Monday, December 3, 2012


Joan Rivers: "I wasn't invited to the prom. I invited the guy and I had to buy my own orchid. 
Carrie had a better time at her prom than I did." 

That Carrie can be referenced in the punchline of a joke without benefit of clarification is a testament to how deeply rooted in our cultural consciousness Brian De Palma’s 1976 film (vis à vis Stephen King’s 1974 novel) has become. Indeed, contrary to the circumstances of her character in the film (she’s such a non-entity at her school that the principal repeatedly misidentifies her as “Cassie”) and the teaser ads for the forthcoming sequel (You Will Know Her Name); I'd say that by now, everybody knows exactly who Carrie is.
Sissy Spacek as Carrie White
Piper Laurie as Margaret White
Betty Buckley as Miss Collins
Amy Irving as Sue Snell
William Katt as Tommy Ross
Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen
John Travolta as Billy Nolan
I was just starting college the year Carrie was released and (cinema snob that I was) I really couldn't have been less interested in it. 1976 was an absolutely amazing year for movies, and the films that preoccupied my mind, my time, and my interest were the more high-profile releases: Taxi Driver, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Hitchcock’s Family Plot, Fellini’s Casanova, Marathon Man, Rocky, King Kong, A Star is Born, Polanski’s The Tenant, Network, The Last Tycoon, Burnt Offerings, Sparkle, Lipstick, Logan’s Run, Bertolucci’s 1900, Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, and Bergman’s Face to Face. I hardly saw daylight the entire year!
And then there was the woefully under-hyped Carrie. Here we had a film by a director whose only other work I’d seen at the time -Phantom of the Paradise - I remembered primarily for Paul Williams' music, and whose sole marketable cast member, John Travolta, was a fledgling teen idol from the execrable sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (his whispery pop single, “Let Her In,” had turned the summer of ’76 radio-listening into an absolute nightmare for me). Everything about Carrie, from its no-name cast to its over-explicit poster art, gave me the impression it was strictly drive-in fare; a movie suitable for a double-bill with one of those low-budget releases from AIP or Crown International about Bigfoot or small-town redneck serial killers.
Eve was Weak
Margaret White's religious fanaticism adds an effectively ominous overlay of sin, sacrifice, and retribution to the story of an awkward teen and the coming-of-age awareness of her powers of telekinesis.

It was only through the persistent badgering of my best friend that I even came to see Carrie at all. My friend, a sci-fi / Dark Shadows buff, had already seen Carrie and used the excuse of wanting to see it again as an opportunity to call in his marker for the time I’d pestered him into attending a screening of Barbarella with me. As I took my seat in the packed San Francisco movie theater where Carrie was playing, I seethed with resentment over what I perceived as my friend extracting a particularly mean-spirited payback for what, the heinous crime of exposing him to the sight of a naked, zero-gravity Jane Fonda? However, some 98 minutes later I emerged from the theater, red-eyed (from crying- that Sissy Spacek really gets to me in this movie...even today) and overwhelmed. Wow! I had NOT been expecting that!
Macabre Martyrdom
Anticipating at best a run-of-the-mill horror movie, what I got was a surprisingly sensitive character drama that morphed into a kind of a nightmarish Grimm's fairy tale. A blood-splattered religious allegory of sin and redemption that's a near-poetic parable on the inability of a legacy of pain and cruelty to beget anything other than more pain and cruelty. Just out of high school myself (an all-boys Catholic School, but let’s face it, high school is high school) it felt more than a little cathartic to see a film that depicted everyday schoolyard torments with the graveness of Greek tragedy, meting out suitably catastrophic retribution to the guilty.
I was sold by Carrie’s first five minutes - the volleyball game and the gym shower, both of which established: a) the then-atypical horror film setting of a high school; b) the female-centric thrust of the story, wherein the concerns, agency, and motivations of the women in the film appeared essential to propelling the plot forward; and c) the obvious subjective perspective the film was going to take regarding Carrie herself. Carrie absolutely floored me. I saw it three more times that month, and it has since remained one of my all-time favorite movies. A motion picture I’d readily list among the best horror films ever made.
Brian De Palma is known for his employment of the literal split-screen, but Carrie is also full of sequences in which the natural framing of a shot encourages the audience to take note of the dual /conflicting experiences of the characters as they occupy the same space.

Given that adolescence was a living hell for the vast majority of us, there’s something conceptually ingenious about a horror film set in an American high school—a “house” as haunted by the ghosts of the tortured and tormented as the dungeon of any Gothic mansion. The hierarchy of school cliques and the day-to-day cruelties teens inflict upon one another seem to be perfect subjects for a meditation on the banality of evil; a concept explored in many of the films that have proved most influential in the horror genre (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
School Days, School Days
Carrie was made at a time when "bullying" was seen mainly as kids-just-being-kids behavior

Unlike Stephen King’s novel, which expands the scope of Carrie to include news and science investigations into what happened at the prom, De Palma’s film wisely maintains a much narrower subjective focus (few things happen outside of the scope of the high-schoolers), heightening our identification with and empathy for Carrie and her rather tragic existence. I’m reminded of a review of Carrie that made the insightful observation that it was so fitting for Carrie to have only destroyed her high school in the film (as opposed to half the town in the novel); because to an adolescent, high school IS the world to a teenager. I honestly think the intimate scale of De Palma's Carrie is what makes it work so well. Carrie's nightmare is merely every adolescent's anxieties (public humiliation, social ostracism, the desire to fit in) writ in blood.
Adolescent trauma meets Grand Guignol
Defying accepted Hollywood logic that holds horror films don’t get Academy respect, the two (and only) Oscar nominations afforded Carrie were for the impossible-to-ignore performances of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Taking wildly divergent acting paths—Spacek playing her keyed-up naturalism off of Laurie’s idiosyncratic stylization—the actresses share a symbiotic chemistry in their scenes together which elevates Carrie far above what is usually considered possible in a horror film. (Never cut any slack to anyone who tries to get a poorly made horror film off the hook with the excuse, "Nobody goes to horror films for the acting. They just want to be scared!" - we horror fans are not often rewarded on that score, but solid performances in horror films contribute more to the "scare" than some directors seem to realize.)
Spacek's Carrie doesn't amp up the cliche acting signals that would indicate an outcast character. Instead, Carrie's awkwardness appears to emanate not out of any innate strangeness (she's actually better adjusted than most of her peers) but out of perhaps an overabundance of feelings she doesn't understand and lack of emotional outlets. Carrie's slowly developing telekinesis is a perfect metaphorical representation of what happens when emotions are repressed.
Born Into Sin
And Piper Laurie...what risks she takes! And she makes them work! Grounding her performance in a reality alien to normal behavior yet familiar and accessible to the deeply disturbed character she plays, Laurie inhabits this monster of a woman and finds a way of tapping into a kind of twisted truth. I wind up not only believing in this broadly-drawn woman, but recognizing her. Her religious fanaticism comes from a genuine source, and Piper Laurie's performance makes Mrs. White a truly terrifying character. One who makes you shudder even when her eccentricities are making you laugh (Ruth Gordon pulled off a similar miracle in Rosemary's Baby).
One of the great unsung performances in Carrie is that of Betty Buckley as the sympathetic gym teacher. De Palma must have really appreciated her incisive portrayal, because he always seems to leave the camera on her just long to capture the brief flickers of emotion that play across her face at the end of scenes where she's forced to be tougher than she'd like to be, or when she's saying something she hopes to be true, but doesn't really trust in.  Ironically or inevitably, depending on how you look at it, the sweet-natured Buckley assumed the role of Carrie's mother in the ill-fated 1988 Broadway musical of the film.

The trademark Brian De Palma bag of tricks: slow motion, swirling camera, split-screen, complex tracking shots, subjective sound, Bernard Herrmann-esque scores, Pino Donaggio's sensual music used as violence counterpoint, copious bloodletting--have never been put to as effective use as in Carrie. And no sequence in Carrie better illustrates the seamless blending of visual style with narrative theme than the bravura prom sequence. One of the most amazing bits of film as storytelling as you're likely ever to see.
Last Dance
A tour de force sequence that conveys tenderness, romance, joy, pathos, suspense, and terror in an uninterrupted flow that's close to operatic. Like my favorite scene from Hitchcock's The Birds --the Tides Restaurant bird attack--the climactic prom at Bates High School is a sequence that has retained every bit of its impact over the years. It's such a marvelously effective scene. It grabs me each and every time.  
Contemporary filmmakers (especially those enamored of the horror genre's tolerance of excess) who strive to blow us away with the spectacle of sadism or a reliance on CGI,  can take a lesson from De Palma here. Were this sequence all about the destruction and blood, I think Carrie would have gone the way of obscurity long ago. Carrie endures because De Palma has taken the time to bring us into Carrie's dream come true before he turns it into a nightmare.
Grand Grotesquery 
The eruption of the "curtain of fire" is one of my favorite film moments. It is so horrifically beautiful...I recall getting goosebumps when I saw it on the big screen.

In speaking of Rosemary's Baby, director Roman Polanski is fond of saying that his intent was to make a horror film that looks like a Doris Day movie, yet reveals itself to be something dark and sinister. To me, Carrie works in a similar fashion: it starts out resembling one of those teen-empowering After School Specials of the day (a series of TV movies targeted to adolescents in the '70s and '80s), only to throw us a nasty curve as the heretofore reassuring ugly-duckling wish-fulfillment fantasy turns into a bullied teen's worst-case scenario. 
I wish the 2013 remake a lot of luck, but just as Mia Farrow is and always will be the one and only Rosemary Woodhouse; I've got a hunch that Sissy Spacek's touchingly raw performance will wind up being impossible to beat. Perhaps there only needs to be...and only ever will true Carrie.
"If only they knew she had the power."
Movie poster tagline
Saw Kimberly Peirce's Carrie remake. I found it forgettable and unnecessary, albeit better acted than I expected. The big prom scene finale trades De Palma's poetically nightmarish spectacle for protracted explicitness. It's a well-done if artless sequence; the underlying, deeply-felt tragedy of the first film being replaced by the superficially cathartic pleasure of seeing the guilty parties punished. De Palma's Carrie has haunted me for a lifetime. I struggled to remember the details of Carrie 2013 a week after seeing it.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2012


  1. A wondrous write-up on a truly great film! I was only nine when "Carrie" came out and so it was a while before I saw it (on TV, cropped, panned, etc...) A few years ago, I got the DVD and was so impressed. What amazes me the most, aside from the technical brilliance of it, is that Piper Laurie was so often in the '50s just a decorative, fairly unimpressive persona in a slate of colorful Universal films and then turned out this blistering portrayal! Her later career was 180 degrees different - in a good way - from the earlier work. (Then again, there was The Hustler with Paul Newman, but I have yet to see that.)

    I remember being struck the first time I saw it by the fact that Carrie's unbridled rage was so great that even the few people who were nice to her weren't spared her wrath. It was quite a statement. As a kid who was picked on a lot in grade school and early high school, I don't know what I would have felt had I seen it then... empowered, empathetic, depressed or jealous! LOL

    1. Hi Poseidon!
      I remember at the time a lot of grown ups (folks my parent's age) telling me how perfectly "American Graffiti" captured the feel of their youth. I have the same thing about "Carrie." Although I went to an all-boys Catholic School, the look (everyone had huge amounts of wild, curly, and untamable hair like the cast of "Carrie"), and general sense of society in microcosm is perfectly captured.
      I wrote on another site how the volleyball sequence that opens "Carrie" is similar to something that happened to me in junior high school, and although i can barely remember what happened two days ago,THIS I recall as if it were yesterday.
      "Carrie" is a terrifically powerful and entertaining film for it seems to know just what it's going after and never wavers in its point of view. It's the world as envisioned by a powerless teen, and as you take note of, the take-no-prisoners rage that can come out of being a target for adolescent insecurity. In these post-Columbine days, I suspect the bullying portrayed in the film still goes on, but parents and teachers (I hope) are less tolerant of it.

      This was my first exposure to Piper Laurie and I have really only seen her in "The Hustler" (she's quite moving in it). It's like two different people!
      Years ago I had a chance to interview "Rosemary's Baby" author Ira Levin and he told me that a young Piper Laurie was how he originally envisioned Rosemary when he wrote the book. Then after seeing Mia Farrow, he couldn't see his character as anyone but her.
      I have to check out some of Laurie's other work. But "Carrie" got me hooked on Sissy Spacek.

  2. This is wonderful. I’ve actually been re-watching a lot of Sissy Spacek’s films over the past few weeks and falling in love all over again. Her performances remind me what I love so much about film and why I’m so obsessed with acting and actresses in general. I’m so glad I decided to re-watch Carrie for the first time since I was in high school. I remember Spacek and Piper Laurie being good but this time I was on the edge of my seat, jaw dropped, hanging on to their every move and every line reading. Quite simply two of the greatest performances on film by two of the greatest actresses.

    1. Yes, their scenes together have real fire. Piper Laurie has such a scary intensity to her fanaticism, and matched with Spacek's pent up frustration and desperate need to get through to her mother, their scenes are terrifyingly raw.
      Every time the camera returns to that house you can feel a know build up in your stomach. It feels like anything can happen there.
      So glad you revisited the film and still found it to be dramatically engaging after all these years. Thanks too, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  3. I can't believe they've remade this film. I'm calling it now: good heavens, this is going to be awful.

    Sissy Spacek's appearance in "Carrie" was a stroke of genius casting. Of course, Miss Spacek was a very beautiful young lady, and she looked younger than her years, to the point where even in the latter half of her 20s, she could portray a minor convincingly. However, despite her pulchritude, Spacek could also project a plainness and vulnerability (compare: Shelley Duvall in "The Shining"), the latter stemming from her aformentioned childlike physicality, thus making her perfect for the role of the victimised unpopular schoolgirl.

    By contrast, Chloe Grace Moretz, star of the remake, looks like a freakin' cheerleader. I don't know what idiot in Hollywood thought it would be a good idea to cast Moretz, a girl with big pouty lips and immaculate golden locks straight from the salon and a curvaceous figure, in a role previously occupied by a dowdy looking, stick-figured, limp-tressed Sissy Spacek. Probably the same ninnies who thought remaking "The Stepford Wives" and "Rollerball" would be foolproof ideas.

    Sissy Spacek worked in "Carrie" because she was relatable to the audience. Even to this day, Carrie White's telekinetic destruction of her high school prom reaches into the darkened corners of the hearts of countless viewers, who find the whole scene wonderfully cathartic. I just wonder how it's going to go down when a girl who resembles a Vogue covergirl pulls the same stunt. Even when doused in stageblood, Chloe Grace Moretz looks less like the tortured victim of a prank, more like one of Faye Dunaway's eroticised horror-themed photographic concepts from "Eyes of Laura Mars".

    I don't really know much about CGM, except to say that this woman has been in an alarming number of remakes, many of them from the horror genre, going all the way back to "The Amityville Horror". She's also appeared in "The Eye" (remake) and "Let Me In" (remake). Where are all the original horror films these days?

    Ken, what didn't you like about "Welcome Back, Kotter"?

    The year 1976 was an amazing year for cinema. In addition to the films you've listed, add "Bound for Glory" by Hal Ashby, "The Outlaw Josey Wales" by Clint Eastwood, "All The President's Men" by Alan J. Pakula and "Seven Beauties" (winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture) by Lina Wertmüller (who also made history by becoming the first woman to be nominated in the category of Best Director). Let's not forget "Logan's Run" by Michael Anderson and "Futureworld" by Richard T. Heffron from the realm of sci-fi, as well as the underrated black comedy "Mother, Jugs & Speed" by Peter Yates! I imagine that cinemas could have grossed even more money that year if they just rented out spaces in the theatre for people to sleep overnight, seeing as they'd be spending most of their time in the cinema anyway!

  4. Because I like the director, Kimberly Peirce, I'm hoping that perhaps she has something up her sleeve in remaking "Carrie" that might yield something like the remakes to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or "True Grit." I always hope...but I'm usually disappointed. This remake mania is an uneven boom at best.

    While the director is intriguing, I confess to have been surprised at the casting of an actress who would be considered a knockout in any community but Hollywood. But once again, like the casting of Michael Keaton in Batman or Daniel Craig as James Bond...I'm hoping there is something unexpected afoot that will surprise us naysayers. I can only hope.
    As for "Welcom back Kotter" I'd really be hard pressed to think of one thing good I could say about it. Since it's off topic and there may be some fans out there I don't want to insult, I'll leave it at that, but if you want to know specifics, write me by email.
    Are the films you listed from 1976 all film's you've seen and liked? I've seen all but "Seven Beauties." yes indeed, those 70s had quite a few fascinating releases! Thanks for commenting Mark!

  5. With the exception of "All The President's Men", yes, I've seen all those movies that I've mentioned, and I do hold them all in good regard. However, I had to mention "ATPM" simply because you hadn't listed it, and it's held in tremendously high regard by so many people. Whenever I think of the films from 1976, I almost always think of "ATPM", in addition to the fact that this played in a Melbourne cinema about two and a half years ago, but I was unable to attend--you've no idea how crushed I was about that! But there's always a very good chance that it will turn up again.

    It shall interest you to know that "Carrie" still plays every now and again in Melbourne. It's a cult favourite and modern audiences still respond well to it. Brian De Palma is of course well-noted for his religious symbolism in his films, and "Carrie" affords him plenty of terrain in this respect. Even really minute details: for example, the parking space crosses painted on the side of the road that are basically upside down crucifixes.

    By the way, I wonder how many people know that Sissy Spacek was a set dresser on the earlier Brian De Palma classic "Phantom of the Paradise"! Things like this are one of the reasons why I stay for the credits at the end of a film.

  6. Wow! Thank you so much for this incredible essay. "Carrie" is my all-time favorite film, and you really hit the nail on the head as to why it is such a great, classic film.

    1. Thank you very much, Ryan! I can be a tad effusive when it's a film I like as much as "Carrie", but honestly, it looks better and better the older I get. I even like the tuxedo shopping sequence. Nice to hear you are a fan of the film and I'm gratified if I've perhaps done the film justice in your eyes. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to respond. Much appreciated.

  7. Great article. I saw Carrie for the first time when I was ten, in 1990, and it has stayed with me ever since. The prom sequence gives me shivers everytime I watch it.

    As for the remake, I am optimistic. Kimberley Peirce did an amazing job in "Boys don't cry", which is a very Carrie-esque story if you come to think about that. Non-horror directors make great movies when given horror stories. At least, we'll get good character treatment.

    Thanks for the article. I'm always happy to see Carrie still being discussed to this day. She is immortal.

    1. Thanks very much!
      The prospect of a remake of a favored film usually fills me with dread, but one of my favorite horror films, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", was remade into a movie I actually wound up preferring to the original. As you point out, Pierce is a wonderful, non-genre director. It would be great if she could make a "Carrie" that justifies a revisit to the story. It's rare, but it has certainly been done before. But I sure feel sorry for any actress having to follow in Spacek's shoes. She is just phenomenal in this.
      Always nice to hear that "Carrie" still works for younger generations. Thanks so much for commenting!

  8. I could go on at length about this film -- and come the day we meet, I probably will! -- but let it suffice for me to say that, as always, this is a fantastic post. You obviously write from the heart as well as the mind, and did this very special movie justice. Kudos!

    1. What an exceptionally kind compliment, Thom! My posts are wholly subjective and only reflect my personal tastes, but I always hope my love of movies comes through.
      I really am a big fan of "Carrie" and would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  9. Yesterday I settled in for an afternoon movie, and was delighted when I stumbled across 'Carrie' while channel surfing. Ever since my hard drive gave up the ghost I have been slowly trying to rebuild the films I've lost, and 'Carrie' was one I had overlooked. Watching it again yesterday reminded me why I kept it in the first place. WHAT a movie. My god, it offers a little bit of everything and the performances really knock me out- but I must say that Piper Laurie is an absolute standout in my opinion with her fervent and unstable character always giving me chills :P

    With the film freshly in my mind, I knew I had to come and reread this post. Thank you Ken :)

    PS This is the first time I've heard of the 2013 remake. Is nothing sacred?

    1. Thank you for coming back after a revisit with "Carrie"! It really does hold up amazingly well, doesn't it? Such a fine film that, in my opinion is so perfect that a remake will have an incredibly hard time stepping out from behind its shadow. It's been done before, but I don't know if I harbor much hope.
      I just wish sometime Hollywood could quell its remake mania.

    2. I have just happened across your wonderful review and discussion of Carrie, thank you for your posting. You are clearly a fan, me too. I have no reticence in saying that Carrie is my favourite film of all time, something that typically meets with raised eyebrows and puzzled looks. But not here!

      The more often I watch this film, the more I notice and more I take from it.

      I feel compelled to comment on Brian de Palma’s direction – quite remarkable. My evidence? Here are some examples.

      Take the opening shower scene. The lingering camera shots soon evoke a soft porn flick. We the viewers are compelled into the role of the voyeur, with the consequent power dynamic that puts us in a position of power over Carrie, just like all her tormentors. Then the blood starts to flow and we are jolted back into seeing Carrie as the young girl with very little understanding of her body and the world around her.

      Also, for a while I wondered why de Palma had included the comic sequence of Tommy Ross and his mates choosing their tuxedoes – it’s a horror film, isn’t it? Only later did I come to view this as a device to tempt us into seeing the film as a standard teen comedy; you know the genre of film I mean - the kids fret about the prom, get dressed, (try to) get laid and go home to mum and dad's, but of course we all know that isn't going to happen, but the sequence just emphasises the hellishness of the subsequent events. Also, consider how the girls' exercise punishment earlier in the film is accompanied by some wonderful electronic musings that wouldn't be out-of-place in some cheesy 70s teen-com, think 'The Partridge Family' or 'Freaky Friday' maybe. Again, it helps us remember that none of the high school kids know they're in a horror film; they're just trying to get a date, get out of games class and look cool (in full-on 70s fashions of course). It’s all just laughs and pranks for them, including the pig blood(!).

      Then Tommy invites Carrie to the prom and the inexorable build up to the climax begins. Brian de Palma tightly controls the ascent/descent. He clearly relishes the use of slow motion to delay Carrie's dreadful humiliation. Whether it's the first time you see the film and you really don't know what's going to happen or, like me, you've seen it countless times, a knot develops in the pit of your stomach that grows more painful as the minutes tick by and slowly we realise we’re willing on the inevitable if only to put us out of the truly agonising wait. Has de Palma finally succeeded in making us complicit in Carrie's torment just as he teased us to be right at the beginning in the shower? Not quite, surely we all ultimately feel the greatest sympathy for Carrie.

      Please watch this film and then drag everyone you know to sit down in front of the screen and watch it again (and again) with you.

    3. Hi Jonathan!
      Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your affection for this film. Now that the remake has hit the theaters and the overriding consensus is that the original has absolutely no fear of being unseated, perhaps people will revisit "Carrie" and take the time to appreciate its subtle brilliance. Many of those points you call attention to.
      I particularly like your observation that De Palma stylistically does not tip this hand that he is making a horror film. He is making a teen film, and by playing with our genre expectations (humor, angst, cliques) he makes a horror film that is all the more harrowing by first and foremost, being a good story, well-told. I hope now they cease trying to remake this film and merely acknowledge it as a classic (like Rosemary's Baby or Psycho) that is without peer and can't be improved upon.
      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments! Always nice to hear from a fan of the film who can articulate what they like about it. Cheers!

  10. This is one of the movies my mother made me watch with her, much to my chagrin, because she knew I would like it (she was right - she had a knack for sitting me down in front of 'old movies' that I would end up loving). I just recently watched it and had to check back on your take, and you are absolutely right about the sensitivity - I was really moved every time Carrie is tormented at school (that sequence with the English teacher is awful) and when she tries to get any sympathy from her mother. Maybe being removed from high school for 10+ years now gives me a different understanding of this movie (I was more like Carrie than Chris regardless). I knew the bucket of blood was coming, but when it actually happened, it was like seeing it for the first time again. I also agree and noticed also Betty Buckley's portrayal and those small flashes you mention where you REALLY see her sympathy, or her anger, in an incredibly honest way.

    I have a growing fondness for DePalma now that I never really had - he has such a specific style that I am appreciating. 'Dressed To Kill' and 'Sisters' are also favorites of mine, and 'The Fury' and 'Blow Out' are on my netflix queue. How do you fell about him as a director?

    And yes, I agree - Sissy Spacek, no matter how anybody tries, will always be Carrie.

    PS - My mother also had a great knack for scaring the living daylights out of me when we watched movies together. One great example is when, during the last scene, where Carrie's hand comes up from the rubble and grabs Sue - my mother grabbed my arm at the EXACT moment. I think I flew off of the couch!

    1. First off, Colin, your mom sounds terrific! I have an older sister who passed on her love of movies to me when I was growing up, so I know the value of discovering films with someone who relates to them more than mere time-wasters and distractions.
      The things you take note of in the film denote a real appreciation for storytelling, and a willingness to experience a film rather than just watch it.
      As for De Palma, he was one of those directors whose work I really admired in my youth. Although I find "Blow Out" a difficult film to like, outside of "Body Double", I've almost all of his early efforts. But I think "Scarface"was the last of his films that worked for me. His 70s stuff, however, is just amazing. Such a good visual storyteller. Of all his films I like "Carrie" the most.
      Thanks for sharing your feelings about this film and especially the fun story about your mom getting you to watch it!

  11. I saw "Carrie" at the local grindhouse back in 1981 and, a few months later, "Missing" during its first run and got to see Sissy go from Carrie White to Beth Horman; one was fighting the bullies, another was fighting Pinochet and the CIA. I've always wished Sissy could have brought some of that telekenesis with her to the later movie and given it a much happier ending!

    1. Yikes! You're right...two Sissy Spacek films with very unhappy endings. (But that is a very nice wish you had for the bleak ending of "Missing"!)
      Thanks for sharing how you came to see "Carrie". You were very lucky to have been given a real glimpse of Spacek's versatility seeing two such diverse roles in close proximity.

  12. "Just as Mia Farrow is and always will be the one and only Rosemary Woodhouse, Sissy Spacek's touchingly raw performance assures that there can only be, and only ever will be, one true Carrie"
    Like there is just one Some Like It Hot, one Clockwork Orange, one Belle de Jour, one Rebecca. But filmmakers keep pushing on. Anything for sales and profits.
    Amy Irving made a grave mistake when she signed on to 'Carrie, The Rage'. And she didn't even need the money.

    1. the older I get, the more rooted i become in the notion that certain films deserve a kind of "hands off" treatment by the industry. We all know it's an industry run by lawyers and dealmakers, but every once in a while a genuine bit of pop-cultural art is produced, and I wish sometimes Hollywood could see past it's profit margin (and the artistic arrogance of young filmmakers who think that can improve upon perfection)do it better) and just leave certain films alone.
      I know that nothing is sacred in film, but sometimes basic common sense would seem to dictate certain films do not warrant a remake, reimagining, or reboot. Move on and make something original and create the new "Carrie", but I really wish they would just leave this one be. It's a flawed gem in my book, and every sequel and remake only serves to prove how right De Palma got it.
      And the Amy Irving thing and "Carrie: The Rage"...what was that? I only hope it was a favor returned or something.
      Great observations, as usual, Willem!

  13. My opinion of Carrie changed forever when I read that Stephen King (as revealed in his book, "On Writing") had based the character of Carrie on two girls from his high school years. One lived with a religious fanatic mother in a trailer. King remembers being asked by the mother to help move a life-size crucifix (complete with life-size bleeding Christ) in her living room. That girl died from a seizure while taking a bath. The second girl, was so poor that she wore the same clothes to school every day and was the constant butt of jokes and humiliating treatment. Upon the return to school from Christmas vacation, she appeared with her hair styled in an attractive new ensemble. Unfortunately, her peers' treatment of her was unchanged. Also, as she had only the one new outfit to wear, she had to perspire through warming temperatures in that same Christmas sweater and woolen skirt. Years later, pregnant with her third child, she killed herself with a knife. I won't be watching it again.

  14. I have a real connection with Carrie. Even before I watched it, I knew I would love it. I was an outsider in high school, I felt lonely and awkward most of the time, and most people usually wouldn't be kind towards me. But even then I wasn't aware of how miserable she was and when I first watched the movie I was terrified because you can't get more tragic than this (from a teenager perspective)

    I love this movie with all my heart and even though some people (like Stephen King) say it's dated I think it holds it's power: it still terrifies, scares, touches and enrages everyobe I recommend it to (My sister didn't like it, she was devastated by the ending, she really felt the movie in every scene, so when all was said and done the experience wasn't positive for her: she wanted Carrie to have a happy ending and was so depressed that I had to watch Doris Day's "Pillow Talk" with her righ after. My sibilings can easily project themselves on what they're seeing, so if there's not a happy ending then the whole experience is lost. They're 19 and 20 years old).

    The acting is just AMAZING. Sissy Spacek is really an acting treasure and I didn't doubt the thruth she put in the caracther at any moment. Even when she's scaring people around she's vulnerable, and you can't really hate her, but feel sorry she was driven mad. She's different from the book (Carrie is a lot more darker in the book, maybe because you see how her powers operate in her mind, how they push her to hate when she still tries to be a good girl) but she's still a whole character in the adaptation. Piper Laurie was glorious. I didn't knew her before it (and was so happy when she popped up in "Children From a Lesser God") but she gave one of my favorite performances. Spacek and Piper gave so much to one another that they brilliantly deliver performances that would end up cheesy or over-played by other actors. The dinner scene when Carrie says she was asked to the prom gave me everything, there's a real atmosphere there, that house is so darn big and still there's this clausthrophobic feeling all over the place. The lighting is almost mystical and the sooundtrack works SO WELL (it's maybe too loud at times, but I'm not really complaining. Pino Donnagio is one of my favorite composers, and I love what he did with De Palma. My favorite score of his is "Dressed to Kill"'s. If I can recommend you a track, please, listen to "The Museum".)

    I like what De Palma did. The casting is GREAT, and he has this nice "vision", you can clearly tell he's challenging himself to go beyond Hitchcock's work (those scenes you talked about where he frames two characters in two different spots are a good example of how he's constantly trying to elevate his work) even though he sometimes ends up being called as a lazy copycat.

    Carrie moves me, and by now I can see how the director tries to manipulate me, but I always surrender to him. I developed this deep love by this character and I end up rooting for her like the first time. I felt like I was really at the prom, with the nicest guy, dancing to that song ("There's another world / Where there are other girls / But tonight there's only me")...
    Sometimes we think we deserve our suffering, but by seeing Carrie and deserving her to be happy, I understand I don't deserve suffering either. it ends up like a healing experience for me, and an exercise of empathy. Maybe that's why it's so important to me.
    Thank you for your amazing post, Ken!!

    1. Hi Joao Paulo
      Your thoughts on "Carrie" was a very enjoyable read, insightful as ever. Your appreciation extends beyond its entertainment value, and I'm sure De Palma would be gladdened to know that his film (which could have wound up being a routine genre entry) communicates a timeless emotional truth that has nothing to do with the dated clothing.
      It's a rare thing when a "horror" movie can connect with a viewer in the ways you describe, but I too think "Carrie" is exceptional in its performances and conveyance of a high school reality all too many people can relate to. Brilliant work by Stephen King, awe some adaptation by De Palma and team.
      The last point you make is a good one; the feeling that people sometimes have that they deserve suffering.
      It's an observation very much tied into the religious fanaticism of the mother (Eve was weak), guilt, and the basic philosophy of some religions that we are sinners from birth.
      I think far and beyond the whole telekinesis angle, there's a wealth of thoughtful material in "Carrie" about that very human belief. Everybody deserves a happy ending, in my opinion, but the harsh reality of life is that often that's not possible. it's sobering, and it's an adult reality i can totally see would be upsetting to your siblings.
      Movies offer us an orderly world (we hope)...when it reflects the chaos and sadness of the real thing...well, sometimes Doris Day is the only remedy.
      Thanks for a brilliant contribution to this post!

  15. Hey! I too thing it's not a usual thing to find someone who has a deep connection with a horror movie, so I avoid talking passionately about Carrie cause I don't want people thinking I'm a sociopath lol

    One thing I forgot to mention is Laurie's contribution to the movie. The orgasmic death was her idea, and that scene when she says that Carrie's pink dress is read was also her idea. None of this was in the book, and both ideas were used in the 2013 remake. I was really hyped for that movie but I left the theater offended by their laziness and lack of boldness. They had an amazing source material but decided to just copy the 1976 movie, line by line. I don't know what's the purpose of such project if it's not to bring something new to the table. (As a fan of practical effects over CGI I couldn't even enjoy that lol)

    Thank you for tying the feeling of deserving suffering with religious matters, I didn't see that (and it was in front of my face the whole time). I was raised in a very catholic family, in a very catholic neighbourhood from a very catholic city. I still feel the influences of such upbringing on myself and I didn't realize that thinking I should suffer first to be happy later also comes from that past. It's funny cause the more I grow up, the more I find out about the impact of my childhood on my life.

    This reminds about how much Carrie borrows from biblic and mystic influences. The blood throughout the movie (the very first scene and the last major ones are about blood), the sacrifices (physical and symbolic ones), all the guilt and fear... What a movie!

    And, well, Doris Day is a remedy I can take any day!

  16. Only watching the second half of this movie caused me to have a nervous breakdown that lasted for about a year, but....I eventually got through everything by writing my thoughts down (That file hasn't been opened since 2002), and now, I can watch MOST of the movie, and I LOVE the musical version of it.

    I tend to agree that Disney movies like "Hunchback" and "Tangled" were inspired by this movie, and that the story of "Carrie" is the horror version of "Cinderella".

    1. Sorry about the nervous breakdown, but glad it didn't prevent you from appreciating the film (and falling in love with the musical!)
      And fairy tales and horror movies often have a great deal in common (Those Grimm Fairy Tales were as horrific as they get).

  17. Thanks for this blog which is well written. I'm a bit obsessed with this movie at the moment, and your observations are very useful.

    1. Why, thank you very much, Tony. An as films go, you couldn't have picked a better one to be a bit obsessed with. It's really marvelous.
      Thanks for reading this post and for your kind comment!