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Brian De Palma's Carrie

And You Thought Your Prom was Terrifying

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)

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They're all gonna laugh at you!

Carrie DVD

United Artists
The mother of all prom-time horror films, Carrie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the best-selling Stephen King novel with fabulous, over-the-top performances by Piper Laurie as a religious fanatic and a young Sissy Spacek as her powerfully telekinetic daughter. Bad combo.

Scary, mildly erotic and campy, Carrie won over critics and audiences alike, and spawned legions of imitators and spoofs in the now-familiar teen horror genre.

The Plot

Carrie White (Spacek) is the high-school outcast who’s picked on by the popular girls. Her clothes aren’t right, her mom’s the town weirdo, and poor Carrie is painfully shy. Completely untutored in the facts of life, she’s terrified when she finds blood on her hands in the school shower, not understanding that it‘s her first menstruation. She reaches out for help to the other girls, who ridicule her, cruelly pelting her with tampons and shrieking with laughter until the kindly gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) breaks it up.

Our first hint that Carrie might be more than a little different comes in the principal’s office. He feigns concern, but keeps getting her name wrong, calling her “Cassie.” Suddenly, the ashtray she’s staring at on his desk shakes, shudders and flies across the room by itself, shattering. Oops.

The girls in Carrie’s gym class are punished for their nasty stunt, and one of them, amoral vixen Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen), vows revenge. Meanwhile, nice-girl Sue Snell (Amy Irving) is feeling guilty. She knows Carrie has a crush on her football-star boyfriend, Tommy (William Katt), and asks him to take Carrie to the prom to make up for her meanness. (I know. What was she thinking?)

Chris gets her dimwit boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) to arrange a nasty surprise for Carrie and Tommy, involving a fixed vote for prom king and queen and a bucket of pig’s blood suspended over the prom stage. Suffice it to say that the resulting damage goes a bit beyond a broken ashtray, and mom’s not happy when Carrie finally comes home from her very first date.

The Cast of 'Carrie'

Piper Laurie is simply phenomenal as Carrie’s demented, sexually repressed mama, evangelizing house to house with a black cape, pamphlets about the Lord and a halo of red-brown hair. She attempts to shield Carrie from “sin,” and extracts penance by locking the child in a closet with a truly gruesome statue of the martyred Saint Sebastian. (The icon foreshadows one of the better death scenes that lie ahead.)

Spacek is awkward, vulnerable, but somehow projects the idea that if she could make it out of her crazy mother‘s grasp and the agony of high school, she could control her strange gift and bloom into an extraordinary creature. She has an odd, angular beauty that’s perfect for the part, and you can’t help desperately hoping things will somehow turn out for her, even when she’s killing off most of her classmates and blowing up half the town.

The climactic scene - SPOILER ALERT - brings the blood-soaked girl home to her mother seeking refuge. Her mother tenderly tries to murder her daughter, believing her to be a witch with unnatural powers. It’s an amazing bit of melodrama, and Laurie’s choice to play the violence as religious/sexual ecstasy against Carrie's innocent pain led to a rare double Oscar nomination for two actresses in a horror film.

The movie's success helped boost the careers of the young cast. Allen is a little wooden, but nicely despicable, and well-teamed with her equally nasty friend Norma (P.J. Soles). She leads Billy around by his high-school hormones, and Travolta, already known for his television sitcom work, plays it broad, dumb and just right. These bad, bad kids are archetypal Stephen King villains, crude, spoiled and thoughtlessly cruel.

Irving is solid as the good-hearted girl who regrets her cruelty, and Katt is winning and a little goofy as the golden-haired jock who writes poetry on the side and has geeky, funny friends. But this is Stephen King-brand horror. Nobody escapes unscathed, and the shocker ending can still make you jump, even when you’ve seen it again and again.

The Backstory

Director Brian De Palma and George Lucas became friends in film school, and the two famously overlapped their casting call for Carrie and the first Star Wars movie. Some of the mostly unknown players were considered for roles in both films - for example, Katt lost out to Mark Hamill for the role of Luke Skywalker. Both films made the reputation of the cast and the director.

The Director

De Palma owes much to Alfred Hitchcock in his technique and his use of suspense. There's a sly homage to Hitch in the name of Carrie‘s school: Bates High School, a reference to the Bates Motel in Psycho.

With Carrie, De Palma established many of the conventions of the teen horror movie, and employed many of his signature devices - split screens, long shots that make full circles around characters at dizzying speeds, dreamlike, gauzy settings and slow motion, used memorably here in the unapologetically erotic opening sequence in the girl’s shower.

'Carrie' - the Bottom Line

A great horror film, the first and certainly one of the best film versions of any Stephen King novel. Carrie is a strange and satisfying blend of humor, horror, teen angst and melodrama. It's everything a horror fan could ask.

Recommended For You:

If you liked Carrie, you may like Dressed to Kill, Psycho, or The Fury.

'Carrie' at a Glance:

Year: 1976, Color
Director: Brian De Palma
Running Time: 98 minutes
Studio: United Artists
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
Carrie Is A Family Classic, Member JeffreyWhittaker

The film Carrie by Stephen King honestly portrays American culture in the process of its evolution toward progressive change! The story has moral value and is respectful of satanic distortions of perception that teens may experience! I am completely satisfied with the dialogue and themes' resonance! This film tells the truth in an artistic way! Good job!

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