in Shocktober

Carrie (1976)

We’ve reviewed a lot of obscure films for Shocktober thus far but not this isn’t one of them. Carrie is one of the greatest horror movies of the 1970s. Period. Carrie has it all; great performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (both Oscar nominated for their roles), auteur Brian De Palma at the helm, a fantastic score by Pino Donaggio, the prom scene to end all prom scenes and Stephen King’s signature all over it. Though most importantly, it has the scares. Oh yes, yes indeed.

I’m not sure what to say about Carrie that hasn’t already been said so I’ll keep this brief. If you’re not familiar with the film or have simply been living under a rock your whole life, Carrie is a film adapted from Stephen King’s first published novel that tells the story of a painfully shy 17-year-old girl Carrie White (Spacek) who is constantly tormented by her peers. Living under the rule of her insanely religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), Carrie can’t find happiness at home or school. Carrie’s world takes a dramatic turn when her first period leads to an awakening of a dark power. Carrie soon finds that she has telekinesis and that when bullied she can now defend herself, and no one is safe.

I don’t want to spoil anything if you’ve never had the morbid pleasure of watching what is more or less the most disturbing coming of age film ever made, so I’ll be vague. Carrie explores that young adult anxiety we’ve all faced at times, with the difference that the awkwardness is cranked up to eleven. Sissy Spacek sells the iconic role with her piercing blue-eyed gaze and meek disposition. Yet with the flick of switch Spacek can immediately go from sadly pathetic to darkly intimidating. We all know about the film’s climactic prom sequence and it’s hard to imagine any other actress delivering in that scene like Spacek does.


De Palma was an inspired choice for directing duties. De Palma’s string of Hitchcock inspired thrillers in the 70s showed a prodigious skill for delivering suspense through the anxieties and fears of its characters. I’d draw comparisons from Carrie to De Palma’s 1973 film Sisters, starring Margot Kidder, another female-driven thriller about the rage that can be unleashed through the fear within all of us. De Palma knows how to tap into the human psyche like few other filmmakers and has a knack for getting memorably unsettling performances out of his leads.

Carrie was bold for the mid 70s and is bold today. I can’t think of another film that delves into the sheer horror of bullying like Carrie does. Nor can I think of another film that makes you sympathize with your protagonist while also being terrified of your protagonist. Carrie is a film that has layers. Also, blood. Lots and lots of blood.