Fall Frights: CARRIE (DVD Review)

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on October 5, 2009

CARRIE is the revenge tale of a high school girl who was picked on one too many times. Carrie White just wanted to be herself and have wonderful fun with her date at the prom. Instead she was forced to use her telekinetic powers to hurt those who were bullying her.

The screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen is an impressive adaptation of the first novel by Stephen King. The adaptation was by no means an easy feat for the screenwriter. Lawrence D. Cohen had to construct a visual narrative from a novel consisting of police reports, diary and letter entries. The reader relates to Carrie White through other character’s points of view but never the character herself.

Sissy Spacek is emotionally believable as the sweet but vulnerable Carrie White. She suffers humiliation from her classmates and even by her own religious mother, disturbingly played by Piper Laurie. For their unforgettable performances, they both received Academy Award nominations. The talented and engaging ensemble cast features Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, and a young John Travolta as one of Carrie’s tormentors. Travolta was just known at the time as the dumb but well-meaning Vinnie Barbarino in the television series, WELCOME BACK KOTTER. He defied audience expectations as Billy Nolan, a violent thug who slaughters a harmless pig to acquire the blood necessary for the vicious prank. John Travolta would later in his career re-team with director Brian De Palma for the remarkable but neglected, BLOW OUT.

Director Brian De Palma employs many of his elaborate camera techniques to heighten the tension. Carrie and her prom date have a touching but sad scene when they dance together while the camera smoothly circles around them. Then in suspenseful slow motion, the audience watches the dialogue-free events that lead to Carrie soaked in pig’s blood after being newly crowned prom queen. The violent destruction of the prom afterwards is captured in a mind-blowing split-screen sequence. The movie ends with a memorable last scare, which has been imitated so many times, including ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES

After its theatrical release, the film had taken on life in a different form as a Broadway musical in the 1980s. Then a sequel was released in 1999, entitled THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. The novel was remade as a television miniseries in 2002. The miniseries, written by PUSHING DAISIES creator Bryan Fuller, re-imagines the premise as a police procedural. A detective interrogates the survivors of the prom massacre and puts together the horrid events like a jigsaw puzzle. While Angela Bettis’ performance as Carrie White deserves special acknowledgement, the alternate ending failed as a pilot to an ongoing series.      

CARRIE still resonates with audiences today because of its perfect blend of horror and high school life. If it wasn’t for the success of this film, there would be no GINGER SNAPS. Recently JENNIFER’S BODY made an unsuccessful attempt combining the two subgenres. CARRIE still holds power today because of its unique cinematic frenzy of blood and teen angst.