Of such films is history made – I was debating to myself which to make my first review of 2014 (Happy New Year to all Picturenose readers, by the way, and thanks for keeping it with us), when my recent DVD acqusition, Brian De Palma‘s Carrie (1976), started winking at me from my shelf, and I knew the time had come.
As regular readers of my reviews are probably aware by now, I am a huge fan of (intelligent, scary, disturbing) horror, and Stephen King is my favourite writer, an admission for which I make absolutely no apologies as, rather like some of the very best horror ever made (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)), his work is still all-too-frequently dismissed by those who have not felt the need to actually read it.
It was ever thus with King who, despite his extraordinary success (and skill) with the genre, was very nearly dismissed as being just another hack of the horror boom that swept the world, in print and film, during the 1970s and 80s. These days, he is compared by critics to Dickens, and is the recipient of more awards for his fiction than you could shake a stick at. Go figure.
And his work has matured in certain ways from the bone-shakers with which he first made his name, but Carrie was his very first novel to be published, and it was its extraordinary success (King and his wife Tabitha, upon learning that King’s publisher was offering to buy the paperback rights for the novel for $400,000 in 1974, looked at their poky front room and second-hand furniture and, with one accord, burst into tears), coupled with De Palma’s marvellous adaptation (oh, yes, I was going to do a review, wasn’t I?) that first sent King on his way to becoming near-enough the world’s most popular author, genre regardless.
And it is a terrific film – a breakout, career-defining role for Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, the timid, friendless, frightened teen living under the tyrannical rule of her unstable and obsessively religious mother Margaret (Piper Laurie, terrific) who is mocked and loathed by her school peers, but who has a power that is known only to herself and her mother, namely telekinesis, the ability to move objects using her mind. Carrie’s power begins to grow following the humiliation of having her first period in the communal shower – utterly innocent of any carnal knowledge, Carrie thinks she is bleeding to death, and is mocked by her classmates, who all throw sanitary towels and tampons at her. After the whole class apart from Carrie is sentenced to a week’s boot-camp style detention by their gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) as punishment, with the threat of suspension and prom-ticket refusal for anyone who does not attend, one of Carrie’s classmates Sue Snell (Amy Irving) feels guilty and arranges for her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her. The horror, the horror…
The film is very much a product of its times, with De Palma using techniques such as split-screen photography that were in the ascendant during the 1970s and, from a less-skilled director, would have dated it irretrievably. But not so with Carrie - the screenplay, by Lawrence D. Cohen, was the first of many down the years to have departed significantly from King’s original vision, but this matters not a jot, as its evocation of the humiliation, oppression and suffering that school days do still represent for many, particularly in America, and Carrie’s revenge, when like Samson, she finally brings the house down on her tormentors, are simply peerless.
It also features breakout roles for Nancy Allen as Carrie’s nemesis Chris Hargensen and John Travolta as her boyfriend Billy Nolan, and an ending of which legends are made. Take a trip back in time, and take Carrie to the prom – you won’t regret it.