Carrie (1976)

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Yeah, I used to be juvenile and warped enough to nominate this film as my favourite “period movie” but you can easily put the joking to one side whenever you rewatch Carrie, and seeing it on the big screen was a treat I’ll not forget in a hurry.

Everyone knows the tale of Carrie White by now and if they don’t, well, they bloomin’ well should. Carrie is a timid teenage girl, bullied by her classmates, not really helped by many peers and subject to overbearing psychological abuse from her religiously fevered mother. During the onset of her first menstrual cycle (an event she knows nothing about and is extremely upset by) it’s also made known to us in the audience that Carrie has developed telekinetic powers. Will they help her or make her even more of an outcast? And how can anyone not feel sympathy for her as she naively accepts an invite to the school prom, unaware that her bullies are never wanting to let her simply get on with her life.

Adapted from Stephen King’s fantastic, streamlined first published novel this movie may perhaps be to blame for all subsequent adaptations of the horror writer’s work (be they great, awful or mediocre) because it was SO good.

Brian De Palma is a director who you could never accuse of being afraid to be audacious but, as I have said on many other occasions, when the material also promotes such audacity then he is in his element. Thankfully, the microcosmic apocalypse that this material provides us with is exactly right for De Palma and his abundance of style.

So we have someone capable behind the camera, all we need now is someone capable in front. Step forward . . . . . . the entire cast. Sissy Spacek will always be Carrie White to many people (just as Linda Blair will always be “the girl who’s head twisted round in The Exorcist“) and it’s all thanks to her startling, and brave, performance. She gives us vulnerability, bashfulness, elation, fear and also a sense of thrumming power just waiting to be unleashed. It’s a performance that covers the whole gamut of emotions and I couldn’t imagine anyone else making the role their own quite so much (so let’s not even mention any of the remakes here though you may take a moment to giggle at the thought of the stage musical spin-off). Piper Laurie also makes a huge impact as the overbearing mother although her performance is a much easier one, almost the pantomime villain of the piece. The same can be said for the young bullies making Carrie’s life hell. Nancy Allen, John Travolta and co. are all good but they don’t have to do quite so much with their simple characters. William Katt and Amy Irving are given more complexity in their character development and acquit themselves well to their roles.

Whether it’s for the sheer quality of acting on display, including those I have not mentioned above due to limited space and such a good cast, or for the split-screen bravura delivery from De Palma or for the elegantly haunting score by Pino Donaggio or even for THAT ending . . . . . . . it’s hard to deny Carrie her rightful place in horror history, as one of the most sympathetic and almost-justified “baddies” of all time.

DIRECTOR: BRIAN DE PALMA
STARS: SISSY SPACEK, LAURIE PIPER, AMY IRVING, WILLIAM KATT, BETTY BUCKLEY, NANCY ALLEN, JOHN TRAVOLTA, P.J. SOLES
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★½

2 Comments
  1. Mike Ewins says

    The most rewarding aspect of ‘Carrie’ for me is Sissy Spacek’s performance. Her naivety is disarming and her sincerity endearing; she’s the mousy victim, and I feel so warmly towards her that I just want to reach through the screen and hold her hand. Her oppression and bullying is challenging to watch at times, and in fact I find quite a few scenes emotionally devastating due to my feelings for her as a character. The “villains” in this piece are really nasty too, so you relate to her all the more.

    I love the intensity but also romance of De Palma’s direction; the way he lingers on eyes meeting, but then shades the fire-blazing finale in a claret red tint, recalling the work of Dario Argento (in particular ‘Suspiria’, 1977).

    I guess that’s why the ending angers me so much. It’s a dishonest cheap-shot which I expect from a much lesser director. It calls for me to question how much De Palma ever really cared about Carrie; essentially using her corpse for a jump scare directed at the front row. As such, I can’t call it a masterpiece. But it’s damn close.

  2. Kevin Matthews says

    I pretty much agree with you although the ending has never angered me (I can get your point though). It was strange how, viewing this on a big screen, the final jump scare had finally lost a lot of it’s power over me. I spent the last few minutes waiting and waiting for it and then when it happened it seemed to run just a little bit slower than I recall and so I was able to save myself any embarrassment. Just a great film though.

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