Release Date: November 3rd, 1976 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Brian De Palma Actors: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, P.J. Soles
t starts with full frontal female nudity as the camera peers around corners of a girl’s locker room in slow motion to spy on socially awkward Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), showering alone (where the clearly phallic showerhead streams water at her). She’s traumatized by her first period, which is the instigator for ridicule by her high school classmates. Reacting irrationally and naively, she’s momentarily comforted by the gym teacher before being sent home for the rest of the day. Confused and enraged by the incident, she mentally (supernaturally) strikes out at her opponents, resulting in an exploding light bulb, a broken ash tray, and a pestering boy thrown from his bicycle.
Her mother preaches fanatically to the neighborhood, but conceals cruel abuse toward Carrie at home. Slapping her, shouting vehemently, and locking her in a claustrophobic closet, parent Margaret White’s (Piper Laurie) constant debasement is slowly driving Carrie to reveal a secreted, uncontrolled ability: telekinesis. Two of the primary firebrands for Carrie’s harassment at school, Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and Sue Snell (Amy Irving), seek closure with Carrie for their inadvertent punishment of detention at the hands of the merciless (but just) gym teacher Collins (Betty Buckley). At her request, Sue’s boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) agrees to ask Carrie to the prom to help bolster up her self esteem; Chris’ boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta) slaughters a pig to drain its blood for a ruthless prank.
The camera moves rapidly over the shoulder of its subjects, or pushes uncomfortably close to faces. It also utilizes high and low angles, off-centered imagery that anticipates movement appearing onscreen, and distant shots that surround characters in shadows. Nearly every scene is designed to cause uneasiness, mirroring the terrors of adolescence – especially as seen through the eyes of Carrie, uneducated by her mother on every aspect of physical and mental maturation. Collins attempts to fill the void, but her reassurance and support feels fake – principally because she continues to interfere with subsequent persecution by attempting to reason with the inciters, as if they’re of equivalent mentalities.
Carrie isn’t unintelligent; she recognizes her own gracelessness with other people and hopes to amend her deficiencies in communicating with students her own age. Eventually, she even stands up to her mother’s tirades, gaining an unlikely confidence against the repetitious, aberrant behavior. But Chris is unusually bloodthirsty, while Sue is unconvincing as an abettor fueled by guilt (genuine remorse is elusive, despite her sacrifice of not only her boyfriend but also her own prom attendance). Carrie’s innocence is no match for the over-the-top bullying. “You’ll never forget it,” Miss Collins insists of Carrie’s prom experience, unintentionally sinisterly foreshadowing a shocking outcome.
Screeching violins (quite reminiscent of “Psycho” – perhaps it’s no coincidence that the school is named Bates) are alternated with lighter, deceptively serene tunes and out-of-place, funky electric guitar riffs (expected from ‘70s soundtracks). The editing at the conclusion is spectacularly effective, riddled with slow motion, split frames, monochromatic imagery, the cutting out of sounds, and finally screams, flames, and the bloodily supernatural repercussions of persecution (affecting the innocent as equally as the guilty). It’s atmospheric and weird, instantly putting director Brian De Palma, writer Stephen King, and actress Sissy Spacek in the cinematic spotlight. The ultimate rebellion and revenge against high school tormenting (and extreme, religious, parental discipline), “Carrie” is a film that will forever be remembered not for technical proficiency or infrequent scares, but rather the unpredictably horrific climax (now famous), exuding exceptional creepiness and murderous insanity.
– Mike Massie