My first exposure to Carrie was at some point during the time span of 2007 to 2010, I can’t exactly remember when (I’m thinking it was most likely either 2007 or 2008). It was a movie that I caught a glimpse of a few times on the Encore movie channels, but I had no idea what it was and didn’t pay any attention to it. However, my grandmother recommended it to my teenage self based on the fact that Carrie featured both a high school setting and a prom night in the story, two aspects she was sure would endear me to the movie based on my absolute love for the supernatural horror film Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, which also contained similar elements. Interested in the prospect of a movie similar to one of my most favorite films of all time, I decided to give Carrie a try and thus I watched the 1976 film starring none other than Sissy Spacek in the titular role…
Carrie is originally a 1974 novel written by the renowned author Stephen King. It tells the story of the titular shy outcast who is regularly tormented by both her high school peers and her fanatically religious mother, and later discovers she possesses telekinesis. This was Stephen King's first published novel, the one to begin his professional writing career as we know it and make him a household name. In fact, Carrie became such a big hit that not only did it spawn a film adaptation, but also a direct sequel to that film adaptation and eventually TWO more film adaptations to boot!
What’s most interesting about the three film adaptations is, despite covering the exact same story, they each have their own unique spin on the concept due to being made in three different decades, thus featuring completely different actors and different cinematography. Not to mention that their general faithfulness to the novel can vary wildly. So, with three different movies adapting one story, it makes one wonder which one of these is most worth watching over the others? Which of these is the very best?
Well, unfortunately, I’m not here to provide the answer to that. My only wish is to share my thoughts regarding each movie and how I personally rank them. I recommend watching all three films (preferably back-to-back) in order to compare and see which one you like best, as all three are worth watching at least once due to their contrasting styles. Additionally, none of these movies are one hundred percent faithful to the novel anyway, so there exists no perfect adaptation.
At the time of this writing, I haven’t read the novel yet, so keep in mind that as I’m critiquing these movies it is not in comparison to the novel. Rather, I’m critiquing them as standalone films and comparing how they each present the story of Carrie. Before I begin, I want to emphasize that I’m NOT a film expert or well-versed in the art of cinematography, so don’t expect me to go all in-depth on how the movies are filmed. Whenever I watch a movie, what I evaluate most is the quality of the plot and the acting. Everything else, such as the quality of special effects, is just an add-on to the overall experience, not a deal-breaker for me.
The primary focus of these reviews will be my opinions regarding each one, including my likes and dislikes. I must also caution those who haven’t seen any of the movies or read the book as this review assumes you are already familiar with the plot, so here is a heavy SPOILER warning for the uninitiated. Now that the preliminaries are established, without further ado, let's examine the three versions of Stephen King’s critically acclaimed Carrie!
The main topic of this post shall be the first film adaptation, released in 1976 and starring Sissy Spacek in the titular role. During the time when this movie was made, Sissy Spacek was an unknown actress, and much of her current renowned status can be owed to this very film for good reason. Her performance as Carrie White is classic: she has an endearing and cutesy shyness, her relatively nervous and awkward demeanor is fun to watch, and her unique appearance also helps to sell her role as a loner/outcast. It's never a dull moment when Spacek is onscreen, I absolutely adore her!
The infamous scene in the beginning where Carrie is bullied by the other girls while she is having her first period and doesn't even know what it is proves to be heart wrenching.
Poor girl genuinely believes she's dying and is only seeking help yet her fellow classmates totally humiliate her. Spacek's performance here is perfect, it really makes you sympathize with the protagonist (unless you have no soul, that is).
I particularly love the scenes where Carrie and Tommy Ross (portrayed by William Katt) interact together, such as when Tommy asks Carrie to be his date for the senior prom. Watching Spacek acting all shy and very nervous, especially when he visits her house to receive a yes, is very adorable. The most heartwarming scene in the ENTIRE movie is their time together at prom. Carrie being excited yet nervous at the same time and Tommy being a nice guy and doing his best to make sure Carrie has the time of her life is the best! The chemistry between Spacek and Katt is one of my favorites in this movie; they bring a genuine smile to my face.
Another standout performance is Piper Laurie as Margaret White, the fanatically religious and abusive mother of Carrie. Just as Spacek became known for her role as Carrie White, so did Laurie made a name for herself due to her role in this movie. Laurie portrays Margaret in an over-the-top melodramatic style, which is best illustrated in her scenes together with Spacek whenever Carrie triggers Margaret in any way. For instance, here’s a sample of her reaction to when she learned her daughter got her first period:
Margaret: "O Lord! Help the sinning woman see the sin of her days and ways. Show her that if she had remained sinless, the curse of blood would never have come on her."
Check out this piece of her response to Carrie’s reveal about Tommy asking her to prom:
Margaret: "The boys. The boys. Yes, the boys. After the blood comes the boys like sniffing dogs, grinning and slobbering and trying to find out where that smell comes from. Where the smell is, that smell. Listen, I know where they take them 'cause I've seen it all!"
This dialogue, however, where Margaret recounts her first sexual experience with Carrie’s father is by far the most memorable to me:
Margaret: “...That night, I saw him looking down at me that way. We got down on our knees to pray for strength. I smelled the whiskey on his breath. Then he took me. He took me the stink of the filthy roadhouse whiskey on his breath. And I LIKED it! I LIKED IT!”
I find Piper Laurie as Margaret White to be very fun to watch. Not just because of her exaggerating behavior, but also due to her excellent line delivery. Laurie speaks her character’s lines in the best way possible. One of my favorite lines from her is when she says the following to Carrie regarding her daughter's first period:
Margaret: “You’re a woman now.”
So ominous and foreboding, as if there’s no turning back…
I’d also like to note that the interior of the White household really sets the tone and is a good reflection of Margaret’s character. The whole time I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but notice and comment on how dark it is inside Carrie’s home at any given time of day. This darkness mixed with the religious imagery on the walls really adds to the atmosphere and makes the scenes between Spacek and Laurie all the more poignant. Both actresses have good chemistry and work very well together.
Of course, I cannot possibly talk about this movie without mentioning Betty Buckley, who portrays the gym teacher (known as Miss Collins in this version). Next to Spacek, Buckley’s performance as Miss Collins is one of my most favorites in this film! After rescuing Carrie from her humiliation in the showers, Miss Collins becomes a sweet and supportive guardian to the young teen.
She sees to it that the girls in Carrie’s gym class get punished for their cruelty, making sure she’s wearing them out in her detention with constant exercising. She has a very heartwarming moment with Carrie where she talks with her woman-to-woman and tries to boost the shy teen’s self-esteem (hands down one of my favorite scenes, pictured below). She proves to be protective of Carrie upon discovering that Sue Snell is having Tommy, Sue’s boyfriend, take Carrie to the prom, suspecting it’s all a trick. Miss Collins truly goes out of her way to be generous to Carrie in a motherly-like fashion, and it's delightful to see throughout the film that at least ONE person got Carrie's back. I’m very fond of their relationship, it’s so inspiring to watch these two actresses on-screen together!
Seeing as how I’ve spent much of this post covering the actors' performances, allow me to spare some words for the movie itself. Despite the film’s age and the inherent fact that its age certainly shows, I’d argue that the Carrie of the seventies still holds up strong. It’s a well-made classic that looks and feels like Stephen King’s work, centering on the relatively normal with a thrilling and suspenseful atmosphere that continually builds up towards a dangerous and horrific climax. Even Stephen King himself is very fond of this adaptation and considers it better than the original novel he wrote.
Upon re-watching this recently, I couldn’t help but notice that, for a seventies film, this movie surprisingly features quite a bit of nudity, notable swearing (including a F-bomb), and a sexually suggestive scene (a sex scene was even planned and filmed before it got cut). I’ll admit, perhaps I’m late to the party and there do exist more seventies films with similar content, but I certainly did not expect this from Carrie. From my adult perspective, this seventies film is more mature than I remember.
The special effects are good and fair for their time. This is best showcased during the climax of the movie where Carrie has her mental meltdown and goes ballistic on everyone with her telekinesis. Due to the movie’s budget and the technology of the time, the special effects seen during Carrie’s rampage at the prom feel somewhat limited in scope. Nonetheless, it’s still perturbing and done well so I like it.
While I generally approve of the acting and performances done by everyone in this film, there is ONE who sticks out like a sore thumb. This depiction is one I absolutely don’t like, and it is the ONLY blemish that stains this otherwise perfect movie. If you haven’t already guessed it, I’m referring to none other than the man himself… JOHN TRAVOLTA!
John Travolta is cast as Billy Nolan, the boyfriend of Chris Hargenson (the main antagonist and Carrie’s central bully). Billy Nolan is originally written as a bad boy type in the novel, a rebellious and thuggish delinquent who is just as malicious as, if not more so than, the very girl he’s dating. We’re talking about a guy who abuses his own girlfriend, will gleefully run over dogs and cats in the street with his car, and will gladly let his friends take the fall for any crime he’s associated with without hesitation. However, this characterization of Billy is not what we see in this film. The Billy we see on-screen is instead a dim-witted doofus who is completely under the thrall of Chris herself. He will do anything Chris wants him to do, with his only objection being not to call him a certain word or else he slaps her.
I have two problems with this. The first is the characterization: I disagree with it not because it isn’t faithful to the novel, but because I generally dislike this depiction of Billy, especially when compared to the bad boy incarnation. Secondly, I also disagree with the choice to have John Travolta portray the character. No matter how you dress and spice him up, John Travolta doesn’t come off as a bad boy of any kind in my opinion. His general image just doesn’t reflect that. After all, most of his film roles that I’ve seen usually portray him as a cool guy of some sort (who may or may not be well-meaning in nature).
Even with that being said, I still don’t think he’s a fitting choice for a dim-witted Billy. Watching him perform as a low intelligent goof feels off and unnatural. I think it would have been much better if the filmmakers had just used another actor for Billy. Luckily, Travolta doesn’t get much screen time compared to the other actors, so his role is more of a minor annoyance for me rather than an intolerable person who ruins the whole movie (I’m looking at you, Tom Holland, in the MCU Spider-Man films!).
In conclusion, the 1976 Carrie is a fantastic movie and an absolute gem that is worth watching even in the 2020s! Sure, it may seem “outdated” today but that’s part of what makes it so great. I can appreciate older films from decades past because they often encapsulate a time where our culture and world were different from our modern sensibilities in many interesting ways. These filmmakers were able to do creative things in those days that they couldn’t get away with now in this current era, and that is endlessly fascinating to me. This is a classic I’m proud to own on DVD and I highly recommend it!
Well, my readers, that'll do it for this lengthy post! Thank you so much for reading my review on a classic film! As you can see, I had a LOT to say about this movie, so I really appreciate it if you read every word from start to finish! As the title implies, this is only part one of a three-part post reviewing all the Carrie film adaptations. Stay tuned for part two where I'll review the 2002 remake!
Feel free to drop a comment below and share your thoughts about Carrie! What did you think of the film? Have you seen it? Did my review pique your interest? Be sure to let me know!
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In the meantime, readers, be safe and remain healthy out there! Stay blessed!