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Carrie garnered a reputation of being a terrifying movie experience back in ’76 when it was released and all I heard from my sister and her friends was how scary it was. Not old enough to go see it in a theater, I had to wait to finally catch up to it on HBO a year or so later and was soundly disappointed. To me it didn’t live up to the hype. I recently decided to revisit it decades later to see if I still felt the same way or, was I, and the film, a victim of too high expectations. So does the film live up to it’s reputation and it’s classic status?… Not really.
Carrie’s main problem is that it’s slow moving and dull. The story of the shy and picked-on daughter (Sissy Spacek) of a religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie in an over-the-top performance), who develops telekinetic powers, is really uneventful between the infamous opening shower/period scene and the infamous prom sequence. There are some cheesy effects sequences along the way as Carrie begins to grow in strength and, through her new powers, rebel against her mother and ultimately avenge herself against pretty much everyone. But, the whole film is a set up for the prom scene and once that comes, it’s actually kind of tame and it’s over far too quickly to have any lasting impact. Brian DePalma films things with a nice look but, really doesn’t achieve a whole lot in the hour it takes to get Carrie to the prom. Basically it’s a slow set up as the teens who tormented Carrie are punished and then decide to get back at her for being punished. So, Sue (Amy Irving) conveniently asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her and thus sets up the perfect revenge for the nasty Chris (Nancy Allen) and her jerk of a boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta). And that’s another thing. DePalma never makes it clear whether Sue is in on the set up plot or not until the actual prom. And since she’s not, it’s just too much of a coincidence that she accidentally helps Chris set up a nasty surprise for the unsuspecting and now blissfully happy Carrie. It’s no surprise that the nasty prank involving pig’s blood triggers Carrie’s new skill and she unleashes them on everyone involved but, again her wrath is quick and rather tame and the best part of this sequence is the build of how Carrie comes to relax and be happy for the first time, as her date starts to really enjoy her company. Here DePalma scores as it’s heartbreaking that such a cruel joke is played on a sad young girl enjoying happiness for the first time. But, it is a horror flick and it’s too bad her wrath doesn’t carry the power of the scenes leading up to it. Even Carrie’s eventual final confrontation with her religious zealot mother is more corny then scary or shocking.
The cast is fine with Spacek really standing out and Laurie going a bit overboard. The rest of the characters are all cardboard teachers and delinquent students, so, there is not much for the actors to do. As stated before, DePalma directs with a slow burn from Lawrence D. Cohen’s thin script based on a Stephen King novel and that would be OK if he gave the payoff more impact and used his slow built to strongly develop the situations instead of breezing through them to get to his grand finale.
In conclusion, Carrie needed a bit more running time to more finely develop it’s story and characters and could have used more intensity from it’s payoff scenes. A moderate film with a far bigger reputation them it deserves.
2 and 1/2 Carries.