Tag Archives: Amy Irving

Trauma and Toxic Masculinity in ‘The Rage: Carrie 2’

In a genre typically considered “for the guys,” it’s time to give a nod to the ladies. Uterus Horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the uniquely female experience of puberty and the act of coming into your sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These films are often ignored in theaters but quickly develop cult followings. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new film each month and analyzes how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror. This month: The Rage: Carrie 2.

Let’s leave behind the mermaids, puberty, and teenage girlhood of my last column and revisit a familiar franchise. I’ve previously described the adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie as the first true Uterus Horror film, but this time around, focus turns to the sequel. That’s right, I’m talking about The Rage: Carrie 2. While this sequel didn’t quite capture the magic of the original, it still tells an important story about loss, love, and the consequences of toxic masculinity. 

Before I dive into the Uterus Horror themes of the film, I need to preface this article by expressing my deep devotion to The Rage: Carrie 2. The film was released in 1999 to less than stellar reviews and was generally considered a box office bomb—but I saw it when I was going through puberty, and it left a lasting impression on me. As a result of this experience, I’ve always felt more invested in this sequel than the original Carrie. It was one of my most-rented films at Hollywood Video for many years, and my best friend and I even talked about getting matching tattoos like the two friends in the film had. Even though that friendship did not last (and I never got that tattoo), The Rage: Carrie 2 still has a special place in my heart and was clearly quite formative to my horror film tastes.

The Rage: Carrie 2 is a direct sequel to Brian De Palma’s Carrie. The film was directed by Katt Shea (Poison Ivy, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase) and written by Rafael Moreu (Hackers) and takes place 20 years after the original. This time, the plot centers on a teenage girl named Rachel Lang (Emily Bergl). We meet Rachel at a very vulnerable time in her life; she’s living with foster parents, her best friend died by suicide, and she is isolated from her peers. As if her life isn’t tumultuous enough, she falls for popular football player Jesse (Jason London). Unfortunately, young love never goes according to plan, and the end result in this case is a bloody, fiery massacre at Rachel’s hand (or, more accurately, mind). 

Right from the opening scene, it is clear that The Rage: Carrie 2 differs from its predecessor. The most obvious diversion is that Carrie insinuates that Carrie White developed her powers when she went through puberty and had her first period. Yet, in this film, the opening scene shows a young Rachel using her powers during a stressful moment when her mother is taken away to a mental institution. This drastically changes the Uterus Horror aspect of the film. Instead of events being linked to menstruation, they are linked to Rachel’s emotional state. More specifically, the events that unfold are a result of love and grief.

It all begins with Rachel’s friend, Lisa (Mena Suvari). Their dynamic reminds me of my relationship with my then-best friend at the time the film came out. They are obviously social outcasts at school, only really having each other and dressing in “alternative” clothing. The pair even have matching tattoos (the ones I mentioned earlier that, in hindsight, I’m glad I never got). On the way to school one morning, Lisa reveals to Rachel that she lost her virginity, but she won’t tell Rachel who it was with until she meets them for lunch later. Unfortunately, that lunch never happens because the boy dumps Lisa, and she tragically jumps from the roof of the school. This heartbreaking event is the first time we see teenage Rachel exhibit her abilities as she loses control over the death of her best friend. It also informs the audience that Rachel is generally able to keep her abilities under control, unless she is in a state of heightened emotion and vulnerability. 

From there, Rachel’s life drastically changes. She starts to spend time with one of the most popular boys at school, Jesse, and the two quickly form a relationship. Rachel even loses her virginity to Jesse, and he does his best to make the moment as special as possible. Sadly, Rachel’s happiness is short-lived. Some of the other popular kids whisk Rachel away to a party, separating her from Jesse, and make her think she is now one of them. What the popular kids really planned was to reveal they secretly recorded Jesse and Rachel having sex, and they play it on multiple screens at the party to shame her. These horrible teens even reveal the popular jocks have been keeping score for a game where they earn points by sleeping with as many girls as possible, including both Lisa and Rachel. Rachel feels completely exposed, betrayed, and utterly alone.

All of the traumatic events in Rachel’s life lead to her true Carrie moment, using her telekinetic powers to lay waste to all of the school bullies. As with the original film, this moment is so incredibly satisfying for viewers to watch, as these absolutely horrific people die in equally horrific ways. Her vengeance is interrupted when Jesse finally arrives at the party and sees what has happened. Rachel initially tries to kill Jesse as well, thinking he was in on the cruel joke, until the video reveals he does love her. Then, Rachel ultimately sacrifices herself to save Jesse.

Even though Rachel’s abilities are more tied to her emotional state (while Carrie’s were tied to both her emotions and menstruation), both have a common genetic element. In The Rage: Carrie 2, we learn that Rachel’s father is actually also Carrie’s father. Sue Snell (Amy Irving reprises her role), now the school guidance counselor, confirms that these abilities are genetically passed down from the father’s side. Just like Carrie, Rachel meets an untimely death brought on by her own biology.

Another unique aspect of The Rage: Carrie 2’s plot is the way it examines toxic masculinity from a teenage girl’s point of view. The popular jocks in the film were based on a real-life group of teens known as the “Spur Posse,” who faced multiple sexual assault allegations. Just like the boys in the film, these teens were very popular jocks who would sleep with teenage girls, some of them perhaps by force, and keep score for each of their conquests. 

The film wastes no time in conveying the cycle of toxic masculinity with these boys. They treat women like disposable objects, they get away with terrible acts simply because they’re rich and on the football team, and they are enabled by everyone around them. From other teenage girls, to the parents, to the cops, and even the awful football coach (who checks for a “tampon string” between one of the players legs simply for talking too much), everyone allows these morally corrupt boys to do whatever they want. 

Rachel is the antithesis of these boys. She is an outsider who doesn’t conform to the norm and fall in line with the popular kids. Rachel doesn’t fall for the jock charm of these abusers, and she has no intention of letting the one who broke Lisa’s heart get away with her death. In essence, Rachel is a threat to the way of life the jocks have become accustomed to. The only reason she falls for Jesse is because, while he is technically one of the jocks, he is a kind, sensitive, caring human being, even though he hides that side of himself when around his friends. 

This is why the boys go after Rachel. They first terrorize her at her house, but when she starts dating Jesse, they devise their even more cruel and sinister plan. Lisa and Rachel both provide glimpses into what the cycle of toxic masculinity does to young women, showing just how dire the consequences can be for them. In the real world, we know white men get away with far too much in a society ruled by toxic masculinity and rape culture, but at least in the Uterus Horror genre, we get to see some retribution. 

The Rage: Carrie 2 might not be as beloved as the first film, but it still effectively conveys the hardships and dangers of being a teenage girl. On one hand, the film uses Rachel’s telekinetic powers to show the audience not only the emotional rollercoaster young girls experience, but also how we are often at odds with our own biology in ways men could never understand. On the other hand, the film exemplifies the real-life dangers of male privilege, toxic masculinity, and rape culture, demonstrating how it directly effects women. This film would be terrifying enough without the horror elements, but Rachel’s powers emphasize the trauma of her experiences in true Uterus Horror fashion.

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Brian De Palma’s ‘Carrie’ Celebrates Our Teenage Monsters

The book came first. 

At some point in my teenage years, outgrowing Mary Higgins Clark and Christopher Pike paperbacks, I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s Carrie. My interest in horror was slowly budding, as I emerged from the cocoon of my parents’ overprotectiveness, first with viewings of It, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show at sleepovers, Blockbuster rentals of The Craft, and finally sealed with rowdy screenings of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer at the local multiplex. Teenage girls like me were always represented in horror; scream queens and final girls ruled the genre. But there was something about Carrie that seemed even more intriguing and terrifying: the prom queen as a monster.

When I was younger, around 12 or 13, I’d found a book in my parents’ bedroom called Teenage Girls: A Parent’s Survival Manual that I found hilarious and offensive. On the cover was a photograph of a young girl, backlit in red light, her face in darkness, staring down the camera. In my memory, she has glowing red eyes, though that idea seems ridiculous now (she in fact, does not). I was simultaneously amused and horrified that my parents were reading a book that positioned teenage girls as seeming this evil and scary, something to be “survived.” Were we monsters? But more importantly, could we be monsters, the ones everyone else is afraid of? 

This idea was a fixation into my early 20s: my undergraduate thesis project was a short slasher about a cheerleading squad, a sort of Bring it On meets Halloween, in which the killer is a disgruntled squad member, titled, as a play on the concept, “The Final Girl.” It was messy and imperfect both on purpose and by accident, but there was something that I had to get out, some expression of powerful feminine violence in a highly gender-codified, hierarchical environment that had been brewing, bubbling with every viewing of the Scream movies, Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and of course, the patient zero, Carrie.  

In high school, once I had read Carrie, I had to see the movie. I watched it with my best friend Kristen at, of course, a sleepover, and the split-screen moments in the prom scene were my first real “cinema!” moments, when the combination of image, sound, and rhythm grabs you with visceral, recognizable power. Prior to this, what I loved about movies like Scream and Clueless was the writing; I was somewhat unconscious to the ways they moved and looked and felt. But Brian De Palma will never let the audience forget for a second that the most important way a movie speaks is through the image, and its construction in time and space. 

I became obsessed with Carrie. Obsessed with the line readings, especially anything that came out of Piper Laurie’s mouth – and especially the line, “I can see your dirty pillows” (my friend Gena embroidered a pillow with the phrase for one of my late 20s birthdays). I was obsessed with the ‘70s gym shorts and high socks, and P.J. Soles’ hat and the way Miss Collins wallops Chris across the face. Obsessed with the hazy cinematography and editing, the split screen and split diopter shots, the camera whirling around and around Tommy and Carrie as they dance at the prom. The extreme closeups of Nancy Allen’s mouth with her crowded front teeth as she licks her lips, tugging on the rope attached to the bucket of blood; the long, long, long slow-motion shot as Sue discovers the rope. I was obsessed with the way Carrie, covered in blood, whipped around in a crouch, her hands locked in stiff claws, and the camera rapidly jump-cutting in on her pupil as she sends the car flipping over and over itself. I was obsessed with recognizing a visual parallel in Margaret White’s crucifixion and the creepy Jesus figurine. 

My senior year of high school, I decided to go as Carrie for Halloween. I found a cheap pink satin gown at a thrift shop and wore it all day at school, carrying a bouquet, wearing a tiara. That night, at a Halloween party, I made everyone gather in the driveway for my ceremonial blood drenching. I handed my friend Joanna a sauce jar filled with corn syrup and red food coloring as I had heard the Carrie blood was made of, and instructed her to pour it over my head. All I remember is that the drenching felt neverending. Not a shocking splash but a steady stream as she slowly poured it over me. I changed into gym shorts and a t-shirt, but the red corn syrup remained on my skin. My friend Andrew, who I’d known my whole life, licked my arm and was surprised it was sweet. A week later, he died in a drunk driving accident. That night was the last time I saw him. 

If this all seems extra personal, it feels important to talk about why I connected with Carrie so much as a teenager, and its influence. What King and Brian De Palma understand and convey so beautifully is that high school is hard. It’s filled with blood, and sex, and death, all while fumbling through the figuring out of yourself and others, and yourself in opposition to others, including your parents. Plus, everyone hates gym class. All of that is amplified in King’s book, written just a few years out of high school himself, and working as a teacher. It’s a story about a bullied, abused girl with supernatural powers that’s grounded in a recognizable and terrifying reality, because King knows how terrifying high school can be. De Palma, on screen, makes it erotic, operatic, funny, scary, and tragic, every emotion deeply felt and deeply real. The movie is camp, but sincere. 

I’ve seen Carrie dozens of times on VHS and DVD, my copy traveling with me during the ten or so times I’ve moved around the country since college, but the first time I saw it on the big screen was last year, at the American Cinematheque, in a screening series of Argento/DePalma double features put on by Cinematic Void. Even though I knew I would love it, it had been several years since I’d watched it in earnest. I was hoping I wouldn’t see something that I’d recognize now as problematic or exploitative.

This time around, nearly 20 years removed from being a teenage girl, I  found it profoundly moving. Margaret White isn’t just a crazy, homicidal religious nut, she’s a deeply traumatized woman who has turned to fanaticism as a coping mechanism to deal with her repressed sexual trauma. Chris is trapped in a psychosexual abusive relationship with Billy and lashing out at those around her. Miss Collins is an imperfect ally because she doesn’t trust anyone, and Carrie, well Carrie shows what happens when pathological shame, abuse, and psychological torture combust, but in small moments, she owns her own power, her own sexuality. “It’s me, mama,” she pleads with her mother, who declares her remarkable gift the work of Satan. Even the infamous line I giggled at in high school took on a new tenor. “Breasts, mama,” she says, “they’re called breasts, every woman has them,” gently asserting her right to her own sexuality. The locker room slo-mo shot isn’t just a brazen display of the male gaze, it’s a comment on the male gaze, a sly bait-and-switch from sensual to savage. 

The tragedy of Carrie, which both King and De Palma treat with the gravity that it deserves, is the idea that in high school, the worst thing to happen to someone is shame, embarrassment and rejection. It taps into our most primal desire to be loved and accepted by the tribe, which translates into safety and nourishment. Carrie is denied that, again and again. She never receives the comfort that she’s craving, except in small doses, and conditionally, from Miss Collins, her gym teacher (played by the great Betty Buckley). In the opening shower sequence, she reaches out, vulnerable, for help. Blood is coming out of her body, she doesn’t know why, and she’s scared for her own safety. The girls turn to savagery in response to her off-putting plea, pelting her with sanitary napkins. When she pleads with her mother, “Why didn’t you tell me?” looking for some comfort, she’s hit with a book and lectured that her body is sinful. After the massacre at the prom, when Carrie returns home and seeks solace in the arms of her abusive mother, she says, “they laughed at me.” The trauma she experienced is not the blood or violence or fire she inflicted, but that they laughed at her, that they rejected her. Carrie is a heartbreaking and tragic victim who turns into a monster as her self-preservation instincts morph into total annihilation.

Watching the film now, I can see that what moved me when I was in high school, whether I knew it then or not (I didn’t), was that this was a film about the inner lives of women, who are allowed to be everything in this instance: the villains and the victims, the empowered and the disempowered, complex characters, with whom you can simultaneously empathize and condemn. Grappling with the film 20 years later, I realize that what Carrie articulated for me is that, yes, teenage girls, sometimes we are monsters–but we usually have a damn good reason to be. 

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