A moment of adolescent trauma that drags the audience into a particularly female nightmare of the horrors of high school, popularity (or the utter lack thereof), and sex-negative religious fanaticism coupled with psychotic child abuse. A feel-good story it ain't.
Perhaps the single most iconic "girl's" story in the annals of American horror, this exceptional adaptation of Stephen King's first novel is nothing less than a horror masterpiece that bolsters the assertion that the 1970's contributed a number of true cinematic classics to the genre. By now the tragic tale of emotionally/psychologically beaten-down Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) should be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in scary movies, but just in case you've just emerged from living under a rock in the middle of the Mojave desert for the past forty years, here's the skinny:
Cripplingly shy, friendless and unattractive high school misfit Carrie White's miserable life takes a turn for the worse when she experiences her first menstrual period while in the girls' shower after gym class. Sheltered to an alarming degree by her ultra-psychotic Jesus-freak of a mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), Carrie has no idea what's happening to her and believes she's dying. As the naked, bleeding and terrified girl pleads with her peers for help, the other girls, led by the incredibly cunty Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), seize the opportunity to pelt Carrie with tampons and sanitary napkins while laughing and chanting "Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!" as the poor girl collapses into a sobbing heap in a corner of the shower. This sadistic, insensitive tableau is halted by the gym coach, who gets Carrie cleaned up and sends her home, after which she doles out punishment to Carrie's tormentors, including banning Chris Hargensen from the upcoming prom. Hargensen, being an irredeemably horrible person for whom no pejorative is sufficient, blames her banishment on Carrie and vows to enact a cruel and ironically humiliating vengeance upon her when the prom rolls around, a plan aided by her greasy delinquent stereotype of a boyfriend, alpha male shithead Billy Nolan (John Travolta), that includes rigging the election to guarantee that Carrie will be crowned as prom queen...
Piper Laurie as the apocalyptically unstable Margaret White: Carrie's mom and own personal Matthew Hopkins.
Meanwhile, Carrie returns home to the clearly insane abuses of her mother, who is aware that her daughter's body has ushered her into womanhood, which in her mother's eyes makes her into a sinful agent of Satan. But along with the virtually non-stop beatings and hand-wringing entreaties to Jesus come psychic powers, presumably kickstarted by Carrie's period. With the advent of her escalating telekinetic abilities, Carrie begins to own her developing sexuality and slowly gains a microscopic measure of confidence while admiring her unattainable crush, handsome and popular athlete Tommy Ross (William Katt), who's the boyfriend of Sue Snell (Amy Irving), one of the lead tormentors during the shower incident, but who genuinely feels guilt over her role in Carrie's humiliation. In an effort to make up for her offense, Sue convinces her boyfriend to ask Carrie, who's widely considered the school's homeliest and most unpopular student, to be his date for the prom. As they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and with Tommy's agreement to go along with Sue's plan —which, unbeknownst to Sue, plays perfectly into Chris Hargensen's sick agenda — the tragic fates of all involved are sealed, and it would be an understatement of epic proportions to say that Carrie's prom proves quite memorable...
Featuring top-notch storytelling and performances from top to bottom, CARRIE is the perfect tale of high school as a vicious, savage arena in which the winners are more often than not delighted to achieve their status by heartlessly crushing the souls of those weaker than themselves, and where the petty social brinkmanship of teenage girls proves to be a game where compassion and mercy are in very short supply. It's the wistful, nostalgic fantasy of the idyllic, never-ending youth of high school getting a glass of ice water thrown in its face as its bullshit is ripped away like a prom dress just before a brutal backseat rape in the football team captain's bitchin' Camaro. If that's a harsh way to look at it, that's because for many of us high school was a waking nightmare from which there was no escape until our sentences were ended with graduation (or possibly suicide), and the events chronicled in Carrie White's sadder-than-sad tale strike all-too-close to home. Especially for females. The story's whole menstrual angle lends the narrative great power, thanks to the intimate nature of a young lady's body simultaneously proclaiming her womanhood while also bringing her pain and a messy, pungent, "secret" embarrassment that our culture has ruled must seldom, if ever, be discussed. It's an ancient taboo subject that's a source of curiosity, revulsion, and shame (for both sides of the gender equation, if truth be told) that knows no cultural borders, and thus it's a potent source from which to craft a horror story that grips us in the most primal of places.
Bottom line on this one: CARRIE is a carved-in-stone classic that should be mandatory viewing for girls about to enter high school — or maybe even junior high school — as a cautionary tale on how not to treat one's peers. It'll stick to your little princess like goddamned napalm.
Original release theatrical poster.