This is one of my favorite films. If you’ve never seen it how lucky you are to still have it ahead of you! If you haven’t seen it for years, and remember it as just a dumb teen horror movie, you have the pleasure of discovering how well made and acted it is.
I was one of those who just thought this was a dumb teen horror movie, and was thus surprised when it was the first film we studied in one of my college film courses. Learning how deftly layered and brilliantly directed this movie is was in large part my first awakening to how interesting and well-done horror and other dismissed genres can be.
Although this film was considered horror when it came out, now, more than 20 years later, I think you have to look at it as more of a macabre tragic drama, because certainly no one will be scared by it. Many on the IMDb complain that "nothing happens" in the first hour, which I blame on its continuing place in the “horror” genre. Unfortunately, those people are missing all of the character development and thematic content that makes the ending so moving to those who have followed it.
The film is unflinching in its portrayal of female jealousy and sublimated sexual rage. The appearance of Carrie's powers coincides with her first period, i.e. the onset of sexual maturity. The following events are all about sexual attraction and jealousy, following Carrie's emergence as a woman, the dynamics of the other girls at school and their sexual/romantic intrigues, and the White family's bizarre sexual mores. The drama with the girls at school is all about dates and sex and going to the prom. Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher tries to get her to wear makeup and pay more attention to her hair. Meanwhile, Carrie’s mother equates her menstruation with acceptance of sin, and later refers to her breasts as “dirty pillows.” Once you start to look at it this way, you'll be surprised at the number of incidents and bits of dialogue that relate to this theme, and how carefully focused the entire screenplay is.
Sissy Spacek's performance really is multi-layered and heartbreaking, and gets better the more you get into the film. The early scenes at the prom, when you see her trying her best to get out of her shell, and how scared she is of being hurt, are all the more tragic knowing what is going to happen to her a few minutes later. When she is announced as Prom Queen, you see from the look on her face that she has finally come to believe that she has been accepted and liked. That the image of her walking silently through the burning school still remains so iconic and startlingly creepy is testament to her performance and this film’s power.
The other amazing thing is DePalma's direction. The sequence beginning with the announcement of Carrie as Prom Queen is a masterpiece of building tension -- notice the music and editing as the sequence gathers speed, culminating with the spilling of the blood. You will also notice that this entire sequence is dialogue-free. It is so tight, audacious and over-the-top that you have to admire it. I know DePalma later expressed regret over the split screen effect, but I remember how effective it was when I first saw the film -- it left me feeling like so much is happening at once that you couldn't possibly take it all in. It's really overwhelming and distancing at the same time -- as opposed to most horror films that try to bring viewers INTO the terror.
The mere fact that this movie is still around almost 25 years later is a testament to its brilliance. It is much more respected now than when it first came out-- in part I think because the "horror" label worked against it. Look at the horror aspects the way they should be -- as a metaphor-- and you'll start to get into it. The closer you look the better it becomes.
For God’s Sake, YES!
CARRIE [TV VERSION] is a nightmare, but is interesting to watch if you're a big fan of this film, as it will make you appreciate it all the more.
THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 is a misguided sequel that is basically a remake of this movie, just by a director with comparatively little talent.