A Review of Carrie (1976)

[This review may contain spoilers]


Film poster of “Carrie” (1976)

Julia Alvarado, Freelance Writer

In 1976, Brian De Palma released the film “Carrie,” based on Stephen King’s debut novel of the same name. King was only paid $2,500 for the film rights but is reported as saying he was incredibly fortunate to have this happen to his first book. The film had a budget of around $1.8 million—a small amount, considering the popularity of horror films at the time—but grossed over $33 million at the box office, quickly receiving widespread critical acclaim and being hailed as one of the best films of the year. It is one of the few horror films to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards, and in 2022 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

In the film, shy and sensitive teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is tormented by both her classmates and her mother (Piper Laurie). When strange things begin happening around her, Carrie begins to suspect that she may have supernatural powers. The film tackles topics like loneliness, abuse, and bullying, using Carrie’s struggle with her newfound telekinesis to explore the complex trauma of teenagehood—it’s something King has always been uniquely talented at, capturing the experience of adolescents as they attempt to find their place in the world.

“Carrie” in every iteration, deals with the casual cruelty of the youth. In psychology, there is a term called “theory of mind”, which is essentially a person’s ability to understand and empathize with the mental states of others. Psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that a person’s theory of mind develops around the age of 3 or 4. Essentially, toddlers are incapable of empathizing with the people around them, as they’re too young to understand that others have emotions and feelings the same way they do. But looking at the film “Carrie”, as well as real-life examples of the borderline vicious bullying and discrimination present in nearly all modern high schools, it’s easy to question Piaget’s theory. Perhaps it is true that some children develop empathy for others at a young age, but the key word there is some. Some children develop a solid theory of mind, and some do not. It’s hard to say what one should attribute the development to, it’s the age-old debate of nature vs nurture. Does a theory of mind develop naturally at a certain point in someone’s life, or does it require an outside influence to nurture ideas of compassion and understanding in the minds of young people? It’s hard to say exactly, but the torment Carrie White faces in the film is hardly an exaggeration of what some real individuals face on a daily basis.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons the film has maintained its popularity even forty-some years later. It connects with that very real, very damaged part of people. Although Spacek’s talent is a touch underutilized in the film, she steals every scene she’s in, embodying Carrie’s threatening innocence, playing the part of the cornered and tormented animal perfectly until the very last scenes. Both she and Laurie are easily the best parts of the film, and their scenes together stand out amongst the others that ultimately combine to create a tonally inconsistent and occasionally meandering film. One moment Carrie is being berated by her mother, the next viewers are treated to a montage of teenage boys laughing and joking as they pick out tuxedos. There are some moments where the dissonance works well for the film. Mainly the prom, where the enchantment of the evening turns abruptly to horror and violence. But aside from that, the movie tends to jump around in a way that ultimately detracts from the final project. It by no means ruins the film. Spacek’s performance and Pino Donaggio’s score make for an otherwise fairly enjoyable watch.

It’s by no means the perfect film it is sometimes accredited as, but it’s a striking portrait of teenage horror, combining the best aspects of King’s writing to create something that has remained a horror fixture for decades, and it’s a solid 3.5/5 paws.