In 2016, Carrie will celebrate its 40th anniversary. All these years later and it’s still widely considered to be a horror classic amongst fans of the genre. Based on Stephen King’s first major 1974 novel of the same name, Carrie was first of more than 100 film and television productions adapted from, or based on, the published works of Stephen King. Many feel that the film still stands as the strongest adaption yet. Carrie is so well known that even if you haven’t even seen the movie, you probably know a thing or two about the more well-known scenes and events that take place. It’s been a while since I’d seen it so I thought I’d give it a watch and see just how well it holds up.
Carrie White is a shy and friendless 17-year-old girl. At her school in North Carolina, she’s usually made fun of or ends up at the center of some form of ridicule. If that isn’t bad enough, at home she is abused by her mentally unstable mother Margaret, who is a Christian fundamentalist.
While in the showers after gym class, Carrie experiences her abnormally delayed first period. Having no prior knowledge of what is happening; Carrie believes she is bleeding to death. The other girls add to her shame and humiliation by pelting her with tampons and sanitary pads all while shouting “plug it up” at her. The gym teacher Miss Collins intervenes and as Carrie becomes more frantic, a light bulb explodes in the showers.
Miss Collins brings Carrie to the principal’s office to excuse her from gym class for the next week. After Carrie grows angry from the principal repeatedly mispronouncing her name, an ashtray on his desk flips onto the floor. At home, Margaret receives a call from Miss Collins about the shower incident. Margaret tells Carrie that the “curse of blood” is divine punishment for sin and forces her to confess before locking her into a dark and cramped prayer closet to pray for forgiveness. A vengeful Carrie stares at her bedroom mirror until it shatters.
Miss Collins subjects Carrie’s PE class to a week-long boot-camp-style detention, threatening the students with suspension from school and the prom if they do not attend. Chris, the leader of a group of girls becomes defiant and is slapped by Collins; Chris storms out. Another girl named Sue feels remorseful over how the girls treated Carrie so she decides to organise a plan in which her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) would invite/take Carrie to the prom.
Carrie suspects she may have telekinesis. While researching in the library, Tommy invites her to the prom, but she declines, fearing another trick. Tommy later visits Carrie’s house and repeats his invitation, which she eventually accepts. Carrie tells her mother she is going to the prom, but Margaret declares the prom a sinful occasion. Carrie reveals her telekinesis by causing all the windows to slam shut, leading Margaret to believe she is a witch. Carrie insists on going to the prom, and Margaret reluctantly accepts.
Chris tells her boyfriend Billy Nolan (John Travolta) that she wants revenge on Carrie. She goes with Billy and some of his friends to a local farm, where Billy and his friends slaughter pigs and store the pigs’ blood in a bucket. Billy then sneaks into the school and places the bucket above the school’s stage.
As Carrie prepares for the evening, her mother tries to discourage her from going to the prom, claiming that “They’re all gonna laugh at you!”. Regardless of this, Carrie goes to the prom with Tommy and although she initially feels really nervous, Carrie begins to enjoy herself and dances happily with Tommy, who gives her a first kiss. Sue, who was unable to attend due to lacking a date, sneaks into the prom to ensure everything goes well for Carrie.
I would usually put a spoiler notice here but I’d be very shocked if anyone reading didn’t know what happens next….
To Carrie’s surprise but according to Chris and Billy’s plan, she and Tommy are named prom king and queen. As the two approach the stage, Sue discovers Chris holding a rope attached to the bucket. Before Sue can warn Carrie, Miss Collins forces her out. The crown is placed on Carrie’s head, then Chris pulls the rope and Carrie is drenched in the pig’s blood. Chris and Billy escape the gym laughing, as Tommy is knocked unconscious by the falling bucket. Carrie hallucinates that the whole room is laughing at her.
Carrie snaps into a cold rage, and telekinetically seals the exits. She manipulates a fire hose and uses it to blast the students with water. The water makes contact with the electrical wiring and ignites a fire that consumes the gym. Nearly all of the students and staff are killed as Chris and Billy witness the carnage from a high window. Carrie leaves the gym and begins walking home, covered in blood. Chris and Billy attempt to run Carrie over with Billy’s car, but Carrie telekinetically flips the car over and causes it to explode, killing them.
Carrie slowly makes her way home where Margaret is waiting….
Considering its age, Carrie still holds up remarkably well and is a pretty damn solid horror movie. What else can be said that hasn’t already been said about the acting performances in this film? Sissy Spacek is absolutely tremendous as Carrie White, she immediately makes you sympathise with Carrie and you can’t help but feel genuine happiness for her when she arrives at the prom with Tommy who’s a very likeable character in his own right. Carrie’s alarming progress from painfully shy high-school teenager to Angel of Vengeance is executed perfectly.
It would be hard to mention acting performances without mentioning the excellent Piper Laurie as Carrie’s delusional mother, her performance is seriously convincing. Amy Irving as Sue, the one teenage girl with a streak of compassion and guilt and Nancy Allen as Chris, the Popular Girl with no morals, no feelings and no mercy. Each of the characters are developed nicely even though many of them don’t play a pivotal role in the overall plot.
Carrie is something of a time-capsule of the 70s and obviously shows it’s age in those terms as well as some of the techniques used in filming the movie. The clothing, hairstyles etc are just synonymous with that decade, William Katt’s hair sure is beautiful though.
Pretty much everybody knows what happens when the bucket of pigs blood is dropped on Carrie, that prom scene has gone down as one of the most famously known scenes in horror and deservedly so. It doesn’t go over the top with gore and blood, I can see how it might have been shocking to those back when the film was released but compared to today’s standards it’s very subtle and quite tame.
Hearing that this is considered to be a horror movie classic you might go into watching it expecting more in terms of horror and you could be disappointed, the build up could feel slow to some. Up until the final scene, it focuses a lot of its time on the horror that can be involved with religious fundamentalism.
Carrie is one year away from turning 40 and yet it’s still a strong horror movie that set a benchmark in the genre as well as introducing the world to the writings of one Stephen King who can deservedly take much of the praise for the film’s success. Sissy Spacek’s transformation from a shy, odd-looking, bland girl to the bloody prom queen with vengeance on her mind is outstanding. It’s well-directed with the right amount of atmosphere in just the right places and has some very cleverly introduced foreshadowing for the prank to come. It’s beginning to show it’s age; the style, music, clothes, acting, dialogue and pretty much everything in the film is like a time-warp.