(Brian De Palma, USA, 1976)


By the mid '70s, Brian De Palma had already spent over a decade honing his diverse influences, including Hitchcock, rock music and political satire. But Carrie marked his breakthrough. It is an operatic horror-melodrama blending the family Gothic, supernaturalism, and teen movie. It remains the cinema's best adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

The film inaugurated De Palma's penchant for surprise switches between fantasy and reality, as in the opening which segues from a soft-core porn fantasia of girls showering to the fact of Carrie's menstruation – the first sign of "otherness" that will set her apart as a monster from her small-minded community.

All the oppression that Carrie suffers both at home (with her religious fanatic mother played by Piper Laurie) and at school creates a smouldering tension which takes the form of telekinetic power. We watch with ambivalence as Carrie's revenge fantasies cross the line into uncontrolled mass murder in the climactic prom scene (a De Palma tour de force).

Sissy Spacek is astonishing in the title role. Her face and body contort like a living special effect to express the unbearable contradictions of Carrie's experience, as well as the character's startling passage from wallflower to Queen of Death. A belated sequel – The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) – did not, alas, recapture the magic.

MORE De Palma: Blow Out, Carlito's Way, Casualties of War, Mission to Mars, Mission: Impossible, Raising Cain, Scarface, Snake Eyes, Sisters

MORE Spacek: In the Bedroom, The Ring Two, The Mommy Market

MORE King: The Dark Half, The Tommyknockers, Thinner

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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