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 it has spawned two remakes and a Broadway musical.
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, er, inappropriately.
Brian DePalma caught a much deserved rap for overly-aping Alfred Hitchcock, 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 a bucket of pig’s 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. Laurie is riveting in her fanaticism (and her depressing prescience – they all did laugh at her), 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.
But the engine of the picture is Spacek, who DePalma makes downright homely and spooky. We all knew a kid like that in school. A few tormented her. A few were kind. Most ignored her, perhaps tactically, or laughed meekly when she was catching hell. Or, you just looked right through her. Spacek shows her pain and her promise, which is viciously crushed by the bullies.
So, it’s hard to root against her, even in the midst of her wanton slaughter.