As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’ve only kindled a love for “scary movies” in the last three or four years, so I don’t feel too guilty in admitting that I had never heard of Carrie until earlier this year when I learned of the upcoming re-adaptation of the original Stephen King novel, which I’m actually pretty excited for. To prepare myself, I read King’s book and decided that I needed to watch the “classic” Brian de Palma film before seeing the new film. Thankfully, I was pretty pleased.
Carrie follows the eponymous Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an outcast who lives with her questionably-sane Christian fundamentalist mother Margaret (Piper Laurie). Her school life isn’t any better, with her classmates teasing and bullying her on a daily basis. She soon discovers that she has telekinetic powers that grow stronger in times of extreme anger or stress. When Sue Snell (Amy Irving), a popular girl who feels guilty for how she treated Carrie, convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to ask Carrie to the prom, things seem to be getting better, but when she becomes the victim of a cruel prank pulled by Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta), she unleashes her powers in a huge display of revenge.
I’m surprised by how faithful of an adaptation of the book this film is, at least up until the end. Sissy Spacek plays both sides of her character incredibly well – poor, sweet, innocent Carrie vs. Carrie the exactor of revenge. Her rise and fall during the climactic prom scene is equally satisfying and tragic – to have a happy ending within her reach only to have it snatched away from her so cruelly. The lead-up to and subsequent dump of the bucket of blood is by far the best part of the film; it is so perfectly done, with the emotional stakes so incredibly high. William Katt as her date to the prom, Tommy, is wonderfully quirky and endearing. His initial (understandable) reluctance to ask Carrie to prom and his growth into a young man who treats Carrie so well actually made me feel proud of him. His brief time spent in her company is enjoyable for everyone; with apparent ease he alleviates all of her anxiety and makes us come to love both him and to see Carrie for who she is – a girl who wants nothing more than to fit in. Another great performance comes from Piper Laurie as Carries mother. Her eccentricity is palpable as we watch her force Carrie into a closet to pray for forgiveness or as she tells her daughter how she was conceived in sin. Her first appearance in the film, visiting the parent of one of Carrie’s schoolmates to talk about God, seems innocent enough until she reveals how insane her beliefs are, which is what makes the character interesting here.
The actors who play Sue, Chris, and Billy all do a decent job, but one casualty of the film’s only 98-minute run time is that much of the focus placed on these three characters in the book is lost. In fact, the story in the book alternates telling the story from the perspectives of not only Carrie, but Sue, Chris, and Billy as well. These three actors, including a not-yet-famous John Travolta, could have had much larger roles in the film and really had a chance to show their talents had the film had a longer run time. An advantage that the book has over the film is the ability to treat the reader to the characters’ inner monologues so that we can understand their intentions and feel their emotions as they do. I wish that the ending of the film had been more accurate to the book because it is the climax of the story: Carrie’s revenge. In the book, she goes on an all-out rampage, starting with the students at the school and expanding into the town itself, leaving a death toll of over 400 people in her wake. The destruction she causes is substantially reduced in the film, likely due to budgetary concern.
One storytelling technique that the book uses is inserting clippings from books written by scientists studying “the Carrie White affair” or even from a memoir by Sue Snell. These inserts forecast the events that are to come and hint at who lives, who dies, and explore the implications of someone developing telekinetic powers. In one sense, I’m glad that the filmmakers took this out because 1) it would be difficult to fit into a film and 2) it left the events in the film to be a mystery, but I have to admit that I missed this aspect of the book a bit. The music in the film is pretty good; I don’t own the score or remember anything in particular standing out to me, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The only thing I have to say about the music is that the composer, Pino Donaggio, was definitely channeling his inner Bernard Hermann – his musical motif for Carrie’s telekinetic powers evokes memories of the screeching violins from the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho…this was probably intentional, of course.
Overall, though I seem to have torn this apart for its inaccuracies from the book, I have understood for a long time that books and their film adaptations have to be accepted as entirely different entities, so I really enjoyed the movie and can understand why it’s a classic. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wipe the image of Carrie’s demented, blood-covered face from my mind. Sissy Spacek nails the role here, and the rest of the cast pull together an admirable adaptation of a great Stephen King book…though I’m certainly hoping that the re-adaptation is better. We’ll see!
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)