“I got invited to the prom.”
– Cissy Spacek, as Carrie white.
– Cissy Spacek, as Carrie white.
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel succeeds on levels that not many horror movies ever have: it is both chilling and heart-breaking; a supernatural tragedy.
We are first introduced to Carrie White (Cissy Spacek) in an opening scene that sets the tone for the entire movie, as she fumbles a play, resulting in her team losing a volley ball game. One bully, Norma (P.J. Soles), slaps her with a baseball cap moments before another, Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen), informs her that she eats shit!
Carrie is small, fragile and vulnerable, the school misfit and outcast everyone bullies when they aren’t ignoring. However, by underestimating Carrie, her tormentors have made the biggest mistake of their lives. Carrie is gifted with telekinesis, which we see as a power-spike of her emotions whenever she reaches a peak of her anguish or rage: the light bulb exploding in the ceiling of the shower room, an ashtray spinning from a desktop, a cruel child suddenly thrown from his bike after chanting at her: “crazy Carrie”, mirrors shattering, windows and shutters slamming closed.
Home life proves to be equally as hellish as the hours she endures at school. She’s ruled over and punished at every turn by her deranged, religious maniac mother, superbly portrayed by Piper Laurie.
Upon discovering that Carrie has begun to menstruate, her mother immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s God punishing her for some sin she believes she must be guilty of committing. After ranting twisted dogma, Margaret White drags Carrie kicking and screaming into a small closet, where she makes her stay for hours, praying to a strange-looking effigy. In later scenes, Margaret tells her: “pimples are the Lord’s way of chastising you” and refers to women’s breasts as “dirty pillows”. Then she resorts to self-harming, scratching her own face and yanking at her hair because she is losing her hold over Carrie.
Amy Irving plays Sue Snell, seemingly the only student in the entire school with a conscience. She feels guilty after joining the others and mocking Carrie in the shower room and persuades her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (William Katt) to take her to the prom as a way of redeeming herself. Unbeknownst to her, chief bully Chris has plans of her own for Carrie, the prank to top them all, the ultimate humiliation in front of the entire school.
At first, Carrie and her compassionate gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), are suspicious of Tommy’s motivations, fearing that they are attempting to set her up again. But Carrie finally gives in and agrees to be his prom date.
My favorite scene is the dance they share during the prom. It’s perfectly filmed as the camera spins in one direction and the actors turn the opposite way as they dance. Carrie shares her first kiss with Tommy and her suspicions evaporate as he puts her mind at ease and confesses that the poem he wrote during class, which she loved, wasn’t his work. They laugh and spin faster, as the music swells to the lyrics: “I Never Dreamed Someone Like You (Could Love Someone Like Me)”, beautifully sung by Katie Irving.
At this point, Carrie, caught up in the magic of the moment, is at her happiest and she believes that she has finally been accepted and her life has changed for the better. Cissy Spacek is superb in the role and it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for the character she plays. Her joy and childlike innocence is also well portrayed in an earlier scene at the pharmacy, as she experiments with lipsticks.
We see Carrie at her best, beautiful inside and out, before she is humiliated for the last time and we see the worst side of her rage. She takes her revenge in a scene bathed in a blood-red light, matching the blood her tormentors have drenched her in.
Albeit a horror movie, this is a powerful examination of victimization and it’s consequences for perpetrators and innocent bystanders alike – the latter of which happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (as is often sadly true in real life) when Carrie was pushed over the edge.
Can Carrie be blamed for venting her wrath on the perpetrators who played one prank too many?
How far is too far?
Carrie is one of those rare horror movies with a great script, humorous and terrifying by equal measure, classily directed and brilliantly acted throughout, giving the movie a beating heart at the core and one of the best shock endings in movie history.
Watch out for the quiet ones; they can often be hiding the sharpest temper.