Stephen King and Brian De Palma both toy with fear. While the literary works of King would prove the most enthralling, who could’ve thought they’d make such a remarkable transition to the big screen? It has been some time since Carrie first found its way into the lap of De Palma and Sissy Spacek, who portrays the titular character. Horror of embarrassment seems to be a fear this trio share, and thankfully they can develop this turmoil and anxiety around public humiliation into something worthwhile, rewarding, and on the cusp of perfection. It is not often a film can come so close to the peak of its craft, but the reliance Carrie has on the actor portraying her and the director telling the story of a writer far removed from the big-screen world is enthralling to see.
Much of the entertainment for me comes in the application of the coming-of-age formula. Carrie is not, obviously, a tale of happy kids jetting off to their next destination in life. It does, however, feature the same tired tropes that still linger in the school corridors and middle-class suburbia of today’s filmmakers. They are all gearing up for the prom, a big blowout to say farewell to their friends. We take the side of nobody, though. There is no clear victor to cling to. Nobody that an audience can fully identify as a just and reasonable person. Our titular lead is mired by an insane mother, a religious extremist who takes out the woes of life on her daughter. It is this impact that serves for much of the underlying horror. The will of God is toyed with, De Palma captures it with a stark and brutal tone.
Unflinching, gory, and a supremely strong working of King’s delightful horror. It would usher in the glory days for his adapted works, a star that burnt fast and brightly but crashed all too soon. It is no surprise that De Palma is the mastermind behind this menacing piece of brilliant horror. Directors are always attempting to breach the horror market with the adaptable qualities of King, but it is the first try that strikes up some of the greatest moments, with everyone else playing catch-up to the bar he set in the dawning days of his mainstream career.
But how did one man manage this as his peak? There are surely better King adaptations out there, but only two spring to mind. The Shining and Misery hold, arguably, larger name value, the former’s legacy-defining work in both the literary and filmmaking fields are felt to this day. But Carrie feels like the gateway to something greater. One of the three great pillars of his adapted works. It holds within it such horrors that are not just easily identifiable, but significantly terrifying. There are the creaking halls of horror, the misery presented to the leading character is unavoidable and agonizing to witness. These slower moments of contemplative misery and worldbuilding are far removed from the iconic meltdown found in the climax of the film, which elevates Carrie to impressive new levels. Bloody and terrifying, De Palma knocks it out of the park and with it, himself into the heights of his popularity.