Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen
Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt
High school can be such a vicious time in one’s life, especially in areas where the bullies have nothing better to do than to torment anyone they see as weird. In Carrie, viciousness gets returned with a vengeance in a strangely satisfying way, which makes the viewing experience incredibly conflicting.
Quiet and shy, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) minds her own business at school and must come home to a religious zealot of a mother. After menstruating for the first time in the girl’s locker room, she gets mocked by the other girls, which makes it surprising when she gets asked to prom by one of their boyfriends.
Even with it being a horror film overall, Carrie does not carry many scares other than the incredible jump scare at the end. Instead, the story demonstrates the horror of circumstances happening to this poor girl, as she suffers from the hands of her classmates and her mother. Growing up in an extremely religious household, Carrie has tried to go along with her mother’s beliefs but they simply go too far for anyone. Carrie’s mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie) prays her daughter does not inherit the sin of Eve, which gets shattered when Carrie first menstruates. The first physical sign pointing towards womanhood and the poor young girl experienced the horror of getting her period and thinking she’s on the verge of death. It boils up into a harrowing scene where she pleads for help and it gets met with harsh ridicule by her classmates.
Prior to watching the film, I pretty much knew all of the major scenes of this feature because of the way the story has permeated popular culture. Based on Stephen King’s novel, it has been part of the horror community for quite some time. Knowing how everything would turn out did not dull any of the impactful moments, rather it made the build-up all the more terrifying. Much of the credit there must go to director Brian De Palma. He utilizes his style of filmmaking to put us in the perspective of the titular character. The prom scenes make for a great example, particularly when Carrie dances with her date. The camera swirls around them as they dance in a circle, which becomes dizzying for the audience, but perfectly sums up the feeling Carrie has at this moment.
Thematically, this film explores religious zealotry but also how unsavory genetics can be passed down no matter how much we try to fight it. Carrie’s mother has an unhealthy relationship with religion where she forces it on others and punishes her daughter by shoving her in a closet and making her pray. Anything she cannot control or explain comes from the devil, which makes the moment where Carrie discovers her special ability the catalyst of her mother reaching the edge of any sanity she had left. Insinuations begin with trying to comprehend why Carrie has developed her abilities, but it does not come as a surprise for the mother. The recessive gene the titular character possesses for these abilities comes in line with her red hair, which only reminds the mother of the one time her husband actually seduced her into intercourse. The relationship between this mother and daughter combination goes beyond toxic that we should really invent a new word to aptly describe it.
The harsh moments we see coming hit even harder because Sissy Spacek beautifully captures the character of Carrie. In the prom scenes and essentially any interaction at the school, Spacek delivers a level of innocence and purity to this character, which only makes what we know will happen to her more painful. Moments of kindness by genuine people show her having the time of her life, but the bullies could never let her have this moment.
When the famous scene arrives and Carrie unleashes her ability, this story puts me and I assume others in a position where you want her to get vengeance but it all goes overboard. What these bullies do to her reaches a level of cruelty one cannot describe but when the moment of revenge arrives, the end result reaches too far to another extreme, yet feels satisfying. It makes the experience of watching Carrie incredibly conflicting, which obviously becomes the point and it’s done incredibly well in this feature film. One of the great Stephen king stories and one of the better adaptations of his horrifying work.