In 1972, Stephen King began writing a short story entitled “Carrie”. The opening revolved around the unexpected and late arrival of Carrie White’s first menstrual period in front of her classmates in the girls’ locker room. But, King stopped when he realized that not knowing what it was like to have a menstrual period, it was very difficult to define the character’s reaction. The only time he had even been in a girls’ locker room was during a summer job as a janitor in a high school in Maine. He crumpled the pages and threw them in the kitchen wastebasket. About an hour later, Tabitha, his wife, to whom Carrie is dedicated, fished them out and pressed him to continue to write the story. “Carrie” became a novel, and several months later Doubleday bought it. Thus began Stephen King’s amazing career.
Before the novel became available in bookstores, there was a lot of film interest and the rights finally went to producer Paul Monash. Stephen King was a fan of a horror film entitled Sisters, which Brian De Palma directed in 1973, and he suggested De Palma for Carrie.
Carrie was De Palma’s tenth feature film and a major breakthrough in his career. His first movie was The Wedding Party which was shot between 1964 and 1966. De Palma then directed Murder à la Mod (1968), Dionysus in ‘69 (1969), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1970), Sisters (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Obsession (1976), among other works, prior to Carrie.
Throughout his career, Brian De Palma has launched the careers of many actors and actresses. Robert De Niro’s first film, for instance, was The Wedding Party. Carrie brought attention to Sissy Spacek, AmyIrving, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, and Betty Buckley, and marked Piper Laurie’s comeback to the big screen. Sissy Spacek received an Academy Award nomination for Carrie and won the Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics. Piper Laurie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, as well as a Golden Globe nomination in the same category.
With Carrie, De Palma was confronted for the first time with the demand for sophisticated mechanical effects. He called in Gregory M. Auer, who had already worked with him on Phantom of the Paradise, to orchestrate the presentation of Carrie‘s supernatural forces. The most challenging scene—which turned out to be one of the most spectacular moments in the film—was the death of Piper Laurie, a special effects tour de force.
Lawrence D. Cohen was hired to adapt the novel. He would later write the script to Peter Straub’s best-seller Ghost Story, Stephen King’s It, and adapt Carrie into a musical for the stage.
Audience response turned this low-budget wonder into a box office triumph, but Carrie was far more than a commercial success. Its critical acclaim focused on the superb acting, and on the emergence of a significant auteur. The variety of De Palma’s visual elements confirmed that he had a film language all his own, as well as extraordinary technical skill. The film is full of memorable characters, who are brought to life by an extraordinarily sensitive cast. With all his films up to Carrie, and later with movies such as The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and The Untouchables (1987), Brian De Palma has shown repeatedly that he is a gifted director, and that his approach to genre film conventions is highly original. In Carrie, De Palma’s innovative visual techniques, combined with his fascination with themes such as guilt and sexuality, make it entirely unique and a classic example of the horror genre.