Carrie just missed the Halloween season in 1976, but made a deep enough impression that it’s been a holiday staple ever since. It was a breakthrough film for several of those involved, giving Brian De Palma his first great popular success, bringing a Stephen King story the screen for the first time, and introducing Sissy Spacek to a wider audience than those who had caught her in Terrence Malick’s Badlands. For 1976 audiences, it proved to be the right combination of elements at the right time, mixing King’s psychological horror with De Palma’s stylistic bravado and grounding it all in a vulnerable performance from Spacek. It’s one of those films that’s become so iconic—particularly its drenched-in-blood prom sequences—that it’s almost hard to see how groundbreaking it was at the time.
But take a moment to consider the nerve it took to align viewers’ sympathies with an awkward, bullied high school girl with an oppressive mother, turn her into a mass murderer, and still make those who abuse her look like the real monsters. It’s a tough trick to pull off, as those who’ve attempt to remake and extended have discovered. (Though, to be fair, the belated 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 is much better than it has any right to be.) The film accomplishes it partly by taking its time. De Palma’s doesn’t rush to get to the bloodbath. It hangs out with Carrie. Gets to know her world. Then it pulls it all down.
Here’s King talking about the origins of Carrie, and how his wife Tabitha rescued it from the trash: