Carrie (1976)


I might be the only person in the world who thinks Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic thriller Carrie (now out on DVD) is one of the most overrated, disappointing horror films of all time, but I stand behind my review, and I swear I can knock down just about any argument its defenders throw. This is my third viewing of the film. Every time I watch it, I find major problems in the story for all the same reasons.

Carrie is the tale of a high school senior named Carrie White, aptly played by Sissy Spacek, who spends her days at school as the center of nearly every cruel ridicule and her hours at home with a constricting, sadistic, fanatically religious mother (Piper Laurie). Let’s just say the mother is like a female version of Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, and Carrie is the distressed Private Pyle.

The movie and the novel by Stephen King open similarly with a shower scene. Director Brian De Palma takes some major risks in this opening, filled to the rim with full frontal nudity of teenage girls. It takes nerve to begin a movie with such graphic detail, and I admire his courage. Carrie realizes she has great telepathic powers, which come in handy after her fellow students grab the final straw during the film’s disappointing finale at the senior prom.

The middle of the story simply involves lots and lots of backstabbing. The audience can only assume from the implications and plot revelations that Carrie White has had a rather cloudy history as a person and student. The movie never really explores Carrie White, though. Instead, we just see the same events repeated as the movie slowly urges towards a blood soaked final act. In a story where the main character murders her fellow students and teachers because of a boiling rage and years of hatred, the audience should be able to understand her. But of course, we never do.

I like the movie more than I liked the book because it is more visual and less confusing. Unfortunately, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen does not perform any miracles with his script. We never care about anyone in the story; when the violent climax transpires, instead of terror and amazement, we feel bored and perplexed.

Carrie is not a terrible movie. It has a good sense of style and vividly builds momentum. But the movie is not scary; it’s just violent, abhorrent. It contains all the necessary ingredients to make for an appetizing, suspenseful creep show, but it never delivers.