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Film / Carrie (1976)

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Carrie (1976) is the first and best-known adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie. It was directed by Brian De Palma and stars Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Nancy Allen.

High school can be rough, especially when you are the school outcast. Carrie White (Spacek) has spent her entire life as the town pariah, rejected by her peers and regularly abused by her fanatically religious mother, Margaret (Laurie). However, Carrie has a secret: she has telekinetic powers. When heartthrob Tommy (William Katt) invites Carrie to the school prom, her whole world will change for the better... and worse.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Margaret White of course.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the original novel, Carrie was described as short, chunky, acne-ridden, and with short mousy brown hair, while in the movie she is tall and very skinny without any acne and long strawberry blonde hair. Margaret has one of these two, as she is described as short and fat with short white hair and glasses while in the movie she is portrayed as tall and slim with medium-length russet-brown hair, and her glasses are not seen.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Carrie goes from mousy brown to strawberry blonde.
    • Chris is dark haired in the book and blonde in the film.
    • Margaret already has grey hair in the book but has red hair in the film.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The film cuts out most scenes that better flesh out Sue's character and motivations, making it rather vague why she wants Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. A lot of viewers thought Sue was in on the prank as a result.
    • The book develops the potential Science Fiction origins of Carrie's power more, which is removed from the film.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • The high school goes from Ewen High to Bates High.
    • Miss Desjardin becomes Miss Collins.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • Billy Nolan in the book is a sociopath who rapes Chris at one point and the narration says that the main reason she is with him is because she can't wrap him around her little finger. Here Billy is shown as more of a dork that Chris easily manipulates. Nancy Allen didn't even realise how much of a villain he was until she saw the final film - thinking of Billy and Chris as bumbling comic relief.
    • In the book, where it's the vice-principal who gets Carrie's name wrong, he actually admits his mistake and explains that it's not personal- he's been around so long that he often forgets names. Both he and the principal also stand up to Chris's father and do their best to help Carrie. The film cuts out most of this and combines the two characters, making the principal simply come off as an incompetent administrator.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: The film doesn't establish that Sue and Chris are friends- in fact, Sue seems to find her aggravating, and Norma is stated to be her best friend instead.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the book, the gym teacher finds Carrie's awkwardness annoying, enjoyed slapping her in the showers, and even laughs with everyone else when the prank is pulled (though she suffers a Heel Realization and is the only person to try to help Carrie at that point). Here, she gets a lot more sympathetic moments and is horrified at the prank (with Carrie only thinking she's laughing at her).
    • It's implied that most of the promgoers aren't actually laughing at the prank here, with Carrie only thinking that they're all laughing. Also, several of them are a lot more concerned for Tommy and try to help him, while in the book, he's left to die on the stage.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Tommy and Sue are having sex in the book, and this is not shown in the movie. Sue's Heel Realization even happens during sex with Tommy.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: An extremely downplayed example. Betty Buckley says she played Miss Collins as a lesbian.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Helen Shyres is a Prom Queen candidate in the book and is implied to be pretty. Here she's presented as a chubby Butt-Monkey of the group, who doesn't seem to have a date for the prom.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Norma was a geeky Student Council President sort in the book, but becomes Chris's right hand gal pal. She leads the laughing when Carrie gets pranked.
    • Any qualities in Margaret White that could be considered humanizing or sympathetic are not present in this film. A large part of this is due to Piper Laurie's cartoonishly villainous performance.
  • Adapted Out: This is the only film version where Chris's father doesn't appear.
  • all lowercase letters: All of the opening and closing credits.
  • Ambiguously Bi: This rather suspect line from one of Billy's gang:
    Ernest: Take it easy, man.
    Freddy: I'll take it any way I can get it.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unclear how much of the laughter is real and how much is Carrie hallucinating. A lot of it is clearly imaginary, but the split-screen shots (which are not from Carrie's POV) clearly show many people laughing as she closes the doors. Even the people who made the movie don't agree on this, as the screenwriter's intent was that the laughter was mostly in her head, while the editor believed that a lot of people joined in once Norma got the ball rolling.
  • The Artifact: The final sequence shows boulders crashing through the ceiling of the White house as a remnant of the planned climax where Carrie would have the house crushed in a shower of stones.
  • Ascended Extra: Mrs Snell quite literally. She only appeared briefly as she was leaving the house before the prom in the book. Here she gets a little more screen time and features as a supporting character.
  • Beta Bitch: The '76 film upgrades Norma to this, and the '02 and '13 films do the same with Tina, giving Chris a female partner in crime. Neither was actually evil in the book, though Tina was friends with Chris.
  • Big Damn Kiss: In a horror movie about what jerks people can be, there's a nice kiss that offers a breather. When Tommy gets Carrie on the dance floor, he gives her her first and only kiss.
  • Book-Ends: Carrie's first and final scenes involve blood mixing into water. The first time, it's her getting her menses in the school shower, the second, it's her bathing at home covered in blood.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Norma's reaction to Tommy getting hit by the bucket is to laugh even harder at it. The guy next to her looks completely indifferent, and it doesn't seem to register much with the others either (though they soon had bigger things to worry about).
  • Catapult Nightmare: Experienced by Sue at the end.
  • Character Development: One of the bullies appears to have undergone this, as when Carrie wins prom queen, she gives her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek, looks very upset at the prank, and is one of the first to try to help Tommy off the stage. This is largely due to her actress's performance, as she has almost no spoken dialogue.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Anyone wearing a red cap is in on the prank (though Norma's date ditches his for the prom).
  • Composite Character:
    • Mr Morton is the vice principal in the book and Mr Grayle is the principal. For convenience, Mr Morton is the principal here too.
    • Norma gets combined with Tina, who was Chris's friend in the book. Ironically, in the book, Tina doesn't like Norma at all.
  • Creepy Monotone: Probably unintentional, but Amy Irving delivers a lot of her lines this way.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Norma survives the prom in the book and even writes a book about it. Here she's killed with a fire hose.
    • The principal is electrocuted in the film, but survives in the book.
    • The gym teacher survives too and resigns after the incident, but here is killed when the basketball backboard falls on her.
  • Died Happily Ever After: One of the most disturbing uses of this trope. Margaret's death is played in a way that makes it sound like she's getting off on it, and is happy that she's going to finally meet Jesus.
  • Disappeared Dad: The book version of Carrie's father died in an accident before she was born. In the film, though, it is made clear that Ralph White left Margaret for another woman, acting as a Sequel Hook for The Rage: Carrie 2.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Chris really seems to be enjoying pulling that rope...
  • The End... Or Is It?: The final scene, where Sue is grabbed by Carrie's arm coming out of the ground while laying flowers at the ashes of her house. Thankfully, it turns out to be All Just a Dream. This shock ending wound up having a major influence on many pioneering Slasher Movies, particularly Friday the 13th (1980).
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Billy's Chevelle explodes soon after rolling over. Justified, though, in that it's made clear that Carrie caused the car to blow up with her mind.
  • Fakeout Makeout: Norma and her date do this to hide the fact that they're dropping the prom ballots to the floor and replacing them with fake ones.
  • Fanservice: Played straight and then subverted in the opening credits sequence. It starts out with a lingering, slow-motion pan shot of teenage girls (most of them nude or underwear-clad) in the locker room, culminating in a minute-long scene of Carrie taking a shower... and then Carrie has her period, and things turn real ugly real fast.
  • Feedback Rule: During the climactic scene, principal Morton and instructor Fromm tussle over the microphone about what to say during the crisis at the prom. The resulting microphone squeal brings them to Carrie's attention; she disposes of these goofballs by electrocuting them with the mic wiring.
  • Final Girl: Sue fits this pretty fairly well, save for the fact that she never directly confronts the killer... except in her nightmares. And she finally bites it in the sequel.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Tommy is technically cheating on Sue when he kisses Carrie at the prom (though, due to the compressed nature of the film, the fact that Sue is his girlfriend gets little focus). The kiss is presented as a sweet moment because it's probably Carrie's first kiss and the film implies that Tommy may have fallen for her after all.
  • Ironic Echo: Carrie crucifies Margaret and stabs her stomach with sharp kitchen tools, and she is positioned to look exactly like the figure of Saint Sebastian in the confessional.
  • Kick the Dog: The English teacher making fun of Carrie for saying Tommy's poem is "beautiful". It shows that even the teachers are assholes to Carrie.
  • Kill ’Em All: In the original film, Sue is the only major character who survives to the end.
  • Lighter and Softer: Carrie destroys the entire town and many more are killed as a result of the incident in the book. She just burns down the school gym here.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Near the start of Carrie's rampage, Ms. Collins and one of the students are seen checking on Tommy's body. The student's horrified reaction suggests that Tommy's already dead at this point.
  • Mutual Kill: Margaret stabs Carrie, Carrie uses Margaret's knives to crucify her, and then Carrie's My God, What Have I Done? reaction leads her to burn down her house with both of them inside.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The gym teacher, Miss Collins, is one of the few characters to defend Carrie by punishing her tormentors. Unfortunately, this leads to them plotting far more horrific revenge, leading to the iconic scene at the end.
  • Not So Different: Immediately after Sue convinces Tommy to take Carrie to the prom (by ignoring him until he agrees), we cut to Chris giving Billy a blowjob to manipulate him into helping her get back at Carrie.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Carrie's prom dress is a light shade of pink, marking the first time she's ever really paid attention to her appearance.
  • Precision F-Strike: Miss Collins refers to the prank orchestrated by Chris as "a very shitty thing" twice in succession. This elicits a few giggles from the gym students.
  • ''Psycho'' Strings: Heard whenever Carrie uses her powers.
  • Psychotic Smirk: We get a close-up of Chris giving one when she dumps the blood on Carrie.
  • Rule of Symbolism: After spending the whole film filled to the brim with religious speeches and symbols, the White's house is last seen sinking into the Earth, on fire.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: This one is given some justification compared to the book, where Miss Collins gives Carrie some suggestions as to what she could do to clean up for the prom.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: In the moments right after the prank, most of the sound cuts out, with the sound of the bucket the only thing we hear.
  • '70s Hair: Most of the cast, with the biggest example (in more ways than one) being William Katt's massive blond 'fro.
  • Shout-Out: The film, being directed by noted Alfred Hitchcock fan Brian De Palma, has tons of shout-outs to Hitchcock's movies. The two biggest ones are probably the use of the "shower" music from Psycho, and the fact that the school is renamed Bates High School. You can also make a case for the characterization of Margaret White as a hammed-up Expy of Bernice Edgar, the prostitute-turned-religious fanatic mother of the title character in Marnie.
  • Signature Style: Brian De Palma gets a lot of mileage out of two of his favorite filmmaking devices—the Orbital Shot (used when Carrie and Tommy dance) and a Split Screen (when Carrie starts her rampage).
  • Slasher Smile: Margaret, while she's coming after Carrie with a huge kitchen knife and making the sign of the Holy Cross with it. Right into the camera.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Pino Donaggio is a master of this, scoring some very disturbing scenes in either a very inappropriately sexy or sweet fashion.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Ralph White has been dead for some years in the book. In the film he ran off and had an affair with another woman. This allowed for the sequel to make Rachel Carrie's half-sister.
  • Tragic Mistake: Sue is about to stop the prank when Miss Collins sees her and ejects her from the prom, thinking she's up to no good.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Stephen King based the character of Carrie White on two girls he knew; one while a high school student and another from when he was a teacher. Both were severely bullied outcasts with strange mothers, one of whom was a deranged religious fanatic, and both girls died just a few years after high school.
  • Visual Innuendo: The close-up of the spraying shower head in the locker room scene emphasizes its phallic resemblance.
  • Workout Fanservice: The detention scene, which seems to exist mainly to feature a gaggle of high school girls wearing tiny gym shorts doing stretches and squats, all while Betty Buckley (wearing similarly tiny shorts) serves as a Drill Sergeant Nasty.


Example of: