Carrie (1976) — More about teenage fears than revenge

“It has nothing to do with Satan, Mama. It’s me. Me. If I concentrate hard enough, I can move things.”

Justin’s rating: Hey, what are you complaining about? Free pig blood is free pig blood.

Justin’s review: It’s really weird to look back across an endless field of Stephen King movie adaptations and realize that 1976’s Carrie was the very first one (and, point of trivia, one of only two that came out that decade). It was also a little weird to realize that despite reading the novel a while back, I’d never actually seen this horror classic. I guess Carrie is one of those movies that everyone knows the key scenes even if they’d never watched it. It’s that ingrained in the pop culture consciousness.

Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is not the most well-adjusted teenager you’ll ever meet. In the opening scene in a girl’s locker room, we learn a few important facts: Everyone thinks she’s an incredible loser, she’s got no friends, and she is so ignorant about puberty that her first period sends her into absolute fits. It really doesn’t help that the other girls mercilessly torment her.

And it’s definitely doesn’t help that her mother is an ultra-religious, abusive nutter with a huge chip on her shoulder about sex. Egads, I know Stephen King loves to create his ultra-religious stereotypes, but Carrie’s mom may be the template for them all.

Between her mother and the bullying at school, Carrie’s not on track to be well-adjusted in life. And it’s going to get even harder to fit in, too, because the stress she’s under somehow activates her talents as a telekinetic. When she’s really upset, Carrie can make things move with her mind — a bike here, a mirror there.

So will Carrie manage to find a way to fit in with her fellow teens, or is she going to snap for good and get the ultimate revenge upon her bullies? It’s no great spoiler to say that the movie starts going down the first route but eventually hits the gas and guns for the second. When all of the popular kids — including a young John Travolta and Nancy Allen (RoboCop) — look to pull the ultimate prank on Carrie, the pig’s blood really hits the fan.

As someone who struggled with being bullied as a teen, I can testify that there’s always those fantasies of having the power to strike back. I mean, who doesn’t? I’m willing to bet that there were more Carries than Chrises in the audience of this film.

Looking at it from the lens of 2022, it’s impressive how much works. Sure, some of the music is cheesy (oh that weird prom prep montage theme!), and there’s a whole lot of casual slapping of students by teachers like it ain’t no thing. Maybe it wasn’t, I was only born this year, so I wasn’t that in the know. But the character-driven drama of Carrie helps to accentuate the horror when it arrives. Carrie is a ticking time bomb, and we both want and don’t want her to explode.

Honestly, I didn’t want her to have her well-known freakout. For most of the prom, we get to see this awkward teen come out of her shell thanks to a couple of kind people and the gradual acceptance of a few others around her. There are the sparks of self-assurance that she even carries in with her, having stood up to her mother beforehand. That’s what makes the ending a tragedy.

It’s not all timeless perfection — the dialogue sometimes comes off as awkward, even to the point of seeming ad-libbed. And there’s no escaping the ’70s fashion, I guess.

Even with Stephen King’s name looming over the title, Carrie isn’t a scary movie or even that much of a horror one. But what it does well is to tap into a universal, cross-generational terrors of being a teen — from puberty to bullying to crushes to abusive homes to the need for acceptance to the complexities of friendships to being unseen. Brian De Palma and Stephen King created a classic that started a phenomenon right out of the gate, and it’s worth seeing for more than a couple of well-known clips.

Didja notice?

  • This movie may be a commercial for Dove soap boars
  • You were allowed to shake and slap students in the ’70s
  • Haha the “creepy Carrie” kid getting knocked off his bike
  • I don’t think she’s actually reading from the Bible
  • That’s the creepiest Jesus statue I’ve ever seen
  • The Psycho strings are all over this movie (at Bates High, no less)
  • Friends toss each other beers between moving cars.
  • Hey, John Travolta just hacked that pig to death
  • The dinner in the lightning
  • “Would you go out with me?” “Not with ruffles.”
  • The split-screen moments
  • So many candles in Carrie’s home

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