Carrie is often listed as one of the scarier films of all time (untrue) and one of the better adaptations of a Stephen King scary novel (true – in fact, The Shining and Salem’s Lot are the only rivals). It certainly has a staying power, so much so that a remake is due out this year. From what I can tell, the special effects will be better and Carrie won’t be quite as helpless as Sissy Spacek.
Which is a shame. Spacek was downright homely and abandoned, making her everyday life in high school a miserable existence and our sympathy for her all the more acute. In the preview for the remake, one gets the sense Chloe Grace Moretz could handle herself just fine.
The story is simple. Untutored by her religious zealot/lunatic of a mother (Piper Laurie), Carrie gets her period in the shower after gym class, naturally freaks out and is humiliated by her classmates. When one of the more thoughtful ones (Amy Irving) tries to make amends by having Carrie escorted to the prom by her popular boyfriend (William Katt), one of the less thoughtful ones (Karen Allen) doubles down on the humiliation. Carrie, who has become increasingly aware of her telekinesis, responds inappropriately.
Brian DePalma caught a much deserved rap for aping Alfred Hitchock, especially in his early films, and Carrie, his breakout picture, is Exhibit A. It opens with a shower scene, Pino Donaggio’s score is Bernard Hermann through-and-through (Hermann was supposed to score the picture but died before filming), and when Carrie uses her powers, we hear the 4 note violins of Psycho. The scene leading to Carrie’s ultimate indignity, where the bucket of blood is spilled on her head, speaks for itself (and much of Hitchcock’s oeuvre). Some mock the picture for this fealty, but there are worse directors to copy.
Hitchcock aside, Carrie stands on its own, even if some of its filler seems cheezy and dated, and the demise of Carrie herself is wholly unsatisfying. Spacey and Laurie (both nominated ) are captivating, Irving and Katt offer an unheralded sweetness to the story, and the prom scene, projected with a gutsy and effective split-screen technique, is loaded with indelible, nightmarish visuals.