Throwback Thursday: Carrie (1976)
Carrie (1976) movie review
Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of 1976 limited release of the Brian De Palma directed horror film Carrie. For those of you unfamiliar, Carrie is based on the novel by Stephen King which more or less was the novel that propelled him to fame first. The film follows a high school girl named, you guessed it, Carrie. At school, she is reticule for her sheltered behavior, and at home she is tormented by her mother, a religious zealot. However things begin to change for Carrie when she discovers that she possesses psychic abilities…
Carrie absolutely earned its critical and commercial success, even today standing out as a unique horror icon that helped inspire many more recent horror films that take a look at youth and treat its coming-of-age story as a terrifying experience… literally. So the bottom line here is that if you haven’t seen the original Carrie for some reason, you should! It’s great! (Also full disclosure, I haven’t read the book or seen the remakes, so I’m just sticking to the film here itself here.)
Now when held up against traditional modern horror, Carrie saves its scares and suspense for as long as possible, resulting in a slow burn building to an explosive third act that absolutely holds up as one of the most impactful tense and impactful in any horror film. Sure if you go into this film expecting terrifying events throughout like even many of the horror films in the late 70s, you won’t find them. That’s because Carrie keeps a potent character arc at the center of the story, building up Carrie’s abilities as her ability to become her own voice and stand up for herself. As violently as possible…
One of the ways Stephen King and screenplay writer Lawrence D. Cohen pull this off is the cast of supporting characters. In many coming of age films, if you have a horrible, overbearing parent, it is good to blend a bit or relatability in there. This is not the case with Margaret White. She is perfectly over the top in a way that even the audience knows how fraudulent she is at heart. But when it is a parent, what do you do? How to you stand up to such a powerful figure? It’s a tough situation that the film tackles head on, and darn it it’s not even the most powerful aspect of the story!
I always found that the social situation was more relatable. Carrie doesn’t fit in, and the cast of characters that revolves around Carrie at school is perfectly chosen. Chris is a fitting antagonist, someone who takes bullying too far and ends up being a menace for the sake of being treated as one. In fact the circle of cause and effect play a key theme in this film. The characters that I always found most impactful are Tommy and Sue though. At one point Miss Collins attempts to help Carrie, which seems to be worst for a teenager’s social life in most movies. Anyway this leads to an olive branch from Tommy and Sue. Now I don’t want to spoil this 45 year old film, but spending the rest of the film wondering how genuine these two are or aren’t is- well it really helps put us in Carrie’s state of mind!
Oh also John Travolta is in the movie.
Now enough about the depth and what-have-you, let’s talk quality. First of all, the performances are all pretty great! Piper Laurie as Miss White offers those layers to her character that character herself wouldn’t reveal. We know she wants to believe the things she says, but she is really trying to make up for her mistakes through Carrie. And we never feel sympathy for her, just a slight level of understanding. And then there’s Sissy Spacek as Carrie, who delivers a marvelously reserved and awkward performance which on some level anyone who didn’t feel like they fit in in school or at home can relate to. And thanks to her shy demeanor and reserved reactions, we end up essentially rooting for the character that we know will end up being the antagonist of their own story. (Not literally the antagonist, but you get the idea.) Both of these ladies were nominated for their performances at the 1977 Academy Awards, and rightly so.
Now the cinematography was wrongfully not nominated for an Oscar, and that is a shame. Between the deep and thematic framing from De Palma and the camerawork from Mario Tosi (and the late Isidore Mankofsky), I think Carrie is a very well shot film! The direction and the framing shows us what the characters are thinking without needless dialogue and exposition, even giving the audience more of a sense of the awkward surroundings than Carrie has. The framing when Carrie is in the principles office after the opening? So good. And of course the last act… A few of my favorite shots in any horror film.
Now, there are a few dated elements, and by dated, I mean I never saw the point in what feels like five solid minutes of Miss Collins making the girls in detention to push ups. There are a few odd moments here and there that I think could have been trimmed down a bit. Also a few moments that simply haven’t aged well. I’m not talking in accentuable culture or not (though there’s probably a discussion to be had about the opening…), but the filmmaking is just a little dated now and then.
Also the music. Pino Donaggio doesn’t exactly rip-off Bernard Herrmann’s score from Psycho (1960), as the film even pays homage to the Hitchcock masterpiece more than once. But it does get a bit old when the core is comprised of what feels like 60% shrieks on strings…
In the end though, Carrie is a really great film that deserves to be seen at least once! It has some wear and tear on it, but the way the story slowly comes to a boil by following the titular character arc as a coming of age film? Absolutely brilliant. The acting is great, the film is really well shot and edited, and that finale is worth the wait! We watched it last month with a slew of other horror films for Halloween, and Carrie was still one of the best that we watched. (Granted that’s not saying that much if you were to look at the list of movies we watched…) But my point is, 45 years later and this King horror film still holds up strong! 8/10.
So the original Carrie? Have you seen it? I mean probably… But what do you think? Have you see the miniseries or the remake? How do those compare? Be sure to leave a like or a comment (or both) below and let us know! And let us know what other films we should talk about for Throwback Thursdays! Thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince