Carrie (1976) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 01

by Jovial Jay

Welcome to the 2018 screenings of 31 Days of Horror. I’m going to open this years marathon with a classic Stephen King adaptation, Carrie, which I have never seen up to this point, and then continue through 31 days of horror films. Some are new, some are old, some I’ve seen before, many I haven’t. Join me if you dare!

People may find it hard to believe that I have never seen Carrie (1976) before. It’s just one of those things that happens. I’m sure you have films like this as well. I decided that it was time to finally watch this after sitting through the first season of Castle Rock (a Stephen King inspired series surrounding events in his most-famous town), which stars Sissy Spacek in a wonderful role.

Before Viewing

Starting, as I always do, by watching the trailer, I am surprised how much plot and in-order the trailer appears to be. We see Carrie, being tormented, using her powers, getting invited and going to the dance, the “big scene” at the dance, with a number of consequences, plus the final shot is her walking out of the school while it’s on fire. I haven’t seen the film, but I know enough of what it’s about to be surprised by all this. Trailers just meant something different in the days before YouTube, when you could watch it over and over again.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - HalloweenAfter Viewing

Carrie (1976) follows the titular girl (played by Sissy Spacek), a senior in high school, who is maligned and mistreated by the other girls for being different. She is also marginalized by the female PE coach, dismissed by the principal, and abused by her mother (who’s depicted as a religious fanatic). Early in the film we start to see manifestations that Carrie has some telekinetic power, and later she decides to investigate what that power may be.

After a gruelling detention from their PE coach for making fun of Carrie, Sue (Amy Irving) asks her boyfriend Tommy (William Katt) to take Carrie to the Prom. The timing and motivation of this act is suspect, especially when Billy and Chris (John Travolta, in his first major film role & Nancy Allen) are plotting to embarrass her at the prom by dumping a bucket of pigs blood on her.

Come the night of the Prom, Billy and Chris hide under the stage waiting to sabotage Carrie’s moment as Queen of the Prom (something they have also rigged her to win). Sue notices them and tries to warn the PE coach, but the coach seeing the bucket, believes Sue is somehow responsible and kicks her out of the gym. This is fortunate since after the blood falls Carrie unleashes her power with full force, killing any number of students and faculty, before setting fire to the whole school.

Carrie walks home and cleans the blood off herself, all the while in some sort of trance. Her mother, who has been lighting hundreds of candles in her absence, confronts her daughter, stabbing her in the back. Use her TK powers, Carrie flings every sharp object in the kitchen at her mom, impaling her against the wall, before dragging the body into her “prayer closet” and using her powers to collapse and burn the house – causing it to crash down around the two.

The film ends with Sue having a dream that she is bringing flowers to the empty lot that once included the White family house, when Carrie’s hand reaches out of “the grave” and grabs her. She screams while her mother tries to comfort her, but the grabbing arm in the dream is replaced by her mother’s hand, and she continues to freak out.

It has nothing to do with Satan, Mama. It’s me. Me. If I concentrate hard enough, I can move things.” – Carrie White

I enjoyed this film, but it is definitely dated. Being made in the mid-70’s, it features things that would never fly now. Things such as the harassment of Carrie is very overt, there’s scenes of teachers striking students, and Travolta’s character hitting his girlfriend. Basically it’s a film of characters that are horrible and getting their comeuppance.

There are a lot of great things going on here, including things that would continue on as horror tropes in the years to come. Brian DePalma’s style really starts to show in this film, his first real breakthrough film, with the use of the split screen during Carrie’s wrath at the dance. DePalma also really sets up a superbly edited scene, building the tension, in the lead up to the blood being dumped on Carrie. This style of filmmaking would later be a staple of his work, as seen in Body Double or The Untouchables. The film ends with what appears to be a finale, but suddenly Carrie’s hand emerges from the ground – a shock that many (many) films would use following this.

For all the great things going on in the latter half of the film, the first half drags a bit. There are some setup scenes with Carrie and her peers, but then we get a 5-minute scene of the Coach punishing the other girls, that just drags on as they get punished for their harassment. This is more of a criticism of the film style of the time, rather than anything else. Moviegoers today are more sophisticated than in the mid-70’s, and between older editing techniques and pacing, it can make certain scenes feel like their dragging.


Carrie (1976) – A Young Edie McClurg.

I thought the young cast, which was brimming with new talent (including a young Edie McClurg!) did a great job. Nancy Allen’s Chris Hargensen was a great ‘bad girl’ which really made you root for Carrie. William Katt and Amy Irving were also great as Tommy & Sue, the couple who you were never sure if their concern for Carrie was real. Katt also had some awesome hair in this film! Really amazing! And Sissy Spacek’s Carrie was equal parts menacing and pitiable. I went back and forth feeling sorry for, and then being scared of her character.

This film was the first mainstream hit for Brian DePalma, who would later go on to greater fame with Dressed to Kill, Scarface and the first Mission: Impossible. This was also the very first film to adapt a Stephen King story, which was also King’s first novel. Given the flack that King adaptations get, which is sometimes deserved, this first film from him is excellent. Especially in comparison to some later films that had bigger budgets and better effects.

Assorted Musings

  • Early in the film a boy on a bike torments Carrie walking home from school. This was shot with a long lens along a sidewalk and was very similar to a shot of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character walking home in Halloween (1978).
  • The shot where Tommy and Carrie dance as the camera revolve around them made me a little ill. It went on quite a while and was definitely made to unsettle the viewer, who was still unsure of Tommy’s intentions.
  • Carrie

    Carrie (1976) – What is the meaning of Cygnus X-1 on this shirt?

    PJ Soles character wears a short that has the words “Cygnus X-1” on the back. This would appear to be a reference to the song of the same name by Rush from their Farewell to Kings album, except that the album wasn’t released until a year after this film came out. Still can’t figure this one out.

  • I also enjoyed the parallel between the stab wounds the mother received with the religious iconography that Carrie kept in her “prayer closet.” All the knives were in the same location (hands, torso, etc) as the arrows were on St Sebastian.
  • Carrie has been remade twice. One in 2002 in a made-for-TV movie with Angela Bettis, and again in 2013 with Chloe Moretz in the starring role.

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