Why Carrie (1976) is Awesome


Brian De Palma created a classic horror movie still considered highly today

With Kimberly Pierce’s new remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore now released, I thought I'd take a look back at the original that made its cast famous, its director bankable and still scares audiences to this day.

Carrie is based on Stephen King’s first novel, which was an instant success on release. Though still a classic today, it does looks rather dated, more so than other films of the 70’s. Saying that, Brian De Palma has captured the era marvellously with the costumes, the hair and the locations. Carrie focuses on the titular character, Carrie White: a quiet, strange girl who is bullied and teased maliciously by her classmates and suffers from violence at home at the hands of her religious nut mother. Carrie discovers that due to all her pent up rage and sadness, she can move things with her mind, a phenomena commonly known as telekinesis. When Carrie is asked to the prom by a popular boy from school, she reluctantly says yes, fearing another trick. When she finally starts enjoying herself, the carpet is pulled from under her and she realises her naivety, and it is in this last third of the film that we see some of the most famous scenes.

Sissy Spacek was 27 when she played the role of Carrie White; her youthful looks determined that she did not look out of place playing a high school student. Spacek apparently hates her performance in the film, but it is really rather intelligent, hitting just the right notes and pushing the audiences emotions at just the right moments. Carrie is struggling to survive life in high school, puberty and her abnormal home life. She is quiet and seems to shrink within herself when people talk to her or look at her - she is quite a pathetic figure and the audience can understandably feel sorry for her when they see the way she is treated. She is traumatised by the vicious girls in her gym class when she has her first period, not understanding what is happening to her as she has never been told by her mother, who considers it sexual sin. Even the teachers ridicule her, if they notice her at all, and the only support she has is in the form of the school gym teacher (Betty Buckley) who goes out of her way to help Carrie. Buckley gives an excellent performance; it seems like she resents the popular girls in the school and punishes them for this as well as bullying Carrie. However, for all the attention she gives Carrie, trying to make her feel better, the look she gives her shows that she along with the others holds that same view of her, as well as pitying her; she admits to wanting to ‘shake her’.

The film briefly portrays the mother daughter relationship, or rather lack of one. Margaret White’s reputation precedes her to the screen; she makes people uncomfortable and is known for her monomaniacal views of religion. Piper Laurie is magnificent as the obsessed Margaret White; she came out of retirement for the part, which she thought was a comedy when reading the script, and it wasn't until the screening that she discovered it was actually a horror film. This did nothing to dampen Laurie’s performance, which is the best in the film; she was Oscar nominated for best supporting actress, and deservedly so. Mrs White is a psychopath, and her views are more suited to the middle-ages than the 1970’s. Her relationship with Carrie is strained and violent, there is little or no love there, and she sees only sin and regret when she looks at her daughter. On Carries part, she does love her mother, but is obviously frightened of her and begs for a relationship with her, to talk to her and let her behave like a normal teenager. She desperately wants her mother to see that there is nothing to fear from boys and proms and the usual youthful rituals.


Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie give unforgettable performances

The supporting cast in Carrie are very underrated, and it features the likes of an at-the-time unknown John Travolta, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles. Obviously, if you want a successful horror film, you hired Soles for a part, however small, as she was the horror character actress of the 70’s. Everyone in the film makes an impression, and is perfect for their role. The film is actually quite tame for a horror; the score especially for most of the film does not seem to match the genre at all, until the Prom in the final act, where there is a recollection of the shower scene from psycho; the music slashes as Carrie wreaks havoc. The prom scene is now one of the famous scenes in cinema, with Miss Collins gym teacher telling Carrie ‘You’ll never forget it’ - and she’s not the only one. When the bucket of pigs blood is dropped on Carrie everything stops; you hold your breath for what seems an enternity, and then suddenly the horror that has been building and building through the first hour is  unleashed.

An unforgettable image

You feel desperately sorry for Carrie. You hope, just like she had, that things were changing and looking up for her, but we know that bucket has to drop; the wicked Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) was determined to mortify Carrie. Everyone knows of the scene with the blood - it is the pivotal moment in the film and people seem to have seen it whether they have viewed the movie or not. Spacek’s eyes display the sudden change in tone, turning devilish as something in her snaps and chaos ensues, the gym becoming a living hell. Yet, despite the pain and suffering she inflicts, we still feel sorry for Carrie White, especially knowing that she has to go home to her mother who’ll see she was right to think everyone would laugh at her.

Margaret White thinks the sin that she believes she has always seen in her daughter has taken form in these telekinetic powers she has. She is convinced the devil is in her; ironically it is with a satanic smile that she holds a knife above her head ready to kill her daughter. She seems to embody the evilm despite being dressed in white, which typically represents innocence and righteousness. The famous ending with the wrecked house is very symbolic; it destroys itself but is it out of repentance for Carries sins, or her own guilt that did it?

Laurie gives a haunting performance

Carrie is now 37 years old and is still considered a classic horror film. Brian De Palma succeeded in creating a memorably chilling story in which the evil is warranted and not actually evil at all.  Stephen Farber of the New West Magazine said of Carrie on its release “Carrie is an American gothic masterpiece…it’s a horror classic, and years from now it will still be written and argued about, and it will still be scaring the daylight out of new generations of moviegoers” He was quite right.

Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie is released in the UK on 29th November.

This has been Mary for The Awesome Update

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