Following closely on the heels of the novel’s release in 1974, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Carrie” may be just as much a reason for King’s becoming a superstar writer and bestselling author as much as anything else. That is not to be interpreted as a criticism of King’s talent. If you read anything published by independent presses, then you know that there are many writers out there that have talent that is equal to (or better than) the authors that regularly haunt the bestseller’s lists. The movie adaptation was just so well done that it became a cultural touchstone, at least in the horror genre, and that it is almost impossible to think of the story of Carrie White without thinking about this movie.
It is not worth it to recap the story here although I did write a very brief summary in my review of the novel. What I think is important to touch on is the difference between the novel and film. The only think that is really missing from the film that I think would have made the film more effective is a better explanation of the backstory of Carrie. There is no reference made to the only known earlier occurrence of Carrie’s telekinetic powers, the damaging of the White property by falling stones, in the movie other than to have something similar happen in the end. The backstory is mainly left up to the viewer to infer through the interaction of Carrie with her mother and her peers. This movie really makes little effort to explain Carrie’s powers and glosses over what happens to the town after Carrie leaves the prom. I am not criticizing the film for glossing over these points as I am not a believer that a movie needs to be a complete remake of a novel. I just think it is worth noting what is not there in the transition of the novel to the film.
What makes this movie so effective is that it is almost completely character driven and the characters are very strong. Sissy Spacek absolutely nails her portrayal of Carrie White and the image of her covered in blood has become one of the most famous and compelling images from a horror movie ever. Spacek brings the right mix of innocence and betrayal to the role of Carrie and the interaction between her and her mother, played by Piper Laurie, allowed the movie to put the reader inside of her head without having the backstory fleshed out in the film. From her first appearance in the movie to the climactic confrontation with her mother, Spacek carries the film by making the viewer afraid of and sympathetic for Carrie at the same time.
The success of the 1976 adaptation of “Carrie” lies in the fact that the movie has heart. It connects to the viewer on an emotional level and that allows the horror of the situation to be driven home completely. The film really hits the viewer at home, in the core of the viewer’s insecurities, and makes the view wonder what would have happened if the viewer were in Carrie’s place. While the novel has a more technical approach at times and a deeper look into the cause of Carrie’s powers, the movie focuses almost solely on the emotional and psychological aspects of the story to make it a powerful and moving experience. This is one of the few instances in which the movie adaptation actually surpasses the novel that it is based on. The 1976 “Carrie” is quite simply one of the best horror movies ever made.