“Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea … “
– Stephen King
Shy and bullied high school student Carrie White discovers she has psychic abilities. Just in time for Prom Season.
The single biggest difference between the book and movie was also the thing I enjoy most about the book: its inserts of academic texts about the incident. The book refers mainly to The Shadow Exploded, which gives us an objective view of the events, including the pseudo-scientific explanation for what Carrie is experiencing, and My name is Sue Snell, an autobiographic account of Sue, who is trying to make amends for joining in bullying Carrie at the opening. This idea of the “Carrie White affair” being studied as seismic cultural shift that it would be.
The changing perspectives also keep the story moving along at a good pace, as it gives the reader a wider sense of what’s happening in the lead-up to prom. You get an idea of why Sue feels guilty and how she struggles with that, how Christine Hargensen loses control of wanting general revenge on Carrie, to it spiralling out of control when Billy Nolan takes it further than she intended. It gives you an idea of where everyone is coming to in relation to their view of Carrie, who is clearly off in her own world, oblivious to these external forces. She views the idea of her telekinetic abilities as mystifying as she finds the social hierarchy of high school.
The fall out post-prom is very effective as well, from the image of Carrie walking up a street as street lights explode and fire hydrants burst as seen from the town jail, to how the local and county police are trying to deal with the spreading fire. It gives you a sense of Carrie’s true power, especially when all the characters seems to know where she is and how she feels regardless of whether they actually know her or not. The book has a confrontation with her mother, but it’s not the ending as it in the film, as Carrie continues her destructive path until she dies due to an injury sustained earlier. This shows that Carrie wasn’t only looking for retribution against her mother, as in the film: she becomes overwhelmed with power and goes on a rampage against all those who have wronged her. This is where the book really gets into the danger of the telekinetic abilities and where in 1979 the book is speaking from: children are being tested for signs early in life to prevent such a distressing series of events in the future.
I wanted to give special mention to the introduction for this book, where King tells the story of the two girls he knew that Carrie is loosely based on. Hearing their tragic stories is far more haunting than the book itself.
After some research, the references in this book are pretty minor. The chain of laundrettes Mrs. White works for shows up in a few places, but there are no direct character or event crossovers.
Sissy Spacek gives an amazing performance in this, while Piper Laurie (who plays her mother) is almost Tommy Wiseau-ian in terms of being an evangelical. Spacek as Carrie is so wonderfully understated in her expressions in the moments when she is utterly confused by both her telekinetic abilities and by the social aspects of high school life. You really feel for her as a character who has no idea what’s going on right from the start, right up until the bloody finale. Spacek has given such an innocent and confused Carrie that the moment the she switches over to “you’re all going to die” Carrie, you believe that she’s finally seeing a situation clearly.
De Palma’s direction ranges from the subtle genius to slap in the face of Hitchcockian proportion. The Christian iconography in the early scenes of the White house goes from suitably creepy to full on Christ on the cross allusions in under 90 minutes. Got a feeling that Brian may enjoy Psycho, judging from the Bernard Herman strings play every time a knife is seen on screen. De Palma style seems very deliberate as the literal nature of the film seems to grow as Carrie’s powers increase. Although in the film she seems to have full control of her powers from the very beginning, whereas in the book it’s a slow build up the film scene.
The film is a very stripped down version of the story. It’s entirely built around the prom scene. It’s a well done sequence, but it you don’t get the true depth of character that the book allows for. The film also skips Carrie destroying the whole town as seen from other character’s perspectives. I heard the 2013 remake was meant to deliver this sequence, but I didn’t watch it because it would mean diving in to the many different versions of this story on film. Why there are several version of a girl getting covered in blood and then starting a fire I don’t know, but they keep on coming. The prom sequence did effectively portray Carrie’s abilities, before this film the number of time this phenomena was seen on film is limited. So De Palma was establishing the film grammar which is still being used to this day.
The characters are for the most part very similar in that they’re much archetypes rather than individuals. The only one who stands out is Sue Snell. The ’76 film really underplays Sue; she’s the best part of the book in my opinion. The book is her story from taunting Carrie in the opening moments, to feeling a deep sense of shame, and wanting to make it up to Carrie White. We get an even deeper insight through her autobiography sprinkled throughout the book: it shows a side of deep regret for the way she behaved at 17. From getting her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom right through to being with her as she died, Sue truly tried to reconcile the shitty thing she did. I feel it’s a weakness of the film that Sue is barely present, although we close her with that infamous jump scare. We miss out on how badly she feels, making it seem a bit random as to why she feels bad at the end.
Overall I vastly preferred the book, although the film has its place in horror history, the book is far better representation of how the confusing the whole situation is for Carrie and the rest of the world in the wake of her abilities.
Next time: We meet a man known to acquire certain things from time to time.