Like the book, the movie Carrie came out before I was even born. By the time I was the age of the characters, in the late 90s, high school looked markedly different than this high school looks, and prom looked really, really different. That doesn’t seem to matter when I read the book — my brain just imagines whatever visual details it needs to make the story work, I guess — but when it comes to the movie, my memory gets stuck on the kids and general atmosphere that doesn’t end up really resembling high school or high school dances as I know them, and I end up remembering the movie as slow and out-of-date and kind of boring.
I remember it that way. Every time. However, memory is tricky, and what I seem to always remember is not indicative of my experience actually watching the movie.
I think part of the problem is that everyone and their sister has imitated or paid homage to or spoofed the “Carrie at the prom” scene. I’ve seen many, many more takes on that scene than rewatches of the original movie. I probably saw a “Carrie at the prom” reenactment of some sort before I saw the actual movie. This happens sometimes, and it has the cumulative effect of making the whole concept seem boring and unoriginal. But… the original is not an homage, imitation, or spoof. And seeing all the imitations doesn’t actually come close to the power the original has.
I mean, it is slow by today’s standards. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. It hangs around in my memory like a negative, but when you actually watch it, it’s not a bad thing. This is actually a thing that I like — this movie is full of slow, creeping dread. You can feel that it’s building up to something awful. I actually wish more of today’s movies would make me feel creeping dread or dawning horror as opposed to endless jump scares that are really just surprise.
The movie is actually dated, too. It can’t help that. The movies that were new when I was a teenager are dated too — have you watched the original Scream lately? I have. It’s definitely happening at a specific point in time. So is this. And for some reason, I remember that as a drawback. It might be one in a different movie.
But this movie has the combined talents of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, and their performances in this movie may be nearly 50 years old at this point, but they’re probably still going to be terrifying in 150 years. Not that anyone else is bad… but these are the characters that really mattered, and both of these actresses absolutely killed it. When either or both of them were on the screen, I didn’t notice dated hair or costumes or feel bored or like it was taking too long. I just saw Carrie and Margaret White, and each was powerful and terrible and incredibly frightening in her own way. Credit should go to a lot of people, including Brian DePalma, for making this film what it is, but it would absolutely not be what it is without those actresses. And I can’t imagine any difference in those performances would be an improvement.
Stephen King has said that he was fortunate to have his first published book be picked up to become a movie and also to have it become this movie (given the hit-and-miss nature of his movies over the years, he probably was extremely fortunate this one worked out so well.) There’s an argument to be made that he wouldn’t be The Stephen King had it not been for this book being made into this movie at this time. I don’t know if I agree with that exactly… I think someone with his kind of prolific output, who doesn’t seem to run out of ideas or retire even when he says he’s retiring, probably would have gotten there through some other trajectory. If not Carrie, some book would have been made into a movie that caught fire or at least caused his work to catch fire.
However, the fact remains that in our timeline, Carrie the book and Carrie the movie are the match and accelerant that got the blaze going. And both are really worthy of that. This is a must-watch for King fans who haven’t seen it and fans of really amazing performances from horror actors.