Synopsis: A young, abused and timid 17-year-old girl discovers she has telekinesis, and gets pushed to the limit on the night of her school’s prom by a humiliating prank.
Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles
Director: Brian De Palma
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Original Release Date: November 3, 1976
Review: Carrie is one of those movies I think I’ve seen a whole lot more than I actually have. I know it’s on TV a lot and I’ve even started watching it on BluRay a few times only to get distracted fifteen minutes in, never to return. So when my scaredey-cat companion agreed to let me tutor him in the ways of horror I decided that Carrie was a good place to start. After all, though the film rests on the horror shelf in between Cabin in the Woods and The Changeling, it’s not your typical exploitation/slasher effort.
Watched as the second film of a prom themed evening (the first being, naturally, Prom Night which liberally borrows a few characters/scenes from Carrie) I finally saw the whole film again and was impressed that it’s held up so well almost 40 years after it was first released. Maybe that’s because the central theme of alienation still has an impact in this day and age of cyber bullying and everyone’s base desire to fit in with their peers.
Also, it’s damn frightening. Director Brian De Palma (Passion) was just starting to refine his filmmaking style, bridging the gap between black comedy and outright horror. From the icky mystery surrounding 1973’s Sisters to the whacked-out camp musical Phantom of the Paradise in 1974 and peaking with 1976’s very Hitchcock-y Obsession, Carrie represented a major step forward for the director. His split screens and distinct framing are all on display here, albeit less emphatically used than they would be in his later work.
Adapted from Stephen King’s novel published just two years prior, certain liberties with the plot were taken that remakes on TV and the big screen tried unsuccessfully to fix and I’m of the mind that De Palma’s Carrie remains the most bang for your buck-ish.
This is thanks in no small part to one of the best casts you’re likely to find in a horror film. From the wicked delights of mean girls Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, and P.J. Soles (Halloween) to the hunky boy toys of John Travolta (Savages) and William Katt, De Palma may not have filled his tale with actors that were believably in high school, but all leave a lasting impression on the viewer. Good too is Broadway belter Betty Buckley as a kindly gym teacher that becomes a mother figure to Carrie (Sissy Spacek) who is otherwise being cared for by her religious zealot mama (Piper Laurie) in their small quaint home.
Ah Spacek and Laurie. Rightfully Oscar-nominated for their roles the two actresses have several whopper scenes together with Laurie truly relishing in the chance to gnash her teeth on the handsome scenery. The film belongs to Spacek, though, and your heart aches for her when she’s humiliated at two of her most vulnerable moments. The product of a mother that seems to fear her own daughter as much as she fears God, the young girl with the power to move things with her mind recognizes she has a gift that needs to be controlled…but when she’s pushed over the edge on prom night all hell breaks loose.
The prom sequence is a textbook example of the perfect marriage of style, cinematography, performance, and sounds as De Palma stages an unfolding nightmare with nail-biting visuals. Aided by Pino Donaggio’s icy score, Mario Tosi’s rich lensing of a series of carefully timed events, and Spacek’s wide-eyed possession my socks were truly knocked off that after all these years and viewings I could still be so terrified. And it doesn’t stop there…after the prom the frights are still coming leading to two climaxes that I’m sure had audiences crawling up the walls in 1976.
It’s a truly effective film, one of the best the genre has to offer. If you’re like me and think you’ve seen Carrie before, fire it up again because you may have forgotten how good it really is.