The patron saint of persecuted teens made her screen debut 22 years ago
CARRIE, from left: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, 1976
Credit: Everett Collection

Carrie (1976 movie)

Think your high school days were hell? Consider Sissy Spacek in Carrie. As painfully shy teenager Carrie White, she’s ridiculed in the locker room and jeered in class. She moves things when she thinks, and she has a religious-fanatic mother (Piper Laurie) who swoops about in a dark cape. Even when she’s crowned prom queen, it’s just a ploy to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her.

Based on Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie was immediately recognized as a different kind of horror movie when it opened on Nov. 16, 1976. Unlike most movie shockers, Carrie featured a tortured protagonist with whom audiences and critics could identify. ”This girl…isn’t another stereotyped product of the horror production line,” wrote critic Roger Ebert. ”She’s a shy, pretty, and complicated high school senior who’s a lot like kids we once knew.” But after the sympathy came the shocks: In the rousing finale, a very cranky Carrie telekinetically kicks butt at the prom. The result: Carrie scared up $30 million at the box office and became an often-imitated cult favorite.

Carrie was a breakthrough for Spacek, who got her first Best Actress nod (she would be nominated four more times, winning for Coal Miner’s Daughter), and for director Brian De Palma, who would make 1983’s Scarface and 1996’s Mission: Impossible. Laurie, in her first movie since 1961, earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Amy Irving and Betty Buckley made their film debuts. And John Travolta, then in TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter, caught Hollywood’s eye in a small role as one of Carrie’s tormentors. His next move: a white disco suit and screen immortality.

In 1988, Carrie emerged as an $8 million Broadway musical with tunes by Fame‘s Michael Gore and Footloose‘s Dean Pitchford; it closed after five performances. MGM/UA hopes there’s still some life in the troubled teen — Carrie 2 is due in theaters next July.

But Carrie‘s greatest legacy may be its Deliverance-inspired final sequence, which has influenced countless other scary movies, including Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Fatal Attraction (1987). What’s so special about it? Let’s just say the scene is gripping.

Time Capsule / Nov. 16, 1976

AT THE MOVIES, Woody Allen stars in The Front, a comic drama about Hollywood in the McCarthy era, written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt, both of whom had been blacklisted. In 1986, the Writers Guild would begin arranging for credit to be given to writers who had used pseudonyms or ”fronts” on more than 70 movies. IN MUSIC, long before Celine Dion, Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has the No. 3 Billboard single with a ballad about a ship tragedy, ”The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” AND IN THE NEWS, condemned killer Gary Gilmore attempts suicide with a barbiturate overdose. On Jan. 17, 1977, Gilmore would be the first prisoner executed in the U.S. in 10 years. In 1982, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning book about him, The Executioner’s Song, would become a TV movie.

Carrie (1976 movie)
  • Movie
  • 98 minutes