“Carrie is a terrifyingly lyrical thriller…. Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is so withdrawn that she's a slug; her energy is released only telekinetically, in small ways that people don't recognize. (Objects have a habit of crashing when she's around.) ....Her ignorance [about her first period] makes her a scapegoat for the other girls in the gym.… What we see that they don't see is the depth of Carrie's desire to be accepted by them. Her joy at having Tommy, the most popular boy in the class, ask her to the prom and at becoming prom queen transforms her; her home life is so horrible that this is her first taste of feeling beautiful, and she's a radiant Cindarella….
“There are no characters in Carrie; there are only schlock artifacts. The performers enlarge their roles with tinny mythic echoes; each is playing a whole cluster of remembered pop figures. Sissy Spacek's Carrie goes to Bates High--Norman Bates ran the motel in Psycho--and her gym-shower scene is a variation on the famous Psycho shower. At home, Carrie is the unloved Patty Duke in the early scenes of The Goddess, but also Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams, and when she's with her yellow-haired escort, the sensitive jock Tommy (William Katt), they're a puppy-love version of Streisand and Redford in The Way We Were. ("Love Among the Stars" is the theme the students have selected for their prom.) After Carrie's fall from grace, she's a teen-ager gone bad, an avenging angel with a fiery sword. At her command, fire hoses stand up like hissing serpents and attack her schoolmates, and she moves through the pandemonium with psychedelic grace, as remote as the queen in She….
"Though few actresses have distinguished themselves in gothics, Sissy Spacek, who is onscreen almost continuously, gives a classic chameleon performance. She shifts back and forth and sideways: a nasal, whining child pleading for her mother's love, each word scratching her throat as it comes out; a chaste young beauty at the prom; and then a second transformation when her destructive impulses burst out and age her. Sissy Spacek uses her freckled pallor and whitish eyelashes to suggest a squashed, groggy girl who could go in any direction; at times, she seems unborn--a fetus. I don't see how this performance could be any better; she's touching, like Elizabeth Hartman in one of her victim roles, but she's also unearthly--a changeling. Though her showiest scenes are the luminous moments with her fresh-faced, lion-maned young Redford, her acting range is demonstrated in the scenes with her loony mother--played by Piper Laurie, in a spectacular return to the screen…. They're marvelously matched, and they perform duets on themes heard earlier from Tuesday Weld and Lola Albright in Lord Love a Duck. The skinny, croaking Carrie, with her long, straight reddish-gold hair, and the ripe woman, with her mass of curly red hair and deep, pipe-organ voice…, are beautiful in such different Pre-Raphaelite ways that their scenes go beyond the simple mother-daughter conflicts of the rather crude script. Piper Laurie's face is soft--like a rosy Elizabeth Taylor--and you feel that the daughter is bound to her by ties of love and pain….
“….De Palma was always a sexual wit; now he’s a voluptuary wit, with the camera coming very close to Sissy Spacek’s body, and with close-ups of her wraithlike, hair-veiled face. We know her skin better than we know our own….”
--Pauline Kael, New Yorker, November 22, 1976