The story of Carrie White is one that I always found very sad and sympathetic. Her home life is terrifying; she seems to have been regularly abused, mentally, verbally and physically by her overly religious mother. This seems to have affected her social skills, and she hides behind her flat hair in a meek shell. At school, she is the subject of senseless bullying and torment. She’s an easy target for the other girls, who seem like they could make the cast of Mean Girls gasp in horror at their antics. When she finally finds her ability to fight back, it may be more than she can handle, and anyone who crosses her will pay dearly.
The film begins with a scene that feeds into any school yard outcast’s nightmares. While showering after gym class, Carrie (Sissy Spacek) discovers she is bleeding. We realize it is only her first period, but she has no knowledge of this process and goes into hysterics, begging her classmates for help. They laugh and start pelting her with feminine hygiene products, chanting “Plug it up!” while poor Carrie cowers in the shower, certain she’s dying. The cruelty and humiliation is almost too much to bear, and Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) is not much protection.
After the incident, one girl feels sorry for Carrie while another hates her more than ever. Sue (Amy Irving) decides to do a good deed and let her popular boyfriend take Carrie to the senior prom. When Chris (Nancy Allen) hears of it, she makes sure Carrie’s prom experience is one no one will ever forget.
What makes this a horror film is Carrie’s new found power of telekinesis and the shocking mother-daughter relationship. The telekinesis seems to be a milestone that arrives with her new step into womanhood. Moments of intense fear, anger or aggression seem to trigger random accidents around her: a light bulb bursting, an ashtray flying off a desk or a boy falling off his bike. All the while her powers grow stronger. At home, Carrie’s life feels like an oppressive hell. Her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), beats her with religious texts, drags her across the floor and locks her in a closet to pray to a disturbing image of Christ with glowing eyes and arrows sticking out of him.
Some of the best scenes of the film are at Carrie’s home featuring the troubling mother-daughter dynamic. Both Spacek and Laurie were Oscar nominated for their performances. Spacek brings out Carrie’s vulnerability and constant fear so well. Later when Carrie starts to assert herself more and be more comfortable around her peers, it’s refreshing and a triumph. To contrast, Laurie’s portrayal of a this terrifying mother gives me the creeps perfectly. When she gets on a roll with her quotes about sin, nothing can stop her, she becomes a force. While her character can seem so outlandish, Laurie makes her believable, like a nightmare you cannot shake.
While Carrie is not your typical slasher or supernatural scary movie, it is an essential and a classic. It was based off of Stephen King’s debut novel and does the work justice. If while watching the film, you feel weighted down in the focus on the social world of Carrie’s high school, just wait until the end. The ending makes it all worth it.
“Pimples are the Lord’s way of chastising you.”