In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Lawrence D. Cohen (screenplay)
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen
Running Time: 98 minutes
Reason for inclusion: This is one of my biggest horror blind spots.
Accolades: Two Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress), Golden Globe nomination (Best Supporting Actress), #46 on AFI’s 100 Thrills
It appears that I watched Carrie at the best possible time, and not just because we are rapidly approaching Halloween. No sooner than the very next day after finally seeing Brian de Palma’s seminal 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, I was forced to watch the trailer for its upcoming remake. Not only did the trailer give away the entirety of the film’s plot (complete with multiple shots of the penultimate prom scene), but it just reinforced the idea that a remake is entirely unnecessary.
I knew the general plot going into Carrie, and I had seen clips of it over the years, but I was surprised at just how sad of a tale this is. While still a horror film, it’s not really what I expected of the genre, as it plays out as more of a drama/thriller.
Sissy Spacek (in an absolute jaw-dropping performance) stars as Carrie White, a timid and awkward 17-year-old high school student. She is an outcast at school, almost entirely due to the extreme religious views her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) forces on her at home. Poor Carrie is forced to learn about puberty on her own (i.e. her first period, which horrifies her and is shown in the very first scene of the film), and her mother dubs her a sinner for this. The 17-year-old is constantly bullied at school, further making her life miserable.
However, things start to look up when one of the girls, Sue (Amy Irving), has a change of heart, feeling guilty about her role in the bullying. She convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (William Katt), one of the most popular guys at school, to invite Carrie to prom. Reluctant at first, fearing this to be a joke, Carrie eventually accepts his offer. Everyone appears to be genuine in their attempts to help Carrie; well, except for two students. Chris (Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta, in one of his earliest roles) just want to torment her some more, and they set out to ruin her evening.
Oh, and there’s one other slightly important bit that Carrie is discovering about herself: she has telekinetic powers. Her effects are subtle at first, such as moving a small object, but as she learns more about them, she begins to realize that hey, maybe she can fight back on the constant abuse after all.
The film itself is a bit of a slow burn before reaching the chaotic final act, but it still presents itself as a fascinating character study. We can’t help but empathize with Carrie, and her character is a strong encapsulation of the life of a teenager (albeit a bit more extreme than most). All of the praise given to Sissy Spacek’s performance is well-deserved — those eyes will haunt me forever — and Piper Laurie is also terrific as her religious nutjob of a mother.
Carrie truly does stand the test of time, and while the fashion may be dated, the tale itself is not. This is a damn good horror film and one of the finer de Palma works that I have seen. It’s a shame that the remake will likely be the next generation’s introduction to this classic story.