There are very few mediocre film adaptations of Stephen King stories. For the most part, they are either fantastic and widely regarded as classics (Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Shining), or they are considered some of the worst movies ever made (The Mangler, Maximum Overdrive, Children of the Corn). People seem to automatically think that by sheer virtue of adapting a story written by the modern master of horror, they’re going to get a horror movie. However, King’s writing style is often convoluted and ungainly, and it takes a firm hand to adapt one of his stories and make it into something coherent. Thankfully, the 1976 adaptation of Carrie, the first Stephen King novel to be adapted as a feature film, falls into the classic category.
Carrie White (played by a very young Sissy Spacek), is *that* girl in high school. The one who was raised so sheltered she doesn’t know how to act around people, try as she might, the one who seems to feel physical pain whenever social interaction is forced upon her. The other girls hate her by sheer virtue of her being different, and her uber-religious mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), doesn’t make things any easier by painting the world as a place of sin and terror. However, once Carrie discovers she has powerful telekinetic abilities, and that she can use them to shape the world around her, she becomes bolder, more self-assured, even accepting an offer to go to the prom with a popular boy. Naturally, this doesn’t go as planned, and a bloodbath of epic proportions ensues.
So, in short, a pretty standard Stephen King story.
This is one of many films on this list that is made into something special by its performances. Sissy Spacek brings such a perfect level of awkwardness and sweetness to Carrie that you just can’t help but feel terrible for her as the whole world conspires to destroy her. The scene of her breaking down in the bathtub after the climactic prom bloodbath (literally) is truly heartbreaking to watch. On the other side of the coin, we have Piper Laurie’s terrifying portrayal of Margaret White. In the beginning of the film she is merely annoying, an obstacle for Carrie to get around, but as the film progresses and she transforms into her own perverse vision of an avenging angel, she becomes something nightmares are made of. The scene where she pretends to comfort Carrie after the prom bloodbath, only to draw a kitchen knife on her, still creeps the hell out of me on repeat viewings (the way she almost magically appears behind the door, dear lord...).
The film is dated in many ways, very much stuck within its 70’s setting, but it gives the film a particularly goofy charm I think, which in its own way makes it more difficult to watch when you know the horrors to come. It’s easy to laugh at a group of high school guys trying on a set of goofy tuxedos, or at the cheesy decorations at the school’s prom, but knowing what’s going to happen to them all by the end of the movie adds a certain bittersweetness to this levity.
Carrie is a classic for a reason. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll probably never lay flowers at a tombstone again without thinking of this movie!
(REMAKE NOTE: This film has been remade twice, to my knowledge. Once in 2002 as an attempted backdoor pilot for a TV series (you can tell by the way Carrie lives at the end), and once theatrically in 2013 with a much bigger-looking budget. Now I've heard this particular remake getting a lot of shit, even though it hasn't been released yet, and I'm going to break from that mold and say I'm actually quite excited for this. First, because Carrie is one of those stories that I think should be remade every generation or so, as it is a universal story of growing pains that I think would speak to a lot of kids. Secondly, I think the casting is inspired, with Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her mother. Both of them are very strong actresses, and I can't wait to see how they do. This doesn't mean a thing for the finished film, of course, it could be terrible, or mediocre, or great. I just want to say, until it's out, let's hold back on the judgment and give it a chance.)
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-- Matt Carter
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