Carrie 1976: Twisted Fairytale from the 70s

Carrie (1976) was the first Stephen King film ever made, based on his first ever book, and it holds a special place in horror movie history. Although I agree this is a well-deserved classic,I have to admit this is not my favourite adaptation of King’s book.

Teenage girl Carrie White lived her whole life in abuse from her overly religious mother Margaret and from bullies at school, until she discovers her gift of telekinesis. When Tommy Ross asks her to the prom, at the request of his girlfriend Sue Snell, Carrie thought her dreams had come true. Meanwhile, while queen bee Chris Hargensen plans a vicious prank that goes horribly wrong.

Brian De Palma delivers a beautiful yet strange feel to the film with odd camerawork, editing that includes split-screens, and an intriguing use of lighting and primary colours. While the effects haven’t aged well, he makes up for it by creating a haunting atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

De Palma’s direction is more artistic and less about realism, for example the opening of the film features the girls naked in the steamy shower room, which is wonderfully erotic especially combined with Pino Donaggio’s sensual score. However, it’s unreal when I’m supposed to buy these 20-something-looking women as 16-year-old girls and they’re happily walking around naked. I don’t think changing rooms at a school were actually like this.

The blood-dumping was intensely built-up but again had to suspend realism to keep tension going, like the amount of time Carrie and Tommy were on stage and the applauding from the crowd went on so long, about 5 minutes at least.

There’s also quite a bit of 70s cheese, like the detention scene, which looked less like a punishment and more of a workout montage with an added silly score. There’s also a cringe-worthy moment where Tommy and friends are trying on tuxedos and it fast-forwards a debate they’re having.

The acting is quite over the top, which makes the characters more caricaturish, which is fitting with the tone of the film. Sissy Spacek is wonderful at being a sympathetic protagonist, as well being very creepy. I feel she lacks the rebellious side of Carrie and her sense of humour, which kind of makes her development as a character a bit lacklustre. But her performance during the prom massacre is what made her so iconic; she gives one hell of a disturbing death stare.

Piper Laurie’s performance as Margaret is one of the biggest example over-acting I’ve ever seen. She could be frightening at times, but most of the time I laughed, it was hard to take her seriously at times. I’m not saying she was awful, quite the opposite; it was clear she was intended to stand out and be convincing as a crazy person and she was very entertaining to watch.

Supporting actors Amy Irving as Sue, Nancy Allen as Chris, William Katt as Tommy, and Betty Buckley as Miss Collins (Desjardin in the book) all deliver solid performances, bringing to life the book characters despite being underwritten in comparison. P.J. Soles is a standout as Chris’s best friend Norma, who is funny and always wears a redcap (even at prom) just because. No other reason.

John Travolta is pretty miscast as Chris’s boyfriend Billy. In the books he’s a gang leader and abusive to Chris. Unfortunately I don’t buy that with him; even when he slaps her it’s just played for laughs because the rest of the film he’s just like Chris’s puppy dog.

De Palma’s directing, over-acting, use of primary colours, and dreamlike soundtrack help capture the twisted fairy-tale aspect of the book, not as much on the allegorical side. King’s message about bullying is still there but not as well depicted, and the abuse Carrie suffers at school is restricted to just the shower and prom scenes. The bullies were incredibly underdeveloped, Chris is just a one-dimensional antagonist, and Sue’s redemption is heavily downplayed in favour of letting the audience suspect she may be in on the prank.

There are changes I was perfectly fine with, such as abandoning King’s case study formula for a linear storyline. Sue sneaking off to prom and attempting to put stop to the prank, but Miss Collins kicking her out thinking Sue is trying to ruin Carrie’s moment on the stage, was a great addition. The ending dream sequence to this day still remains one of the most iconic endings that is both emotional and scary.

Overall it’s a wonderful film, even if it’s not the adaptation for me as it is for most fans of the book. But a great film regardless and deserving of it’s classic status.

Written by Jack Parish

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