that towers above all: the final shocker in Brian De Palma's Carrie, where Amy Irving kneels down before Carrie's grave, the sugar-rush musical score swelling, the credits seemingly about to roll, and suddenly Carrie's bloody hand reaches out of the ground, as if from hell, scaring the bejesus out of poor Amy, not to mention everyone watching the movie. The first time I experienced that moment, the day that Carrie opened in 1976, I was so terrified I literally stood up out of my seat in fear, and so did half the audience.

The reason I was eager to answer this question is that even though a lot of people recognize Carrie as a classic and cherish that final funhouse jolt as much as I do, what isn't so widely acknowledged is how much influence that moment had on the horror movies that followed. Simply put: before De Palma, no one had ever thought to stage a moment that unsettling as the very last scene of a movie. There was no release, no time to steady your nerves; you were simply terrified to your bones and then...boom, the movie ended. And so you carried the nightmare right out of the theater with you.

The visionary audacity of Carrie's ending — a ''finale'' that said the horror wasn't over, it was just beginning — led directly, two years later, to the ending of Halloween, in which the corpse of Michael Myers is suddenly gone, and the movie is over. Just like Carrie White, he's resurrected, though in this case the rationale for his escape from death (in Carrie, it was all just a dream) was less artful and more cynical: It was, of course, so that the film could spawn a sequel. This became the scary/corrupt template for the ending of half the horror movies made: the ''surprise'' shocker that sends the audience out giddy (or is supposed to, at any rate) and gives the film's producers the right to bring back a killer we all thought was dead. By now, viewers are so onto this that virtually no one gets fooled. But 30 years after the fact, Brian De Palma's brilliant joke on the audience in Carrie — his non-ending ending, delivered straight from hell — still haunts.

Originally posted May 26, 2006