'Carrie' taps into the horrors of high school like few, if any, films have.
High school is scary enough as it is. Your hormones are raging. Your parents just have no clue. Your teachers are mean. You have to find a way to pass your algebra test. One of your friends is talking about you behind your back. You want a date with your crush of the week. You want to have whatever gadget is trending right now that everyone else seems to own.
Now imagine that you are the most unpopular girl in the class with no friends at all. The teachers really are mean to you. The principal doesn’t even know your name. And your parent really doesn’t have a clue. In fact, your mother is such a religious fanatic that she regularly locks you in a closet to pray. She has also neglected to tell you about the birds and the bees. In a nightmare for any teenage girl, you get your first period while in the shower after gym class. While you think you’re dying, your classmates laugh and throw tampons at you.
That’s the event that sets the horror classic, Carrie, in motion. Released 40 years ago, Carrie is still the queen of horror. Here are four reasons why.
Carrie was the first movie based on a Stephen King book. In fact, this was King’s first published novel, though it was the fourth one he had written. Carrie was based on a composite of two girls he had known – one was a fellow student and the other was a student when he was an English teacher. He initially didn’t like the first few pages he had written and threw them in the trash. Fortunately, his wife Tabitha fished them out and encouraged him to finish the book. It’s a good thing for all of us horror fans that he did. At the time, he was living in a trailer and had his phone disconnected to save on costs. He had to receive a telegram that Carrie had been picked up for publication and the rest is history.
Carrie is the film that arguably launched Sissy Spacek’s career. She had appeared in a handful of films, most notably Badlands, but it was Carrie that really put her on the Hollywood map. As a 27-year-old, she was so convincing playing the teenage outcast that she earned a rare Oscar nomination for a role in a horror film. She would win the Oscar four years later for Coal Miner’s Daughter and earn four additional nominations (Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart and In The Bedroom). In a weird twist of fate, Spacek was voted homecoming queen at her high school and it involved no buckets of pig blood.
Carrie is also the film that arguably launched Brian De Palma’s career. He had also made a handful of films, but Carrie was his first commercial success. Some of his later films include Scarface, The Untouchables, Casualties of War and Mission: Impossible. Carrie is also the film that launched De Palma’s first marriage. He met Nancy Allen on the set. They married in 1979 and worked together on the films Dressed to Kill and Blowout. That wasn’t the only marriage Carrie was responsible for. De Palma’s friend, Steven Spielberg, would often visit the set. It was there that Spielberg met Amy Irving and they remained a couple until 1989.
Carrie still looms large in pop culture lore. The film has spawned a Broadway musical, an Off Broadway revival, a sequel, a made-for-TV remake and a theatrical remake. Forty years later, Carrie references can be found all over the pop culture spectrum. Dave Grohl’s ice bucket challenge was a parody of the prom scene. TV shows as varied as That 70s Show and 30 Rock have had their own homages to the infamous prom scene. And would high school flicks such as Jawbreaker and Never Been Kissed have had their climactic scenes take place at the prom if Carrie hadn’t paved the way? And what about the mean girls of Heathers and Mean Girls? Sure, those girls tormented their schools with their well-manicured iron fists but they can’t hold a queen bee candle to Nancy Allen’s, Chris, who might be the meanest mean girl in cinematic history.
Carrie had its effect on me as well. Onstage at my senior prom, I remembering looking up and whispering to Julie Harshbarger, “I hope there’s not a bucket of pig blood up there.” Julie did, in fact, win prom queen and, I’m happy to report, no buckets of pig blood rained down. Though I might be a cinematic nerd, I’m sure I’m not the first high schooler to think of Carrie at the prom.
Now that it’s October, there will be the usual, annual, ubiquitous showings of Carrie all over the cable universe, as well as at your local retro movie house. Sure, the clothes and hairdos are outdated, but the visceral reaction Carrie induces will never go out of style.