Carrie (1976) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for bloody violent content, nudity, disturbing images, language, and a scene of sexuality
Length: 98 min.

Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, William Katt, Amy Irving, John Travolta, P.J. Soles
Small role: Edie McClurg
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Review published February 12, 2013

Carrie 1976Carrie is an adaptation of Stephen King's first published novel, and the first to be adapted for the big screen.  Despite its age, the film still holds up as quite effective to this day, thanks not only to a good share of nudity and sheer bloody violence, but also in the way it echoes modern school shooting scenarios when a disturbed young person finally lashes out a hundredfold under the sheer and constant pressure of peer bullying and humiliation.

Sissy Spacek (The Man with Two Brains, Affliction) stars as Carrie White, a timid outcast teenage girl who is picked on at nearly every turn by the 'mean girls' at her high school. Due to living in a sheltered existence with her fanatically religious mother, Margaret White (Laurie, The Hustler), Carrie has the misfortune of naively freaking out at the signs of her first menstrual cycle while in the gym room showers, which causes those around her to make her even more of a target, particularly when the girls who were antagonizing her get into trouble.  It's also the first time she finds she might have telekinetic powers to move objects with her mind, something dear old mom thinks is the work of the devil that should be stifled.  She just might need it, as the girls are planning one final prank on Carrie at the school prom, if they can get her to go.

Carrie ranks among the best of the Stephen King adaptations, thanks to the talent in front of and behind the camera.  Director Brian De Palma (Phantom of the Paradise, Dressed to Kill) is in very fine form, utilizing his virtuoso camerawork to great effect to create mood and atmosphere, particularly between the sometimes misty visions of high school life mixed with the sheer horror of shocking retribution.  In between, he tempers the shock with scenes of campy high school life, letting us know that though it is a strange and dark tale, we're in the hands of someone who is out to entertain us.  De Palma, ever the disciple of Hitchcock, manages to keep his homage mostly at bay, save for some very Psycho-like music cues and the name of the school (Bates High School).  In many ways, Carrie becomes a precursor to the 'giallo' works from Italy, particular Dario Argento in his use of color, imagery, sexuality, and music to effect a hauntingly dreamlike way of telling a horrific tale.

Sissy Spacek gives a remarkable performance as the sheepish young girl, but with nuance, and a sense of her own inner power.  Her ability to be a 'normal' girl is constantly stifled by her strict and bizarre home life with her mother, who frequently tears her down with notions that whatever bad things happen to her daughter is due to some sin she must have surely committed, especially lustful feelings that she herself had succumbed to that would become the reason she ever came to be with child. 

We identify with Spacek's plight, and it is due to feeling sorry for her that the film ultimately works, as some scenes of her abuse, whether verbal or physical, become downright painful to watch.  Though Carrie does possess a power to harm those who would harm her, she never thinks to use it until an act so cruel cracks her psyche, and we can see in Spacek's face that the sweet, shy girl we had come to know and feel sorry for is no longer, and we begin to feel sorry for those who stand in her way. 

Both Spacek and Piper Laurie (as Carrie's mother) would be nominated for Academy Awards for their roles.

-- Followed by The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999). Remade into a TV mini-series in 2002 and a theatrical release in 2013.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo