PhotobucketPoor Carrie White! She’s a sad, withdrawn high school teen. An outcast, she has no friends. Even the girl‘s religiously fanatical mother is abusive toward her, constantly scolding her for her “sins.” But Carrie is a special 16 year old girl. One day after a particularly traumatic event in the girl’s locker room, she becomes aware of telekinetic abilities. The ability seems to have been brought on by her maturing into womanhood. These recurring episodes will become more intense as the drama develops.

Carrie is highlighted by several memorable performances. Sissy Spacek is quite impressive as the shy, introverted teen. So much so that the narrative actually plays better as a coming-of-age story over the horror movie it is most often labeled as. She gives Carrie a genuine yearning for acceptance that is at times heartbreaking. Piper Laure is her overtly religious mother. It’s an incredibly over the top spectacle that seizes attention. It verges on camp. Viewed as a characterization of a Christian fundamentalist, she is ridiculously excessive. However taken as a portrait of a woman with severe mental problems, it’s more believable. She, like Sissy Spacek, was recognized with an Academy Award nomination. Not nominated but noteworthy is Betty Buckley as Miss Collins, the girl’s gym teacher. Displaying an understated approach, she provides much needed sympathy to Carrie’s suffering. Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles are all rather compelling in early film roles as her peers.

Carrie is a classic that makes any legitimate list of the best horror films ever made. It’s a regular staple of Halloween viewing. While there are definitely sinister elements, what surprises is how introspective our tale really is. As a chronicle of a girl’s maturation, it’s surprisingly effective thanks to Sissy Spacek’s moving depiction of the bullied teen. Director Brian De Palma dresses up a seemingly simple account with cinematic style. Pino Donaggio’s symphonic score is atmospheric and highly evocative. A frequent collaborator, the Italian composer is to Brian De Palma what Bernard Herrmann is to Alfred Hitchcock, even recalling that American legend in his work. Deep focus and split screen are used to strengthen the visual impact. Twice, slow motion is employed to draw a scene out. The gimmick might annoy some, but I found it to be remarkably potent in highlighting tension, especially in the horrific climax. I’ll admit the “everything goes BOOM” is a horror cliché, but it still is endlessly entertaining.

25 Responses to “Carrie”

  1. Great classic movie. Kinda campy kinda scary, but very good. So many great performances too. Sissy was perfectly cast. She was pathetic and shy, I felt for her. 4 1/2stars


    • Piper Laurie is campy. Her (Oscar nominated) performance feels like she’s in a different movie from everyone else. However I’ve grown to love it.


      • Amy Irving on the list too! And Orson Welles as the voice of Darth Vader?! If only….

        I’m still wondering if there’s a copy available (of course beyond the salt mines that have scrap celluloid from classics like Star Wars and Wiz of Oz) that has David Prowse as body AND voice of Vader. I’m sure you already knew that they dubbed in James Earl Jones because Prowse’s strong Cajun brogue wasn’t threatening enough, right? I’d get a good kick out of “How dayer yeh defy may!”


    • FACT: Carrie Fisher was the initial casting choice for Carrie White, and Sissy Spacek was the initial casting choice for Princess Leia in Star Wars. They switched roles when Fisher expressed discomfort performing the nude scenes that open the film.


  2. Recently had occasion to rewatch this as part of a course on the Cinema of Brian De Palma at PSU – just in time for Halloween in fact! This time I noticed the ways in which the film used music. The opening shot has none. The credits begin with the lush/romantic music over slow motion in the girl’s shower. The music turns creepy but not “horror movie” when Carrie gets her first period (during first period? :p) and the horrific stuff really comes on like gangbusters during scenes at home with mommy. Then there’s the prom, which features a song in the background mentioning everything from “devil possession” to “going to Hell” – and that’s before the song that mirrors Carrie’s inner feeling at her highest peak (“I never imagined that someone like you / could want someone like me” or something to that effect). 🙂 Also worth noting: the “deep focus” is mostly actually use of a Split Diopter – an actual lense that is split down the middle and gives the effect of a split screen where one shot/frame is actually split down the middle so the extreme foreground is big and the background is also in focus but smaller. It’s an odd effect and one we’re finding again and again in De Palma’s work as the term races to a conclusion. Yet one more thing: De Palma of course worked with Herrmann himself in everything from Sisters (1973) to Obsession (1976) but then I believe Herrmann died in 1976 (he finished Obsession’s score right before dying! – and considered it his best!!!). Donaggio took over for quite a while with this film, but I wouldn’t call his scores symphonic so much as synthetic, lush and passionate by some turns and alien and mechanical by others. For whatever that’s worth.


    • You left a comment on Facebook that was quite interesting.

      “Miss Collins doesn’t strike me as particularly understanding/sympathetic and by her own admission near the beginning (after the period shower scene) ‘wanted to shake Carrie (her)self.’ This leads me to the conclusion that Collins found Carrie pathetic more than sympathetic…”

      Carrie had a compete meltdown in that locker room. Let’s face it, she was kind of pathetic. Miss Collins in a moment of honesty, revealed her innermost thoughts privately to the principal…exactly what the audience was feeling too. BUT Miss Collins didn’t act on it. Instead, she comforted Carrie and was very genuine to her. Her intentions were always admirable

      Yes split-diopter as well as split-screen were techniques used extensively in the 70s. It can get a bit conspicuous if overused. As I mentioned in my review, I admired De Palma’s used of it here. One particular scene was where the English teacher has read Tommy Ross’ poem and Carrie calls it “beautiful”.

      I felt the score was very orchestral – those violins! It was lush and not at all indicative of a typical horror film. That’s all I meant when I called it symphonic.

      Thank you for your really detailed comment, Eric. I appreciate the insight you gleaned from your class. 🙂


  3. Great writeup Mark. Although this is one of my favorite horror movies ever (sometimes I pull up the final dream sequence trying not to jump…never works!!!), you’re right that it functions even more effectively as a perturbing coming of age drama. I’m wondering that of all the high schools so concerned over bullying, how many of them have shown 1976’s Carrie to the entire student body? I’m pretty sure that’d be an easy way to put an end to the crisis, if not make it significantly less populous.


    • I won’t spoil the sequence, other than to say that I heard it really was Sissy Spacek in that scene – not a body double!


      • I’m reading through the comments section very vigorously now, and your comment about the dream sequence, as well as the previous comment about symbolism gathered from a course about De Palma, have really had thoughts scorching through my brain. I’m now dying to watch it again……perhaps right before the remake comes out? I have high expectations for that one, as it has Julianne Moore and Chloë Grace Moretz.

        Another note: If you read the book (and if you haven’t, you SHOULD!!), Stephen King dedicates the novel (his debut) to his wife Tabitha, who got him into writing it before trying to take him out of it again. He had thrown his rough copy away, thinking it was awful, but she retrieved it from the garbage and he finished the novel. A few weeks later, he came home after the book’s publication to find her crying on the couch, severely regretting her decision.


    • I love my readers. Thanks for your comments, Alexander. Fascinating stuff!


  4. “Carrie” is one of my all-time favorite films. I hope the new remake stays faithful to all of the points that you brought out about the original.


    • I know what you mean. However if it stays too faithful to the original, I question why it needed to be remade. Personally I think remakes should be reserved for movies that weren’t very good the first time. In which case, Carrie should be left alone.


      • There is so much that DePalma got right with that movie, but there are still a few things that are inexplicable, such as the scene with the guys trying on the tuxes. There is room for another adaptation that includes more of the book than what was possible in 1976. Plus, this story can be updated without hurting the plot, and in fact, modern technology can add another dimension that can help make this story relevant. They tried with the TV movie a decade ago, but it fell flat. I don’t see the remake as a replacement, but another version that can possibly be just as entertaining as the original and offer enough new material to justify its existence.


    • A new interpretation could be intriguing. I am keeping an open mind.


  5. Great review, Mark! Still haven’t seen this one :/
    I assume this wasn’t your first time watching Carrie, was it?


  6. moviewriting Says:

    I’m glad that you enjoyed this, Mark. It’s been years since I’ve seen it but the ending scene, amongst others, still stays with me. I’m not quite sure the remake will ever live up to the original. Great review!


  7. Great review. I love this movie, but for a good part of it, I was plain bored. It didn’t seem particularly exciting. But once that scene came, the rampage, I was hooked. Carrie creates one of the creepiest/eeriest scene ever.

    I actually talk about that scene in depth in my review. I would love it if you had the time to check it out and give me some feedback.


  8. Excellent post! I agree 100% with your review. “Carrie” is the film that first made me a horror movie fan, thanks to the ending of the prom sequence that my teenage brain, at the time, considered mind blowing.


    • I think it’s the performances that make this so watchable. Sissy Spacek is especially good here. This was her prime. She did Badlands a few years before and Coal Miner’s Daughter a few years after.


  9. GaryLee828 Says:

    I really, honestly do not see what the fuss is about this movie. The prom scene was underwhelming, and it was over in like 2 minutes. Spray some water. Break some lights. Fire. Smash a few decorations. Then walk out.

    And the split screen made it feel cartoonish and took away from any portrayal of genuine realism. “Halloween” was a much better horror film that didn’t let up. The chase between Michael Myers and Laurie LINGERS and the suspense prolongs. There is hardly any suspense in “Carrie”.

    But anyway, I think I’ve said enough about this one on my own blog. I need to find something else to watch now. lol.

    *By the way, did you watch the remake? I can’t find a review on here for the remake. I am actually going to try to watch it to see if I think it’s any better executed. It’ll be interesting to see CGM in this role, although I know won’t be better than Spacek’s. Spacek’s performance was the one aspect I thought was great in the original. De Palma got that right.


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