Carrie (UA 1976 with Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie and John Travolta)

USA / UA – Red Bank / 98 minutes / 1976

Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen / Novel: Stephen King / Cinematography: Mario Tosi / Music: Pino Donaggio / Producer: Paul Monash / Director: Brian De Palma

Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving

Shot in just 50 days on a shoestring budget, De Palma’s sanguine shocker pulled horror out of the grave, one hand a time. It tells the story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an outsider at [Hitchcock alert] Bates High School, where her plain looks and late development make her an easy target for bullies, led by the sadistic Chris (Nancy Allen). Carrie’s lack of worldliness is due to her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), a zealot whose enforced prayer routines will, she believes, help her daughter atone for her unidentified sins.

Carrie’s isolation leads her to discover a gift – produced at moments of great anguish – for telekinesis, the ability to move objects at will. When former bully Sue Snell (Amy Irving) regrets her own behaviour, she befriends Carrie and sets her up with a date for the forthcoming prom. As Carrie’s nightmare life finally begins to improve, a final shocking surprise awaits her and her enemies…

De Palma’s skill with schlock horror is unquestionable, but in questioning the American Dream during his country’s bicentenary he was also laudably subversive. His film is genuinely shocking, but the director was not content just to deliver a conventional bloodbath. The use of slow-motion (in one six-minute scene) and split-screen technology was a step forward for film-makers, and Carrie should be considered a technical and visual triumph.

Within the cast, Spacek dominates, closely followed by Laurie, who returned from a 15-year retirement after The Hustler to win her second successive Oscar nomination, although neither sustained their career highs for long. The supporting cast’s fortunes fluctuated: Travolta’s story needs no repeating, while Nancy Allen had the privilege of being offed in various De Palma outings, during which time the couple married (they have since divorced).

Remade with considerably less finesse in 2012.