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« James Franco Cracks Me Up | Main | London: W.E., Oslo and Japan »
Tuesday
Oct252011

Oscar Horrors: Carrie White Burns In Hell

In the daily Oscar Horrors series we're looking at those rare Oscar nominations for horror movies. Happy Halloween from Team Film Experience.

Here lies… Sissy Spacek’s Oscar for Best Actress in Carrie (1976). Carrie White may burn in hell (along with her ill-fated off-Broadway musical), but Sissy Spacek’s nomination remains a shining beacon of hope that genre fare from little-known actors don’t have to be relegated to, ahem, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Awards.

Can you conceive of it today? A 26-year-old actress, in one of her first major roles, portraying an introverted teenage high schooler with supernatural powers who kills the students at her senior prom. Sounds like fairly standard genre stuff, especially when coming from the minds of an up-and-coming writer (Stephen King was paid $2,500 for the book rights) and director (Brian De Palma). Yet somehow, it became one of the few horror titles to earn prestigious acting nominations at the Academy Awards. Can you picture this happening today?

Didn’t think so.

Spacek’s performance as the titular Carrie White was only her fourth major film role after Prime Cut (1972), Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), and Ginger in the Morning (1974). Spacek would go on to win the statue just four years later for a musical biopic about Loretta “the Coal Miner’s Daughter” Lynn, which makes this breakthrough Oscar nomination all the crazier. Did the Academy see something in her that broke through the conventions of the genre, or was this merely one of those rare moments when they were able to look past all the barriers and recognise the defining, film-changing performance within? Her only other nomination and win of that awards season came from the National Society of Film Critics. High praise, sure, but tell that to Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Yolande Moreau, Sally Hawkins, Naomi Watts, Reese Witherspoon, Ally Sheedy… well, the list goes on (presumably...the strike rate was so high going back just 10 years that I figure there must be plenty more without spending the time to research.)

Somewhere behind the smooth as honey tracking shots, blood-splattered prom dresses and John Travolta (“in his first motion picture role!”) smashing a pig on the head with a mallet (I couldn’t quite stomach Carrie as a younger man due to this very scene), Spacek emerged. It probably helped that the young actress had the gloriously villainous Piper Laurie in her back pocket to help shine a light on her. Laurie, a previous nominee in 1962 for The Hustler, received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for being a mother that would make even Mary Jones shake in her boots. As mother/daughter combos go, the Whites are a doozy of a pair.

A quick look at the original trailer and you’d be hard-pressed to believe this was the sort of thing that would be to the Academy’s taste and yet Spacek’s repertoire of jutting sideward glances, shy upwards looks from behind flattened hair and high-pitched whelps of demonic terror makes for one of the greatest horror movie performances of all time. At a glance Carrie looks like little more a schlocky teen horror title; would Academy members even watch a film like that today? That Spacek lost the Oscar to Faye Dunaway in Network is hard to quibble with, but the miracle of the nomination is enough to keep me happy. 

 

Related
Oscar Horrors Rosemary's Baby, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Fly and more..
Top 100 Best Actress "Characters"
Sissy Gets Her "Star" 

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Reader Comments (16)

Should I be embarrased to admit that I was sort of around at the time this came out? I was too young to see it in the theater though, but I remember that Sissy was praised from the get go. I'm sure she had almost universal good reviews and she was on the critics' radar after her showing in Badlands. Sissy also is pretty believable as a High School student, heck she played Loretta Lynn at 13 a few years later and was fairly believable at least in attitude.

We're so used to Sissy now, but at the time, her off-kilter humor and line readings were definitely refreshing if just short of revolutionary.

Sissy was the new guard, while Faye was essentially being ushered out that year at the top of her game. Was Faye ever nominated again? Doubtful.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Agree about faye seems she lost her mojo right that night.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

I'd love to see both of them on new and interesting projects.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Dave -- yeah, you're right being seen as The Future can make up for a lot in terms of anti-Oscar material. which is probably what happened there. I was also alive when this came out and conscious of movies sort of... i just looked up the top ten grossers and yeah, i didn't see any of those in the theaters... the first year with a blockbuster most of my earliest "seeing it in theaters memories" are from Star Wars onward. and of course the 80s i have tons of memories.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_in_film

at any rate. it's always interesting to notice how "adult" focused the most popular movies in any given year were up until our modern era when family films and/or boy-targeted movies became the only things to become mega blockbusters.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Faye's best performance was the morning after she won her Oscar during a particular photo shoot. Amazing.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Oh I'll quibble with Dunaway beating Spacek!

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Agreed, it's an amazing performance and such a surprising nod. My choice that year, though, is an even more out-of-the-blue, WTF nominee: Marie-Christine Barrault for being so subtle, charismatic, and luminous in COUSIN, COUSINE (Ullmann was brilliant in FACE TO FACE as well).

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMayukh

"Carrie White may burn in hell (along with her ill-fated off-Broadway musical),"
I've read they're re-making the musical off-Broadway next year, very curious about that one.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabby

The critics fell in love with Sissy in Malick's Badlands. They loved the movie and thought she was a revelation. Think MMMM, Winter's Bone, Heavenly Creatures, etc. (plus, she had an acting pedigree. Rip Torn and Geraldine Page were were uncle and aunt-in-law).

And Spacek is fabulous in Carrie. I saw about 20 minutes of the remake and thought how Sissy anchored the first one and made it about more than just a genre piece.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Also, I hope that this article doesn't mean Piper doesn't get her own article. Damn I love that performance.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

To Dave: Why be embarrassed? I was around in those days and WAS old enough to see this in the theaters. Awesome then and now! And a completely deserved Oscar nom for sure (as was the nomination for Piper Laurie, of course). But...

...take one look at the Best Actress line-up for that year. The fact that two of the nominees were from (minor) foreign-language films says a lot about the lack of choices in 1976 English-language films. Even Talia Shire is a reach (hers is really a supporting role). Don't get me wrong. As I said, Spacek absolutely deserved the nomination, as well as the win in my book. But, even in glancing at the Golden Globe nominees that year, Spacek slighted no one with her nomination.

I will also add that the 70's was a decade full of "Rosemary's Baby" (and, eventually, "Exorcist") influenced cinema. Both of those movies were Oscar winners. Thus, while I agree that such a nomination as Spacek's would doubtfully happen now, this all might shed a bit more light on why it DID happen then.

Thank you for your article, Glenn, by the way. It was a good read and certainly caught my eye!

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercbest

I'm surprised the trailer of Carrie reveals almost the entire movie (except the delicious Amy Irving ending), but I guess I thought movie plot reveals in trailers was a more recent thing.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

as far as acting oscar nominations (and wins!) for horror movies.... how about a special article on Kathy Bates in Misery? talk about a TERRIFYING performance.

also, I <3 Piper Laurie.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteris that so wrong?

The fact that Carrie is an iconic, frequently quoted and homaged film, 35 years after its release suggests it's far more than a typical genre film.

The fact that Sissy has received the most NYFCC awards for an actress (tied with Streep) and 6 best actress nominations (only 4 have received more - Garson, Davis, Hepburn and Streep) are but a few testaments to the brilliance of this actress. Also, I recall that she was on the cover of Newsweek about this time as the most impressive new film actress of all of 'em.

So... clearly a better, memorable and lasting film with a far superior leading lady than most horror films.

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