“They’re all gonna laugh at you,” threatens her mother, but in the end, no one is laughing at Carrie. A film from 1976, starring Sissy Spacek and oddly enough, John Travolta, Carrie is one of the few horror films with a powerful female character. It’s a simple story about an outcast in high school with a religious fanatic mother, who eventually channels her humiliation and anger [SPOILER ALERT!] into setting an entire gym on fire and killing her classmates.
With incredible acting from Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Piper Laurie, who plays Carrie's mother, this film sets the bar for horror. Spacek forces us to believe in her, the high school outcast who is constantly teased and bullied, with her shy demeanor and naivety. You’re on her side all the way through the film. Through her classmates laughing at her, through her insane mother controlling and sheltering her every move. You feel bad for Carrie every step of the way, which is why this film is written so well. You feel bad for her, so that in the end, after a final humiliation at the prom, when her rage unleashes on her classmates, you are still supporting her. You don’t feel bad for the students dying in that gym - you feel justified, just like Carrie. If the audience fully supports the villain at the end of a horror film, then the movie is doing something right.
Carrie also gets points for originality. At the time of its release, and I’d argue still today, you just don’t see many telekinetic girls who turn their prom night into a bloodbath. Based on a novel by Stephen King, all the right words and one-liners are in place before Carrie unleashes at the end of the film. Just to add one final punch, Carrie and her psychotic mother have it out when she returns home, resulting in a punishment that certainly fits the crime.
There’s nothing grand about this movie. There aren’t any crazy special effects or gruesome scenes of death to entice the audience. What this film has is heart. It has a story nearly everyone can relate to and a villain everyone wants to see go bad. And when she does, it’s definitely worth the wait. Plus - the film has the classic “one final gotcha” moment at the end, keeping the audience uneasy and sufficiently creeped out. There are few films like this left in horror, films with a background story you can believe in and an ending full of redemption, gratification and fear. I, for one, wish there were more... and the Carrie remake coming out in a couple of years doesn’t count.
If you liked Carrie, you might also like Sinister, House at the End of the Street and Psycho.