As a woman myself, I always try to celebrate other women and their accomplishments every single day of the year. However, Women in Horror Month has made me truly reflect on the history and meaning of what this month means and why it’s important. It’s important because women don’t always get the recognition they deserve whether it’s acting or behind the camera. Some of our favorite movies, such as Jaws, had talented women helping to create the masterpiece that it is, yet very few know that.
Luckily, the horror classic I’m about to talk about is known for its powerhouse of amazing women and they have received the recognition they deserve over the years for their intense and award-worthy performances. Directed by Brian De Palma, Stephen’s King Carrie was released on November 3, 1976, with a screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen based on the 1974 novel of the same name. Although not all adaptations turn out well, they brought Stephen King’s story to life in the most beautiful and horrifyingly way possible. The film made over $33 million dollars at the box office and gave many actors a household name (or even bigger stardom) including Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta, William Katt, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, and Betty Buckley.
Carrie tells the story of a young female (Spacek) who is shy, awkward, and an outcast at her school. Everyone thinks she’s weird and her overly religious Mother (Laurie) doesn’t help the situation. From the very beginning of the film, starting with the opening scene, she is ridiculed and mocked by her peers and it only gets worse throughout the story. The more agony she is put under, the stronger her telekinetic powers grow.
For a brief moment, however, she gets a shot at a dream she never thought would come true. Tommy Ross (Katt), the most popular guy in school, asks her to the prom, and despite her fears and the warnings from her mother, she goes and has a good time until other peers decide to play a horrible trick on her. We all know how that ended for everyone…
This is a simple story, but a powerful one. What happens when someone is pushed beyond their limits and lose control of their actions? Carrie shows that picking on the weird, odd girl/boy in school is probably not the best idea, and the horrible consequences it can result in. Unfortunately, we never seem to learn from our history, fiction or not, and bullies are still ruining lives and provoking more destruction.
Above all, what made Carrie stand out beyond the exceptionally well-told story, are the outstanding performances by everyone involved. They brought life to Stephen King’s characters and made you hate them, love them, and fear for them. The stand-out performances without a doubt are by Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek. This mother/daughter relationship is extremely emotional, disheartening, and yet incredibly beautiful. I haven’t seen many like this, but I will say 2016’s The Monster comes close.
We know that Carrie White’s mother, Margaret, loves her daughter, but sees the evil lurking inside and thinks she must destroy the “abomination” she created. It’s heartbreaking and terrifying all at the same time. Piper gives an exceptional performance, most definitely one of the best “crazy” mothers I’ve ever seen on the screen. Yeah, sure, Mommy Dearest was pretty horrible, but she was just plain evil, there was not an ounce of love in her heart.
Piper brought more to the character than just a sadistic and controlling mom. You could feel the love she had for Carrie, but the audience was also terrified at how far she would go to protect her from everything and everyone. This character has been retold in two separate remakes, and although Julianne Moore played her part well, it doesn’t close to the fear Piper elicits in the original – a performance that even 41 years later still shocks people.
Sissy Spacek is a wonderful actress and just like Piper, actors have played her character in Carrie throughout the years but have never been able to deliver the intensity that we felt when Sissy was on the screen. Just look at how quickly she switches from a shy and nervous girl to a force not to be reckoned with. Her eyes and body gestures are so intense that the switch smacks you across the face and you know bad shit is about to happen.
Although I think everyone loves and respects Sissy and knows her by this iconic role, I don’t believe Carrie herself gets enough recognition. She’s thought of as a shy, weak, and vulnerable character, but I don’t think those labels do her justice. Do you realize how strong she’d have to be to deal with her upbringing? Growing up sheltered and not knowing things that she should, resulting in her being bullied by her peers? Yet she kept moving forward, never giving up. She even learned to control her telekinesis while all this was happening and, well, even a strong person has a breaking point – but the point is that she was always STRONG. Never forget that.
- This was the first Stephen King novel adapted into a movie and because of its success at the box-office, it helped cement Stephen King as an author. He was extremely happy with the film.
- Nancy Allen never knew how evil her character was going to be. Allen thought she and John Travolta were bringing comedy relief more than anything until watching the finished film.
- Piper Laurie thought her acting was so over-the-top in the film that she thought it was black satire comedy.
- The name of the high school in Carrie is Bates High. It’s a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the four note violin theme from Psycho is heard many times throughout the film.
- Sissy Spacek avoided socializing with other actors off and on set to help herself become Carrie and to stay in character always. She would stay in her trailer or hide away in a corner or behind the set. She did, however, ensure the other actors that she loved them and that it was just part of the character and they would have fun after the movie ended.
- The film was shot over 50 days and the prom scene took over two weeks to shoot, requiring a total of 35 takes.
Overall, Carrie is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever and still holds strong even 41 years later. The reason behind that relies heavily on the strong female leads and how they portrayed their characters with intensity and charm. Some of that credit goes to Stephen King himself because he’s known for writing strong and complex women, and the perfect ladies were chosen for his story. Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek helped pave the way for women in horror, showing that women can deliver terrifying and iconic performances that will be talked about for years. We aren’t afraid to get a little messy… or have a gallon of “blood” poured on us.
Make sure to give this classic a watch sometime this month, and when you do, pay close attention to the details, even the small ones, that make this not only a great film, but a perfect example of women kicking ass in horror.