Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s breakout horror novel has an ending more chilling than the bloodbath that made it famous. Bullied teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is mocked by her peers when she gets her first period at school, and her pent-up rage causes a lightbulb to shatter, hinting at telekinetic powers. At home, her religiously zealous mother (Piper Laurie) tells her that menstruation is a mark of sin and warns her not to go to prom, fearing sexual advances from her male peers. The prom turns disastrous for a different reason, however. When Carrie’s bullies dump pig’s blood on her, she loses control and destroys the building with her telekinetic powers, killing everyone inside. When she returns home, she and her mother have a violent confrontation that ends when Carrie crucifies her mother with flying knives and starts a fire that burns them alive.
Carrie is a gruesome movie, but at its heart, it’s a tragedy about an alienated teenage girl who is a victim of abuse at home and at school. Instead of empowering her, her supernatural abilities destroy her. She is both the victim and antagonist of the story. Like her changing body, she has no control over her powers except to cause devastation, and eventually chooses to self-destruct. But even in death, Carrie cannot rest. The final, terrifying shot shows a classmate visiting her grave. As the classmate stoops to lay flowers on the ground, a bloody hand reaches through the dirt and grips her arm. It’s a shocking twist suggesting that even Carrie’s attempt to end her suffering has not been entirely successful.