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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, Hollywood

‘Carrie’ (1976): The Ugly Girl at the Dance


Directed by: Brian De Palma || Produced by: Paul Monash

Screenplay by: Lawrence D. Cohen || Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, P.J. Soles

Music by: Pino Donaggio || Cinematography: Mario Tosi || Editing by: Paul Hirsch || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 98 minutes

Rounding up the last of this year’s Halloween reviews is one of my recent favorite’s, Brian De Palma’s supernatural horror flick, Carrie. Much like with John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), I first started taking Carrie seriously when I discovered its director. I’m a big fan of De Palma’s gangster masterwork, Scarface (1983), as well as a somewhat less enthusiastic fan of his Tom Cruise-vehicle, Mission: Impossible (1996). I was eager to see what the man did with spookier subjects back in the 1970s, particularly in light of the recent Carrie (2013)-remake. In many ways, Carrie could be described as a teen drama-horror hybrid. It’s no slasher, and its narrative quickly establishes itself as something deeper than a hokey exorcism tale. This makes sense when you consider how the screenplay is adapted from the novel of the same name by Stephen King, which was the first book the man ever published.

The story centers around a teenage social outcast, the titular Carrie, a timid and frequently bullied high-school student for whom attending school isn’t exactly the most pleasant of affairs. Many of her problems stem from her horrible upbringing, courtesy of her demented, psychotically religious mother, who raised Carrie in almost complete isolation. The twist is that Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers after her first period. The plot thickens as Carrie’s venture into womanhood intertwines with multiple plots devised by her classmates, some devious, some kindhearted. All this juicy high-school drama builds into a fantastic climax at the school prom.

Top: Carrie’s gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley, right) does her best to console the misfit student and give her advice. Bottom: Carrie’s mother (a great Piper Laurie, right) brings a whole new meaning to the term “religious conservatism.”

What’s great about Carrie is how the screenplay almost makes you forget you’re watching a horror film for a good portion of the film’s running-time, and then the horror starts. The thrills hit you like a sledgehammer when they finally arrive. The story’s climax is fantastic, and much of its success has to do with how the screenplay paces itself until shit hits the fan. The parallels to sexual maturity and coming of age coinciding with supernatural powers are alluring. In many ways, Carrie serves as a nightmarish, Twighlight Zone-esque version of a teenage outcast’s life, and the narrative’s relatability adds razor teeth to its already potent emotional force. Compare Carrie’s climax to a depressed student’s suicide or a homicidal adolescent school-shooting if you wish. They all fit.

More importantly, Carrie is a character-driven horror story. None of its major players are cardboard cutouts, and they all feel like real people. Carrie is an especially empathetic character, and not just because we pity her, but rather because she’s so human in her quiet suffering. Her humanity is what makes the ending so tragic and horrifying.

De Palma’s direction plays second fiddle to Lawrence Cohen’s script, yet the film’s style is impressive enough to stand on its own on several occasions. The prom scene is noteworthy for its idiosyncratic camerawork and split-screen techniques, but the fluent way De Palma’s convey’s Carrie’s complicated emotions throughout the story is also commendable.

Carrie is a different breed of horror. It has neither murderous slashers nor sharp-toothed monsters, and consequently it scares in a far different way. It’s a 1970s teen pic doused with gallons of the horror genre. It is, at its core, a drama centered around the life of a high-schooler and her abusive interactions with her classmates and, to a lesser extent, her mother. Regardless whatever angle you choose to examine Carrie, you should appreciate it for its nuanced contemplation of the worst that could come from an outcast’s revenge, if only an emotionally tortured student was “blessed” with psychic powers.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONCarrie is an emotional story that tugs at your heart strings as much as it creeps you out. De Palma’s direction emphasizes Carrie’s emotional state and inner psyche so that we can experience her adventure completely.


? The remake is underwhelming and focuses too much on graphic gore? WHAT A SURPRISE.


About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Am I spot on? Am I full of it? Let me know!

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