Women in Horror: Sissy Spacek

On her prom night, Carrie White is humiliated in front of the whole school and lets her telekinetic powers get out of control, killing all the people that made her life hell. Carrie (1976), the first ever Stephen King novel to be adapted into a film became a hit and a true horror classic thanks to Sissy Spacek.

Earning her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, Sissy Spacek plays Carrie White, a girl with the special gift of telekinesis who is pushed too far on her Prom night. Carrie White is a simple girl who is constantly getting picked on at school. The film begins with her getting her getting her period for the first time, only to be tortured by her classmates who choose to throw maxi pads and tampons at her. School isn’t the only place so is tortured. At home her religious mother drives her crazy with her wild antics and ridiculous theories.

While at her senior prom, Carrie is enjoying the night with one of the most popular guys in school, but little does she know, Chris Hargensen, the meanest of the mean girls is looking to get back at Carrie for preventing her from going to the prom, even though it’s her own fault she was banned. Chris and her boyfriend plan for Carrie to win prom queen and while she’s in front of the whole school, remind of her of her place in the world by dumping pig’s blood on her. When the pig’s blood is dumped on Carrie, she loses control of her telekinetic powers, resulting in an iconic death scene. Towards the end of the movie her wrath comes to an end when she kills her mother.

Sissy Spacek plays the role with such strength and vulnerability. I had read Carrie in middle school and back when I was in school I wasn’t into books, but Carrie was one of those books I read over and over again. While the movie wasn’t what I imagined after reading the book, Spacek hit the nail on the head when it came to Carrie, portraying just how damaged she really is. Carrie is such a shy girl who is tortured simply because she’s an easy target, and Spacek did a superb job making you feel bad for Carrie, even after she kills all those people. You understand why she does it, while terrified of what more she’ll destroy because her suppressed anger has finally been unleashed. The single most brilliant part about Spacek’s performance is when she slowly walks out of the gym while it’s up in flames. She walks slowly, with her hands out to the side, eyes wide open, completely in shock and it’s truly terrifying.

Last week I discussed scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. In Halloween, there was no denying that Curtis played one of the best victims on screen. Sissy Spacek on the other hand hovered above the line of victim and villain, and to some Carrie is considered one of the most evil characters on screen. To me though, Carrie White is simply a victim who finally had enough. Carrie’s mother, played by Piper Laurie and Carrie’s classmates are the villains in this story.

What Sissy Spacek did with Carrie is something I can’t imagine any other actress being able to do. Stephen King’s book is psychologically haunting on its own, but with Spacek bringing Carrie to life, audiences were introduced to a whole new realm of terror. Sissy Spacek made history when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Carrie. Actresses before her had been recognized in horror films, but Sissy Spacek as Carrie is something special, unique and far different than any actress’s performance in a horror film.