Sheltered by her abusive and religious fanatic mother, Carrie White is a tortured and dejected loner who is incessantly bullied by her Bates High School classmates.  Longing to assimilate, Carrie timidly accepts a sympathetic invitation to the senior prom.  Her forbidding mother begs her not to go, and instead, burn her “red dress,” cover her “dirty pillows,” and pray for forgiveness.  Carrie resists her mother’s warning that “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” which, sadly, they do; but, this time her classmates’ laughter is met with fire and brimstone bloodshed.

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Bloody Rundown

A fundamentally female-driven film, Carrie was astonishingly conceived by men. Based on the 1974 novel by America’s national treasure, Stephen King, the film was written for the screen by Lawrence D. Cohen, produced by Paul Monash, and directed by Brian De Palma. How the male creators astutely gave each female character her own identity, her own distinctive voice, is a staggering achievement, illustrative of their impartiality and unmitigated talent.

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De Palma’s innovative directorial methods, unprecedented at the time, enabled the creation of a highly-stylized horror. To build uncertainty and tension, De Palma used various camera techniques such as slow motion shots, for a dreamlike quality, and prolonged panoramic shots, for an omniscient viewpoint. He also employed split screens to convey differing perspectives, along with his trademark split diopter shots, enabling focus on the forefront action with simultaneous focus on the distant action.

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Pino Donaggio’s hauntingly effective and memorable score is a seamless harmony to the film’s varying emotions, eliciting sympathy, suspense, and, then, sheer horror. It should be noted that Donaggio also scored the catchy songs during both the comedic tuxedo shopping scene and the prom dancing scenes.  Tinges of Donaggio’s score are homage to Bernard Herman’s score in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Herman had scored two of De Palma’s previous films, Sisters and Obsession, but passed away before Carrie.

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The fearless and authentic performances are also deserving of praise. Sissy Spacek, who brought tremendous emotional depth to her role as Carrie White, was nominated for an Academy Award. Piper Laurie, who had come out of a fifteen-year retirement for a role she initially thought was a  satire, gave a faithful and impassioned performance as Carrie’s crazed mother, Margaret White, which also earned her an Oscar nomination. Carrie - Mrs. WhiteThe costars were just as earnest and willing in their roles. Featuring the then unknown John Travolta, Amy Irving, and William Katt, Carrie also launched the film careers of Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, and PJ Soles. Furthermore, the dynamic between Mrs. Snell and Sue Snell cannot be more authentic as the characters were portrayed by real life mother and daughter, Priscilla Pointer and Amy Irving. (It should be noted that Amy Irving would later be cast as a telekinetic teenager in De Palma’s The Fury (1978).)

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The film is entrenched in juxtaposition, pertaining to themes of freedom and repression, acceptance and rejection, tolerance and intolerance, and, of course, religion and secularism. Even the adults are imbedded with opposing traits. Miss Collins is compassionate and uplifts Carrie while Mr. Fromm is cruel and denigrates her.  The dichotomy between the two moms is also painfully evident, and even more excruciating when they meet. Margaret White is the fanatical mother of the most unpopular girl and Mrs. Snell is the trustworthy mother of popular Sue. As Mrs. Snell sips a cocktail while watching an afternoon soap opera (a hobby that I personally strive to one day pursue), the doorbell rings, interrupting the crux of her series. Sure enough, Mrs. White, a woman who spends every waking moment heaving over Biblical scripture, is the unwelcome irritant soliciting a book about the “teenager’s path to salvation through the cross of Jesus.” Even the décor of the two homes is in stark contrast. Complete with shag carpets, the Snell is home is decorated as mid-70s modern, while the White home is bedecked with religious décor, clustered with holy tchotchkes, candles, and crosses.

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But the greatest dichotomy, which lies at the core of the story, is between Mrs. White and her daughter. Carrie elicits tremendous empathy; her mother, not so much. Carrie longs to be accepted as “normal” during her fleeting senior year while Mrs. White shuns the “Godless times” of society and expects to be accepted in the eternal hereafter. Mrs. White has faith in God yet rejects her daughter; Carrie has no faith in herself yet later finds it in her telekinesis. Intolerant, abusive, and self-righteous, Mrs. White is the quintessential Christian hypocrite; she is the greatest sinner of all as she is even more judgmental than those who judge Carrie. Mrs. White is, most reprehensibly, a horrible mother who serves as the catalyst to Carrie’s apocalyptic wrath.

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Some argue this landmark horror as dated and melodramatic to the point of camp; however, Carrie remains relevant with today’s awful epidemic of school bullying and school shootings. The theme of adolescents trying to fit in will always resonate.

Of course the script is just too good for words. Quotable and parodied, it remains a staple among horror movie fans, forever imbedded in our lexicon. The shocking and creepy aspects of the film transcend generations, and the renowned final scare never fails to startle.

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Plot Mutilator

The film opens with a gym-class volleyball match in which Carrie causes her team to lose.

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Belittled by her teammates, Carrie is the last in the locker room’s communal shower as her classmates dress. (The full frontal nudity of this scene is still shocking even by American standards of today.)

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While submerged underneath the shower hedge, Carrie discovers blood protruding from her crotch. Carrie goes berserk and pleads with her classmates for help as she thinks she’s dying. Her classmates realize that she has just started her period and yell “Plug it up! Plug it up!” taunting her with flinging maxi pads and tampons. Miss Collins, the gym teacher, breaks up the assault and slaps Carrie across the face to snap her out of her panic. A light bulb shatters. Miss Collins then berates her students, orders them to leave, and explains the birds and the bees to seventeen-year-old Carrie.

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Miss Collins then discusses the incident with Mr. Morton, the principal, who appears uncomfortable due to subject matter. (His uneasiness is most evident when he sees Carrie’s period blood smeared on Miss Collins’ white shorts.) Carrie is called into the office and Mr. Morton apologizes for the situation, mistakenly calling her Cassie. Carrie corrects him. Miss Collins dismisses her from a week of gym class and for the remainder of the afternoon. Throughout their discussion, Mr. Morton continuously calls Carrie “Cassie.” Exasperated, Carrie again corrects him. His ashtray, retaining the gym teacher’s lit cigarette, then flips off his desk.

While walking home, a boy on his bike cycles around Carrie jeering her in a singsong “Creepy Carrie, Creepy Carrie…” (The boy is De Palma’s nephew whose voice is dubbed by Betty Buckley.) Carrie stares at him as he falls off his bike.

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Meanwhile, Mrs. White pays a visit to Mrs. Snell, soliciting Biblical literature. Mrs. Snell suggests that Carrie should come over as their daughters share some classes together. But, this isn’t a social call as Mrs. White confirms: “I’m here on Lord’s work, Mrs. Snell, spreadin’ the gospel of God’s salvation through Christ’s blood!” Sue returns from school through the backdoor, and Mrs. Snell initially contributes five dollars, then ten, so as to politely shoo Mrs. White out the door. Mrs. Snell has better things to do, like greeting her daughter, returning to her soap, and most importantly, refreshing her cocktail. Still, in spite of Mrs. Snell’s contribution, Mrs. White righteously declares, “I pray you find Jesus.”

Arriving home before her mother, Carrie retreats to her bedroom. Her mother returns and as the phone rings, Carrie stoops at the top of the stairs to listen, realizing that its Miss Collins phoning about the ordeal in the locker room. Carrie descends from the stairs; and, at this first interaction between Carrie and her mother, it’s revealed that Carrie is not only abused at school but also at home.  

Mrs. White states “You’re a woman now” and then reads from “Sins of a Woman,” a chapter of her Biblical literature. Carrie begs, “Why didn’t you tell me, Mamma?” declaring that she thought she was dying and all the girls were laughing at her. Mrs. White, maddened and disgusted, reads “Eve was weak and loosed the raven on the world. And the raven was called sin.” She forces her crying daughter to repeat “the raven was called sin” and “Eve was weak” hitting her with the book. Mrs. White then spews, “The first sin was intercourse,” insinuating that Carrie must have had lustful thoughts as “the curse of blood would have never come on her.” (The woman is utterly deranged.)

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Mrs. White then declares, “We’ll pray,” and drags her teenage daughter through the kitchen, locking her in a closet to pray for forgiveness to the shrine of St. Sebastian, a Christian martyr crucified with arrows. After she is let out of her closet, Carrie retreats back into her bedroom and stares at her miserable self in the mirror. The mirror shatters. Her mother hears the ruckus and tries to open the locked bedroom door. Carrie says its open and her mother enters asking about the noise. Carrie says “what noise” and assures her that she is just saying her nighttime prayers, even after spending hours in her closet praying. The shattered mirror has now been put back together.

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Mr. Fromm reads Tommy Ross’ poem out loud in class and then asks if there is any criticism. Carrie blurts out that the poem is “beautiful.” Surprised to hear Carrie speak, Mr. Fromm states that her comment is “hardly a criticism,” and proceeds to mimic her critique by stating “beautiful, beautiful, beeeautiful.” Tommy sticks-up for Carrie, and under his breath whispers “You suck” to Mr. Fromm.

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Miss Collins punishes Carrie’s bullies with a week-long detention of arduous exercise. If they do not attend, their prom privileges will be revoked. Miss Collins tells Chris Hargensen, the ringleader of Carrie’s assailants, to “spit out her gum.” Chris haughtily asks Miss Collins where she shall put it, and Miss Collins retorts, “you can choke on it for all I care.” Sue Snell, on the other hand, is guilt-ridden over the treatment toward Carrie.  

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Ten minutes before the end of the first session of the “1, 2, 3, 4” boot camp detention, Hargensen states to her classmates “she can’t get away with this!” Sue tells her to “let it go.” But Hargensen yells “Like hell I will,” and then tells Miss Collins where she can shove the last ten minutes. Miss Collins slaps her across the face, and Hargensen then screams “You can’t get away with this.” She tries to persuade her classmates to join her but it’s to no avail. Sue tells Hargensen to “shut up…just shut up.” Hargensen screams to Miss Collins “this isn’t over, this isn’t over by a long shot” and Miss Collins states “you’re out of the prom Hargensen.”

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Meanwhile, Carrie is in the library researching her gift of telekinesis in the book The Secret Science Behind Miracles.  Sue then asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the prom.

That night, Hargensen and her hotrod boyfriend, Billy Nolan, go cruising. Billy spills a beer on Hargensen and she calls him a “stupid shit”; he then slaps her. While parked at a party, Hargensen calls Billy a “stupid shit” again and he retorts with yet another slap in the face. Poor Chris Hargensen has now been slapped three times in one day. But, alas, she doesn’t seem that fazed as she has “something important” she wants Billy to do. As she is about to perform fellacio, she moans “Billy” about a dozen times before she finally blurts: “I hate Carrie White.” He responds “Who?”  

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While doing homework with Sue in front of the TV, Tommy finally relents and agrees to take Carrie to the prom. So the next day, he approaches Carrie in the library and invites her to the prom; she runs off, mortified.

Miss Collins sees Carrie “moping” and despondent, and asks her if she’s ok. Carrie tells Miss Collins about the prom invitation and is worried that Tommy is “trying to trick” her. Miss Collins assures Carrie that she is a “pretty girl” who just needs to change her negative “attitude” about herself. She suggests that Carrie should apply a “little mascara” and “lipstick” to highlight her pretty features, and perhaps “add a little curl” to her hair.

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Miss Collins then holds a meeting with Tommy and Sue inquiring why Tommy invited Carrie to the prom as it’s “a big deal for Carrie White.” Sue counters that she just wants to “get her to join in a few things” and that they are “trying to help” and do not care how “ridiculous” they may look.

Tommy goes to Carrie’s house and refuses to leave until she accepts his invite to the prom. He assures her that he’s asking because she liked his poem.

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Hargensen, Billy Nolan, Freddy, and a few others are at Bates Packing, a pig farm. Billy goads Freddy to hurry up with the task at hand stating, “Get her done man, get her done.” Freddy refuses, leaving Billy Nolan to bludgeon a pig to death.

With a tapestry depicting Jesus’ infamous Last Supper festooned on the dining room wall, Carrie and her mother symbolically have their last dinner together. Carrie refrains from indulging in her apple cake because it gives her pimples, but Mrs. White states: “Pimples are the Lord’s way of chastising you.” Carrie fesses up and tells her mother about the invitation to the prom. Horrified, Mrs. White blames Miss Collins then throws her cup of decaf in Carrie’s face. Carrie assures her mother that Tommy Ross is a “nice boy.” Mrs. White then preaches with the most disgusting line of the film, “after the blood come the boys, like sniffing dogs slobbering, trying to find where that smell comes from.” She prohibits her from attending the prom, threatening to move towns, and tries to force Carrie into another prayer session in the closet. Finally, Carrie rebels. Using her telekinetic gift, she slams shut all the open windows and insists that she is going to the prom. Mrs. White now believes that Carrie is a witch and Satan is working through her.

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Hargensen and Billy Nolan set-up the pig’s blood, in a bucket bedecked with stars, above the prom stage. Hargensen grows impatient but Billy tells to “keep” her “tits on and” he “will let” her “pull the rope when the time comes.”

Margaret White is in deep prayer while Carrie finishes sewing her dress; which, in my personal opinion, is quite fabulous.

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As rumors of Tommy and Carrie’s date swirl about, Freddy volunteers to collect the prom king and queen ballots for the prom committee.

While Carrie is primping for the prom, her mother refers to her pink dress as “red” and cryptically states, “I should have known it was red.” Mrs. White then lectures, “I can see you dirty pillows.” Carrie explains, “They’re breasts Mamma, they’re called breasts and every woman has them.” Mrs. White suggests that she takes off the dress and they can burn it together and pray for forgiveness. She then claims that “He’s not coming” and that “They’re all gonna laugh” at her. Mrs. White starts hitting herself, scratching her face, and pulling her hair, begging Carrie not to go. Carrie uses her telekinesis, pushing her mom onto the bed. She then states, “I’ll be home early.” This is a rather odd comment being that this is her first night out; so, how could she decipher between what is a late and an early night.

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At the prom, Carrie is clearly the best dressed! Except for a few gawking gigglers, like Norma, who is bedecked in her trademark red cap, most are very welcoming toward Carrie. She dances with Tommy while Sue sneaks in to witness her good deed. Norma and Freddy collect the ballots and exchange them for mock entries. Carrie and Tommy are elected prom queen and king. Billy Nolan, who thinks Carrie “sure is cute,” is hidden under the stage with Hargensen.  

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Sue figures out their prank, but before she can stop it, Miss Collins kicks her out of the prom. Honored as prom queen, Carrie is elevated with pure elation, yet at the moment she surrenders to social acceptance, she is humiliated.

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After Carrie and Tommy ascend the stage with cheers and ovations, Hargensen pulls the rope and a bucket of pig’s blood drenches Carrie. The empty bucket hits Tommy in the head, and despite his big curly fro-like hair, he is rendered unconscious. Mayhem ensues and the now humiliated and paranoid Carrie unleashes her wrath. Armed with her telekinetic powers, she kills all in the gym. The gym then burns down and Carrie begins to walk home. She sees Hargensen and Billy Nolan, who had escaped, driving and trying to run her over; but, Carrie, with her vengeful star, causes the car to flip and explode.

 

Carrie then returns home to a candle-lit house in disarray. She takes a bath, sobs while she soaks, puts on a nightgown, and calls out for her mother, begging for her affection. Her mother holds her and then tells her how she enjoyed her own premarital sex that resulted in Carrie’s conception. She says that she should have given Carrie to God when she was born. Mrs. White then grasps a hidden butcher knife and stabs Carrie in the back. Carrie falls down the stairs while her mother slowly pursues her with the butcher knife.

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Through Carrie’s powers, her mother is then impaled with a myriad of kitchen utensils mirroring the image of the St. Sebastian statue in Carrie’s prayer closet. Mrs. White finally succumbs to her injuries after murmuring several impassioned groans and grunts that would make the folks at Vivid Video impressed. Carrie screams and grabs her mother as the home collapses and  sets afire. Carrie is killed.

Carrie 19As Sue is sleeping, recovering from the trauma, she dreams about placing flowers on the burned down lot of Carrie’s home. In greatest jump scare in the history of horror, Carrie’s hand reaches from the ground and grabs Sue’s arm. Sue awakes screaming as her mother holds her. Moral of the story: Don’t judge anyone, and for the love of all things sacred, don’t bully anyone or you just might be on the receiving end of a vengeful stare!

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Deadly Details

Director ∞ Brian De Palma
Producers ∞ Paul Monash
Screenwriters ∞ Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on Carrie by Stephen King
Music ∞ Pino Donaggio
Cinematographer ∞ Mario Tosi
Editor ∞ Paul Hirsch
Art Director ∞ Jack Fisk and William Kenney
Distributor ∞ United Artists
Release Date ∞ November 1976
Running time ∞ 98 minutes
Country ∞ United States
Language ∞ English
Cast ∞
Sissy Spacek as Carrie
Piper Laurie as Margaret White
Amy Irving as Sue Snell
William Katt as Tommy Ross
John Travolta as Billy Nolan
Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen
Betty Buckley as Miss Collins
P.J. Soles as Norma
Priscilla Pointer as Mrs. Snell
Sydney Lassick as Mr. Fromm
Stefan Gierasch as Mr. Morton
Michael Talbott as Freddy
Doug Cox as The Beak
Harry Gold as George
Noelle North as Frieda
Cindy Daly as Cora
Deirdre Berthrong as Rhonda
Anson Downes as Ernest
Rory Stevens as Kenny
Edie McClurg as Helen
Cameron De Palma as Boy on Bicycle