At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Carrie “76”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror-Drama/ Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, P. J. Soles, Sydney Lassick, Stefan Gierasch, Priscilla Pointer, Edie McClurg, Michael Talbott, Cindy Daly, Deirdre Berthrong, Harry Gold, Noelle North, Doug Cox, Anson Downes/ Runtime: 98 minutes

I think it is safe to say to start this review that should you ever feel inclined to do this, you could easily write a whole book on the numerous subtleties, intricacies, and social analysis of the 1976 take on the Stephen King story Carrie as even though the cast of characters are simply portrayed they all act as living representations of various extremes. Suffice it to say then that iconic film helmer Brian De Palma’s slice of cinematic pie is a truly riveting viewing experience for its simple examination at how daily life can suddenly be thrown for a horrific loop whilst also concentrating on the perils of unnecessary terror and the pain it generates with just the right touch of horror to give the message a little bit more of a jagged edge. Indeed a take on the equally as iconic Stephen King novel, Carrie manages to function as a truly stylish slice of cinematic pie despite the fairly often fixed and quite uneventful path the narrative takes that is then struck every so often with moments that are quite novel, but the more unassuming ingredient is what makes the conclusion and the confrontations leading up to it so riveting yet difficult to sit through at the same time. To that end, it should be noted that the way De Palma films this movie is a reflection of the main character who, despite her naivety and shy manner, is in possession of something truly magical worth comprehending that distinguishes her from the rest of the people her age. To that end, Carrie is a complicated movie that is cloaked in simplicity and one that manages to work amazingly well due to a brilliant narrative, top-flight performances, and fantastic work at the helm.

The plot is as follows: Carrie tells the story of a young woman by the name of Carrie White who is the proverbial outcast amongst the girls in her small town high school. A title she managed to acquire due to being shy, quiet, withdrawn, and extremely naïve in the various facets of how the world operates. Incidentally it is in that last arena that we see firsthand evidence of, within minutes of the film starting, as we see that our titular heroine experiencing the first signs of change into an adult (think about it). Not knowing what is going on however, we see Carrie become befuddled and terrified and her class mates decide to use it as yet another chance to make her life a living nightmare. Of course, the girls are quickly and swiftly disciplined by their gym teacher Miss Collins who, following the incident, finds herself becoming a person that Carrie can confide in and find comfort with. A beautiful thing really because Carrie’s home life is one that is no better than her life at school since her mom Margaret is a religious nut who vehemently denies Carrie the chance to do the things everyone else does due to seeing sin virtually everywhere and her daughter’s flaws as God punishing her for her failings in life. Things soon take a turn though when a popular classmate of Carrie’s by the name of Sue, feeling bad for how she treated Carrie, asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to prom and Tommy begrudgingly goes along with it as does Carrie herself following a heart to heart with Miss Collins and despite her mom’s flat out refusal. Unfortunately we also see that one of the girls who loves to make Carrie’s life a living nightmare the most in the form of the spiteful Chris and her main squeeze Billy have come up with a plan to degrade Carrie at the prom in the worst way possible. Yet it is Carrie who will have the proverbial last laugh in that she will at long last unleash a secret she has been hiding on these people and turn what may have started as prom into one of the most horrifying nights that they have ever or will ever have…..provided they survive the night that is…..

Now as stated in the very first paragraph of this review, the 1976 take on the story Carrie is one that operates significantly more as an entry in the Drama genre than as an entry in the Horror genre. Indeed this is a movie that, before anything else, operates as a cautionary story about embracing people who might not be like us and the perils that come with maybe not rejection, but most certainly ridicule especially when the person being ridiculed has to also deal with, as seen in this movie, a very dominating parent that cruelly prevents them from comprehending even the most basic truths this world has to offer. Yes, in all fairness, this film does certainly employ some aspects of the Horror genre, and the end of the movie most assuredly fits that genre fairly well, but it is also an entry in the Horror genre of a distinct type. By that I mean this is a Horror film that showcases the terrors felt by a young woman who, as hard as she tries, is unable to fit in anywhere to say nothing of the horrific annihilation of her dreams that are only given the briefest of moments to shine through. Yes there is a moment in this film where it looks like Carrie has been able to get away from everything that is off with her life, but sadly her fate in this seems predestined right from the word go to not end so happily. Yet for all the torment she is subjected to by everyone from bullies to her mom, it is a touch ironic to note that whilst it is Carrie who is seemingly the only “normal” person in the movie she is also looked at with disgust by her classmates and something equivalent to the Antichrist by her mom. Indeed it is only Miss Collins and, eventually, Tommy who come to see her for who she is as a person, but not until they take it upon themselves to see that past everything else Carrie just plain and simply wants nothing more than to be an ordinary and healthy girl. Of course, we know that Carrie is more than ordinary due to forces she has possession of that only come out when pushed to the limit, but the film makes the intriguing choice to have her only show them off to the fullest at the end of the film and just hint at them here and there until then. By doing so, not only does it make the drama more potent, but it also keeps the audience engaged in waiting for the moment when our heroine is just pushed that proverbial one step too far…

Now a key aspect that makes this slice of cinematic pie operate as well as it does are the genuinely heartwarming instances mixed in with the more visceral narrative especially when it comes to the moments between Miss Collins and Carrie both before and during prom. With that being said, I can honestly say that Carrie is a character that I found it remarkably easy to empathize with throughout the course of the film since the poor girl has literally the gauntlet going up against in the form of a mentally abusive parent, not looking as pretty as everyone else, and a gang of classmates that constantly look down on her more than anything. To that end, I will say that Sissy Spacek manages to give us a truly riveting yet integrity-laced turn in this that most deservedly nabbed her a nod for Best Actress at the Oscars. I mean Spacek’s turn here is just so decent and innocent that even though you know something really bad is on the horizon, you will literally pray that it doesn’t and that Carrie is able to just have a good time for once in her life and just know what it means to be loved and appreciated. We also get wonderful work from William Katt as his portrayal of Tommy manages to be equal parts smooth yet also decent at heart as he manages to treat our heroine with the dignity she so rightfully deserves and serves as a representation for what everyone else could have been had they too given her the benefit of the doubt. I mean it really doesn’t take that long to see him go from treating taking her to prom as almost like a chore to actually caring about and respecting her as a person and for what she could potentially offer the world around her if given the chance to do so. We also get wonderful work from Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, P.J. Soles, soon to be De Palma squeeze and mainstay in some of his more riveting films like Blow Out and Dressed to Kill Nancy Allen, and John Travolta in only his 2nd movie before he taught us how to disco and that Grease truly is the word. As for the work done behind the camera, I can safely say that De Palma’s helmsmanship, as much as the work done by the cast, helps to really make this movie the treat that it is.  I mean this slice of cinematic pie is shot with a fairly potent degree of innocence about it and the more heartwarming moments at the prom are showcased with such decency that it is downright heartwrenching when things, inevitable as they may be, go sour. I mean this is a movie where you will not want to see the end of this film that happens since everything genuinely good that has been built up to that moment is then utterly annihilated, but at least the good manages to strengthen the fury and anguish presented at the end and make it as riveting as it needs to be.

All in all I think I can safely say without a doubt in my mind that the 1976 take on the story Carrie is also one of the better slices of cinematic pie to be found within film helmer Brian De Palma’s filmography (which is kind of impressive seeing as this man also gave us Scarface from 1983, The Untouchables from 1987, and Dressed to Kill from 1980 among others). Indeed it is a truly riveting character analysis that makes the bold choice to add to the proceedings just the right touch of terror that then manages to support the narrative rather than taking over completely and negating everything else.  Not to mention, but the narrative, made up of equal parts anguish and loss, is one that we can all relate to. I mean all Carrie wanted was what we all want at some point in our lives and that is to be treated like just another person, but to be more specific to simply be looked at and treated like she was normal. Unfortunately she is put down by nearly everyone else for things that she has no control over and in the end she finally decided to give them all a taste of their own medicine in a way that was both horrific and tragic all at once. Suffice it to say then that you should definitely consider giving this movie, unlike so many did to our poor beleaguered heroine, a chance. Just don’t upset it and whatever you do: leave any pig’s blood you may have in your possession at home. You’ll thank me later…..On a scale of 1-5 I give Carrie “76” a solid 4 out of 5.

After having looked over the trailer, I have determined that it is incredibly spoiler-heavy and as such would be detrimental to your overall viewing experience. I have therefore elected not to post it here at the bottom of the review!– Ag