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Carrie (UA 1976, Sissy Spacek, John Travolta)

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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.

production details
USA | UA – Red Bank | 98 minutes | 1976

Director: Brian De Palma
Script: Stephen King, Lawrence D. Cohen

cast
Sissy Spacek as Carrie White
Betty Buckley as Miss Collins
Michael Talbott as Freddy
John Travolta as Billy Nolan
Sydney Lassick as Mr. Fromm
P.J. Soles as Norma Watson
Piper Laurie as Margaret White
Amy Irving as Sue Snell
William Katt as Tommy Ross
Nancy Allen as Christine Hargenson
Stefan Gierasch as Principal Morton
Priscilla Pointer as Mrs. Snell
Edie McClurg as Helen Shyres
Doug Cox as The Beak
Harry Gold as George Dawson
Nichelle North as Frieda Jason
Cindy Daly as Cora Wilson
Deirdre Berthrong as Rhonda Wilson
Anson Downes as Ernest Peterson
Rory Stevens as Kenny
Cameron De Palma as Bobby Erbeter, the Boy on the Bike
Mike Towers as Vance or Towers
Glen Vance as Vance or Towers

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