Carrie (1976): De Palma at his Best, Starring Sissy Spacek and Pier Laurie in Oscar Nominated Performances

United Artists (MGM)

Brian De Palma’s terrifyingly Gothic thriller, Carrie, based on Stephen King’s novel, is at once lyrical and trashy, a nasty revenge story with a Cinderella-like heroine.

The eponymous heroine (Sissy Spacek in the movie that catapulted her to stardom) is on one level a stock character, a misfit who comes of age and discovers her sexuality under the most terrifying conditions.

An early, crucial scene shows the totally unprepared Carrie White experiencing her first menstruation at the gym’s showers; her friends react as if she were a freak. “Help me,” she screams in desperation, but her friends laugh, and it takes her teacher to pull her out of hysterics. It’s defining moment that actress Spacek has described as “being hit by a truck)

Fatherless, Carrie lives with her crazed, fanatically religious, mother (Piper Laurie), who perceives herself as a virgin damaged by sex. Shy and sexually inhibited, Carrie’s main desire is to gain acceptance by her peers; she is unloved at home and ridiculed at school (which is named Bates High School, paying tribute to Hitchcock’s Psycho). “Äll the kids think I’m funny, but all I want to be is normal,” Carrie tells her mother.

The second part of the narrative turns into a slash horror film, another revenge story, thus fitting into the decade’s dominant theme of vengeance. Carrie’s telekinetic powers are used against her classmates and mother. In her retaliation, kitchen knives whiz through space, piercing her mother’s body until she looks like a crucified saint.

The two visual motifs of the film are liquid, water and blood: The tale begins with a shower scenes and ends with a gory and lurid blood bath.

De Palma’s first commercial hit, after a couple of small indies, such as “Hi Mom” starring the young Robert De Niro, is still one of his best and most iconic pictures, combining skillfully horror and adolescent angst.

The shocking ending, which cannot be revealed here, has been imitated by many directors, and is still thrilling to behold.

Oscar Nominations:

Actress: Sissy Spacek
Supporting Actress: Piper Laurie

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1976, the winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Faye Dunaway for “Network,” which also garnered the Supporting Actress kudo on Beatrice Straight.

Cast

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek)
Margaret White (Piper Laurie)
Sue Snell (Amy Irving)
Tommy Ross (William Katt)
Billy Nolan (John Travolta)
Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen)
Miss Collins (Betty Buckley)
Norma Watson (P.J. Soles)
Mr. Fromm (Sydney Lassick)
Principal Morton (Stefan Gierasch)

Credits

Produced by Paul Monash.
Directed by Brian De Palma.
Screenplay: Larry Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King.
Camera: Mario Tosi.
Editing: Paul Hirsch.
Music: Pino Donaggio.
Art direction: William Kenny, Jack Fisk.
Costume design: Rosanna Norton.
F/X: Greg Auer, Ken Pepiot.

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