BLOWN MY MIND. As it is, I'm a married adult now, so I just thought it was an...interesting way to begin a horror movie.
Not surprisingly, Carrie is about Carrie (Sissy Spacek), a high school student that is bullied at school by the other girls and bullied at home by her crazy religious mother (Piper Laurie). Basically, Carrie sucks at life. Things get worse when, in the gym shower, she gets her first period and freaks the hell out. Her classmates helpfully heckle her and bombard her with tampons. Did you know that girls mature faster than boys? Apparently, Carrie had never heard of a period before that day. I don't blame her for being frightened; if I noticed blood seeping from my naughty bits, I wouldn't be calm either. Her classmates behavior gets them in trouble with the gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), who forces the girls to serve detention with her or lose their prom privileges. Most of the girls --- particularly Sue (Amy Irving), Norma (PJ Soles), and Helen (Edie McClurg, who never played a young woman again) --- were willing to take detention, but the head Mean Girl, Chris (Nancy Allen) refused on general principle. And she vowed revenge on Carrie for not really being the cause of her not being allowed into prom. Sue, on the other hand, felt really bad about the whole ordeal and convinced her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to prom. Meanwhile, the evil Chris hatches a plan with her dim-witted boyfriend (John Travolta) to publicly humiliate Carrie and finally punish her for existing. Little do they know that Carrie has special powers, powers that get stronger when she's upset. MWA-HA-HA!
Carrie is the first film to be adapted from a Stephen King novel. Personally, I'm not a huge King fan; I've tried, but I just can't get past the recurring theme of drunken writers, the unexplained supernatural phenomena, or his habit of being self-referential. Normally, I find the movie adaptations of his work to be pretty horrid (Dreamcatcher...***shudder***). Of course, with over 120 writing credits on IMDB, the man is bound to have some good stuff on occasion, and I think Carrie qualifies as one the better King films.
The acting and direction in the film are pretty solid. In the lead role, Sissy Spacek is annoying, frightening and sympathetic at the same time. I think the best part of her performance was when things went wrong at prom; I normally don't find bug eyed, stiff limbed performances compelling, but she reminded me of a velociraptor. That's probably not the most flattering thing to say about a performance I liked, but there was definitely something cold and reptilian in the climactic prom scene. Piper Laurie also turned in a good (albeit one-dimensional) performance. I'm pretty sure that she has a lock on the Crazy Mother in Film award for the 70s. Spacek and Laurie were so convincing in their respective roles that they were nominated for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards, respectively. Horror movies occasionally get a little respect at the Oscars, but this was the first horror film to earn two acting nominations.
The rest of the cast, however, was pretty mediocre. PJ Soles was...well, if you've seen her once, you get the idea; there's nothing wrong with that, but nothing noteworthy, either. This was the first time I had ever seen Nancy Allen outside of a Robocop movie. Apparently, she was pretty at some point, but not pretty enough to get away with the crap her character pulls in this movie. As for young John Travolta, I have to say that I'm shocked he had a film career after this. Aside from having the earliest utterance of "git er done" I have heard in film, Travolta turns in a performance that makes his Barbarino look like a genius. Brian De Palma directed the film and I guess he did a pretty decent job. After all, his two main actresses earned Oscar nominations, so he couldn't have done a bad job, right? I can see De Palma's style at work, with his use of slow-motion in key scenes, but overall I wasn't too impressed. I think my biggest problem with De Palma's direction here is his frequent homages to Psycho. Carrie's high school is Bates High and every time Carrie uses her powers, the slasher music from Psycho is played. Naming the high school after Norman Bates is fairly subtle and clever, but the musical cues just felt lazy; using such recognizable horror movie music to indicate that Carrie's powers might be dangerous is overkill and those scenes would have been better served with an original composition.
The strength of this movie is its ability to catch you off guard. For most of the film, you want to root for Carrie and you're glad to see her coming out of her shell for a bit. I also agreed with Miss Collins, who sympathized with Carrie, but also felt the urge to smack her. And she did. The first two-thirds of the film is pretty low key and you just know that something bad will happen at prom. When it does, though, this movie definitely under-promised and over-delivered. The scale of Carrie's rage is pretty shocking the first time you see it. And if that doesn't affect you, Spacek's nonverbal acting should; as I said before, she seems inhuman in these scenes. As effective as the ending is, though, the rest of the film has a lot of generic and predictable moments that diminish the payoff of those final scenes. Still, this is a classic for good reason.