This is King’s first novel to be published and first one to be adapted to the silver screen. And if you ask me, it’s probably my favorite. Credit where it’s due — Brian De Palma presented a master class in how to build intensity and intensity in this film. It’s so perfect that it brings me to tears.
The difference between this film and any other teenager being abused who learns they have powers and gets revenge film is that we actually care about the teenagers. They’re real. Other than one of them being able to move things with her mind, their issues feel genuine. Some characters have shades of gray. And no one emerges unscathed in the end.
The film starts with shy Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) having her first period in the shower, surrounded by other girls. This typical nightmare scenario, one we expect to wake up from, like dreaming we’re stuck in school naked, is happening to her as the other girls pelt her with sanitary napkins. Christine Hargensen (Nancy Allen, Dressed to Kill) leads the others as they yell “Plug it up!” Carrie’s terror goes off as light bulbs explode and her teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley, who is so perfect in this), has to console her.
At home, Carrie is abused further by her mother (Piper Laurie, Twin Peaks) who screams at her for her sinful thoughts. Dragged into a prayer closet, she must beg God to forgive her.
One of Carrie’s classmates, Sue Snell (Amy Irving, the only actress to show up in the sequel — more about that travesty tomorrow) feels guilty, so she asks her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt, House) to take Carrie to the prom. Miss Collins makes the girls pay for the way they treat by sending them to detention, where Chris’ behavior leads the teacher to slap her and suspend her from the prom.
That’s when Chris comes up with a horrible plot: they will name Carrie as prom queen and dump blood upon her, a scheme that she gets her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) to make happen.
Carrie’s mom learns that she is going to the prom and accuses her of witchcraft. She uses her powers to throw her mother down. While at the prom, Carrie finds a happiness that she has never known until now. She feels accepted. She feels love. And she has her first kiss with Tommy.
What follows is what makes this movie a classic.
Chris’ friend Norma (Totally P.J. Soles!) rigs the election and Tommy and Carrie walk to the stage to be crowned. At the last second, Sue tries to stop things and fails. And that’s when De Palma uses nearly every trick in his book to amp this scene up. Split screen, multiple angles, time distortions…it’s pure cinema.
This scene took two weeks and 35 takes to shoot, including an intense dizzying scene that was created by placing Spacek and Katt on a platform that spun in the opposite direction of a camera that was dollied away from the actors.
After all that build and suspense, the bucket of pig’s blood covers Carrie and knocks out Billy. Our heroine has a hallucination that her mother’s warning of everyone laughing at her has come true and she unleashes the full fury of her powers. Right and wrong, good and evil, everyone pays.
You’d never guess that Sissy Spacek was her high school’s homecoming queen.
Carrie walks away as Chris and Billy try to kill her with his car, but she easily makes it flip over and explode. Soon, she is back home, crying in her mother’s arms. Margaret confesses that Carrie is a child of rape, then stabs her in the back. She fights back by crucifying her mother and burying herself within the house.
As Sue comes to the grave, months after this all happens, she is startled by a bloody hand that emerges from the tomb to attack her. Yet it’s all a dream in a shock ending that has been — and will be — copied over and over.
This is a movie that has lost none of its power. If it’s not in your collection, you don’t have one to speak of. Shout! Factory has a great collector’s edition and you can also stream it at Amazon Prime or Hulu.