‘Watcher’ Director Chloe Okuno on Why ‘Carrie’ Is as Horrifying Today as Ever

Chloe Okuno on Carrie
Okuno: Getty Images; Carrie: Everett Collection

This essay is one of several contributed by filmmakers and actors as part of Variety’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time package.

It’s an image that is so powerful it’s now seared into our collective memory — a skinny teenage girl in a baby pink prom dress, bathed from head to toe in blood, her eyes wide with cold fury as the school burns around her. In my estimation, few films have reached the heights of Brian De Palma’s classic tale of psychic vengeance.  

I can’t exactly remember the first time I saw “Carrie,” only that I was young enough for it to be one of those films that gets under your skin and stays there. It was so beautifully and audaciously filmed, a testament to the boldness and vision of De Palma, where every moment is staged with operatic style. But just as crucially, Stephen King’s story tapped into something primal in the way that all the best horror does. Carrie’s telekinesis is a cathartic expression of the intensity of her feelings — the subconscious made manifest. For a lot of young people, and most especially for a lot of young women,  we might have seen something of ourselves in this story of repressed, feverish emotion. An outsider misunderstood. The rawness and cruelty of youth.  

All of this is so perfectly and brilliantly captured by Sissy Spacek. Her Carrie White is deeply strange but still incredibly sympathetic, terrifying one moment and broken the next. It’s a commanding performance that meets the heightened tone of De Palma’s film, but it is still so recognizably human. There is similarly excellent work from the entire cast, from Piper Laurie’s righteously unhinged portrayal of Carrie’s religious fanatic mother to Nancy Allen’s gleefully vicious Chris Hargenson.  

“Carrie’s” status as a horror icon is undisputed. The vengeance she unleashes on her classmates in the prom sequence is masterful — as thrilling and horrifying today as it was in 1976. And yet, I think a large part of the resonance of De Palma’s film comes from the fact that it gave an enormous amount of power to a historically powerless archetype:  a teenage girl. There are many ways to interpret “Carrie,” but ultimately, that for me is the source of its greatness. 

Chloe Okuno is the director of “Watcher.”