Twenty-five years after it became a surprise hit and put both Brian De Palma and Stephen King on the map, creepy Carrie has aged into a bona fide horror classic. But it was always more than just another scary movie. A sort of Cinderella tale gone goth, it’s a coming-of-age tragicomedy that courses with sexual tension and mordantly irreverent religious symbolism. And it’s also fairly famous as the star-making showcase for a vibrant ensemble of relative unknowns: among them Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Nancy Allen. Dress it all up with De Palma’s swooping, swirling camera work and you’ve got a teen horror flick that transcends the genre it helped create.
But for all its flashy style and provocative subtext, the film has resonated throughout the years because, unlike so many others of its ilk, it’s genuinely heartfelt. Most of that emotion comes from Spacek’s yearningly vulnerable performance as mousy high school misfit Carrie White, whose repressed fears and desires – literally beaten down by her holy-rolling mother (Piper Laurie) – unpredictably erupt in bursts of telekinetic energy. Spacek’s so compelling, she even elicits sympathy from the usually icy De Palma, who had never before (and has never since) treated a protagonist with such tenderness.
Though ”Carrie” has been on DVD since 1998, the special edition is worth taking a look at, if only to check out the improvements on an extras roster that was woefully inadequate. It still doesn’t offer a director’s commentary (an omission especially noticeable with a director so noted for his technique), but the producer has compensated with not one but two ”making of” documentaries. The first features reflections and gossipy anecdotes from the reunited cast (only Travolta is conspicuously missing), most of whom De Palma recruited while sitting in on buddy George Lucas’ ”Star Wars” auditions. The second spotlights De Palma, who proudly walks us through several of his more awesome tracking shots but also admits that he shouldn’t have stylized ”Carrie”’s climactic prom-night rampage with that distracting split screen.
Well, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. And as the revisited ”Carrie” shows, it’s one of the few De Palma inspirations that hasn’t held up.