Carrie – Film Review

Carrie (1976) - IMDb

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen

Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie

Rating: ★★★★½

There are dozens of adaptations of Stephen King’s work, the first of which, Carrie, was also the first book King published. While the film is a little dated in places, it’s still better that the vast majority of films based on King’s work, arguably the best. The reason it’s stood the test of time is down to the universal themes presented of cruelty, abuse, and alienation.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is relentlessly bullied by her school mates, as well as mentally abused by her mother, Margaret White (Piper Laurie). She’s a complete outcast from everyone around her. Her classmates are punished for mocking Carrie when she has her first period and start to plot on how to get revenge. At the same time Carrie starts to discover that she has the power of telekinesis and starts to take her life into her own hands.

The novel by Stephen King is an outstanding book. It’s one of those books that’s so good, especially as a debut, that it leaves a lasting impression. The book is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s written from different perspectives and is a collection of narratives from reports to interviews with witnesses of the events. While the film doesn’t replicate the style, it stays close with the overall plot.

What makes the film so great is Sissy Spacek’s performance. She gives it absolutely everything and delivers one of the best horror performances of all time. Carrie is an incredibly sympathetic character, and you really feel for her. The pain she feels is relatable and universally recognisable and being able to fight back using nothing, but your mind is pure revenge fantasy. Spacek was nominated for an Oscar, as was Piper Laurie who plays her mother. Piper Laurie is also beyond excellent as Margaret, Carrie’s religious and overbearing mother. Laurie is intense and scary at multiple points. When Spacek and Laurie are on screen together they’re magnetic. Spacek’s screams as she’s dragged into the cupboard under the stairs are haunting and will stay with you for a long time after the scene stops. Some of the other actors are a bit flat, but those two are excellent. There’s also an early appearance from John Travolta shortly before his breakout success in Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

The most famous part of the story is the prom scene and it’s masterfully crafted by Brian De Palma. You already know what’s coming, it’s set up in the previous scenes, so the slow-build up perfectly adds tension and you just don’t want it to happen. Carrie is happy for the first, and only, time in the film and you don’t want that to end, so with each second that you get closer to the inevitable moment, your heart beats faster and faster. You’re hoping that it won’t happen, that maybe somehow Carrie can get the happy ending she deserves.

When the moment does inevitably happen, it’s traumatic to watch. Carrie goes into rage mode, and you see what she’s seeing through almost kaleidoscope vision. You don’t get the proper reaction of the crowd as she twists it in her mind. The whole scene is perfectly made from the build up to the pay off.

Carrie is heading on to fifty years old, and it’s still tense and tragic. Spacek’s and Laurie’s performances are incredible and the absolute highlight of the film. Some of the effects are a little dated, but everything else outshines that and Carrie is still one of the definitive adaptations of King’s work. 

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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