King's Highway part 72: The Best of Stephen King

We have reached the clearing at the end of the Highway! It's either the abandoned rest stop of "Mile 81" or the palace of Wizard and Glass, take your pick. Or maybe it's the Dixie Boy from Maximum Overdrive? Or the circle of stones from "N?" 

Whatever you imagine, picture me screeching to a halt at the edge of it. My journey complete, I stumble from the car, empty coffee cups spilling onto the road beneath the driver's side door, and raise my arms (I Duddits!) to shield my eyes from the glare of the awe and mystery of... El
That's "the King's Cup," for you non-La-Liga-philes out there. Thank you, Mike Zecchino at Epizootic for the image.
Hard to believe it's only been nine months since my buddy Mike (different Mike than above) innocently sent me the link that prompted me to start this madness. But it's been an instructive and inspirational madness, to be sure, so thanks for that, Mike: the link that launched a thousand ships. And Vulture, too: if I hadn't had such an immediate and powerful Wait, now, that doesn't look right... reaction to their ranking of the King books, I'd have been content to let the little King I read back in the 80s be my sum total of interaction with the man.

I'd very much like to thank those of you who have made all or any of this journey with me. I started this off sending these thoughts into cyberspace, SETI-style, and I'm ending with a collection of sites I'll be checking regularly and on an ongoing basis. I've linked to them numerous times along the way, so I'll content myself with one last collective (and sincere) tip of the cap: Chapeau, online Stephen King community, and thank you.

Thanks most of all to my wife Dawn, whose patient ear and steady support made this all so much easier and personally worthwhile.

I promise to talk about something else besides Stephen King, going forward.
WHAT YOU WILL NOT SEE: I filtered out all story collections (you can read my rankings of those here and here), most novellas (you can read my rankings of those here), all collaborations and all non-fiction. If this was a time capsule, well, On Writing would be one of two or three Kings included, most definitely; Full Dark, No Stars, as well. But I wanted to focus only on his novels for this; you just can't compare Danse Macabre to From a Buick 8 without muddying-the-evaluative-streams too much for my liking. You'll see a few non-novels in the following, like "Ur," Hearts in Atlantis, or Storm of the Century, but... well, Captain's Discretion. 

(Also, things like "Mile 81" or any of his uncollected short fiction of the last few years (Like "Little Green God of Agony.")

SO WHAT I DID WAS: Using 1974 (the year of King's first published novel, Carrie) as the starting point, I ranked his work by decade to see how the novel shake out, then we have the classic Overall Worst-to-Best aka EL COPA DEL REY incorporating not just them but the Dark Towers and the Bachman books, as well. (I toyed with the idea of a Round of 32, 16, 8, Final Four, then Championship, but it just got away from me. I'll happily show you the three dozen attempts at doing so, though, should you ever visit the King's Highway Museum.) 

I already ranked the Dark Towers and the Bachmans, but I need to amend my rankings of the latter. After much reconsideration (a process I always call "holding up under questioning") the official King's Highway Re-Ordering of the Bachman Bowl is: 
SEVEN: RAGE. SIX: BLAZE  FIVE: THINNER (I really enjoyed this one while reading it, but as the buzz faded, so alas did my esteem. It's still a lot of satirical fun, and I still wonder when I read it whether or not the character of Special Agent Stoner is a fictional representation of King's old coke contact. Because multi-millionaires sure-as-shaving-cream don't buy at the Circle K. That's my gut impression, which, let's face it, probably means I'm wrong. But as I like to say: regardless of the reality, I know what I believe!) FOUR: THE RUNNING MAN (Dated, sure, but a hell of a cynical masterpiece, and like many of the Bachmans, an understandable response to the lunacy of the seventies and eighties) THREE: THE REGULATORS (What the hell is wrong with people? What don't they see in this? It's so much better than the internet prepared me for! Read it again, verdammt.) TWO: ROADWORK (criminally underrated) And...

It really is the most distinctive and memorable of Bachman's work.
As I have already spent many a long-winded moment on all of the following, I'll keep the supplementary remarks to a minimum, below.

Let us begin.
1974 to 1983

10. Cycle of the Werewolf
9. Cujo
8. Christine
7. Carrie
6. Pet Sematary
5. The Dead Zone
 4. Firestarter
3. Salem's Lot
2. The Shining
1. The Stand 

NOTES: It's difficult not to go with The Stand, here, but for the record, the effortless-storytelling-logic that characterizes most of it definitely is compromised just a bit in the last hundred-and-fifty-pages. (Not all of his works are, despite that popular-rumor.) But it's a bit like taking issue with a few lighting-issues in The Godfather 2 or something; how could I toss out the whole thing because of a few little things that rub me the wrong way? The Stand is classic, and for good reason.  But really, it could be a toss-up between books 3 through 1, here. At the other end, Cujo and Cycle of the Werewolf are fun reads, just not particularly the most emblematic of King's talents.

1984 to 1993

8. Gerald's Game
7. Eyes of the Dragon
6. The Dark Half
5. Misery
4. Dolores Claiborne
3. Needful Things
2. The Tommyknockers
1. It

NOTES:  What went for The Stand goes for It, as well. The preteen sewer gang-bang (as has become the nomenclature in all AV Club discussion of it) in the back-end is just such a baffling decision on The Big Man's part. But, what, am I supposed to let one preteen sewer gang-bang ruin my assessment of this brilliantly-constructed work? I think not. And #s 2 and 3 and maybe even #4 are grand-slams.

1994 to 2003

11. Rose Madder
10. Rose Red
9. Desperation
8. Bag of Bones
7. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
6. Dreamcatcher
5. Storm of the Century
4. Insomnia
3. From a Buick 8
2. The Green Mile
1. Hearts in Atlantis

NOTES: King's most interesting decade, for many reasons. Not his best (arguably) but every work has a unique "something;" even Rose Madder, last in line, here, and many's nomination for worst-overall-King-novel, is a truly interesting book. Few authors revisit / tweak the misogyny of  Greek myths as accessibly as King did, here. But the real delights, here, are from #8 on upwards. If any of these were swapped in for the top spot, I wouldn't argue. But, for my money, Hearts in Atlantis belongs in the same discussion as In Pharoah's Army by Tobias Wolff and other 60s/Vietnam memoirs. 

2004 to 2014

11. Lisey's Story
10. Mr. Mercedes
9. The Colorado Kid
8. Doctor Sleep 
7. Revival
6. Under the Dome
5. Joyland 
4. Ur
3. Cell
2. 11/22/63
1. Duma Key

NOTES: Why Duma Key is not universally recognized as one of the great King works is beyond me. Of all the King-stand-in I-guy-narrator voices/ characters / themes, this one works the best. Its heart, its theme, its construction, its lyricism - all hit on its author's best levels. Hand's down. Call the engraver. So does Cell, for that matter. It reminds me of "Kickstart my Heart" by Motley Crue. No one would rank it alongside "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" by Dylan, but is that really the right evaluative context? I think not. As an EC graphic novel without pictures, and as an example of that part of King's bibliography that is EC graphic novels without pictures, it's great. 

Whether it's short story, novella, or novel, King's work in the twenty-first century rivals and arguably surpasses all that came before.

11/14/14 EDIT: Okay, I just finished Revival, and I may be over-ranking it. I'll revisit this once it settles in a little. But it left a deep enough impression where I wanted to honestly assess where I'd put it, hours after finishing it for the first time. I was surprised by where it ended up, but I can't argue with myself. Yet, anyway.

8/11/15 EDIT: So far, Finders Keepers is definitely the best novel of the 2015 - Future cycle.

Worth enlarging. Image from here.
So, while it would be good enough for me to end this sojourn by stating The Stand, It, Hearts in Atlantis, and Duma Key are King's best works (with, of course, On Writing and Full Dark, No Stars, and Wizard and Glass) it ain't good enough for government work as a feller says. So! 

57 books enter, 1 book leaves!
(Evaluative criteria: 1 part personal enjoyment, 
1 part literary construction, 
1 part Je ne sais quoi.)

57. Lisey's Story
56. Cycle of the Werewolf
55. Cujo
54. The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah 
53. Gerald's Game
52. Christine
51. Rage
50. Blaze
49. Mr. Mercedes
48. Rose Madder
47. Rose Red
Even Rose Red isn't all that bad. Cut out a half-hour and re-cast Nancy Travis and I bet people would be more forgiving.
46. Desperation
45. The Dark Tower: Dark Tower
44.The Eyes of the Dragon 
43. The Colorado Kid (Although I rather like this one. There's just not much to it.)
42. Carrie
41. Thinner
40. The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria (okay, it's not a novel. Objection Sustained.)
39. Doctor Sleep
38. The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three (Frankly, this should be higher, but there are stretches of it that drag for yours truly)
37. The Dark Half
36. Pet Sematary

35. Bag of Bones
34. Finders Keepers
33. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (Deserves special mention - quite an achievement. Probably the most compellingly King has portrayed the concept of God outside of #18, which is certainly more pessimistic, but equally effective.)
32. The Dead Zone
31. Revival
30. Misery
29. The Running Man (There really needs to be a proper adaptation of this.)
28. Firestarter (Jack Bauer in real life is probably a lot more like Rainbird than Keifer Sutherland.)
27. The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands
26. The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
25 The Regulators ("There was no one here but her and her dead friends on the tv.")
24. Ur

23. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (Dark Hippie Mythology.)
22. Dreamcatcher (Read this as if it was King's only work and tell me you wouldn't think it was fantastic.)
21. Dolores Claiborne
20. Joyland  
19. Cell
18. Insomnia (Only #6 provoked the same amount of tears when I got to the end.)
17. Wolves of the Calla
16. Roadwork
15. Under the Dome (Satirical masterwork.)
14. The Long Walk
13. Storm of the Century

(Quotations from my original reviews, unless otherwise noted.)  

"It was so refreshing to read an old-fashioned vampire story. Crosses and holy water. no sexual metaphors wagging the dog. No labored layers of artifice. (...) A few dashes of satanic or psychological ritual and some old-fashioned murder, but mainly it's about having to outwit and then stake a bunch of bloodsuckers." And I couldn't be happier about that.


"One of the best time-travel stories since H.G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It's romantic about the possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else. (...Here,) the quotidian contains the horror, something real and familiar. It's indifferent to human lives, and it is inescapable. It is time." - Errol Morris, the New York Times

"King succeeds where Sandy (initially) fails; he shows you the mundane heroism of the troopers' lives and makes you care about that, not the spook show in Shed B." - Laura Miller, New York Times
"King seems far more interested in the nature of mystery than closure, and how questions without answers affect his characters." - Kev, CharnelHouse


"Mental illness, class and gender inequality, pedophilia, and suicide have served to underscore the overarching supernatural horrors in King's novels before and after. That all surface in this novel makes (it) not only a terminal point for one of King's favorite fictional places but also a hub for his favorite dark fascinations." - Kev, again. One of King's most underrated works, for me.


"In addition to being perhaps the 80s' best metaphor for cocaine-addiction, it's a) fantastic sci-fi, though not (as) emblematic of the 1940s-style sci-fi King says it is; it struck me more asn 80s-specific take on the radioactive-panic movies of the 1950s, more than anything, and b) an ideographic history of late 20th-century background gadgetry."


"A story about hidden evil emerging when the snow sets in; when a family is isolated and broken, and when a man with buried darkness finally collapses and becomes what he was always, inevitably, going to be." - James Smythe, The Guardian


"A wealth of plot, a mix between the real and the mystical, excellent characters." - Steve Kimes, Interesting But Pointless Stuff
(short and sweet, that)

"This is about survivors' guilt... Surviving the 60s, surviving childhood, surviving Vietnam: even, ultimately, surviving the survivors' guilt. It belongs to a grand tradition of literature, that of an author/ culture reconciling present with past."


"This book examines fear, faith, belief and magic, creating King's most memorable characters and his most horrifying vision. It is, plainly put, an experience you will never forget (even if the Losers' Club does.) - Kev, again


"...the language serves to create a dreamlike mood which reinforces this tale of past love. The illustrations by Dave McKean increase this effect. Adding to the poignancy of the story is the reader's knowledge that, out of all these characters from the past, Roland is the only one who survives into the present. The cloud of doom that overshadows the book effectively gives the sense of a world in which everything is rushing to oblivion." - Tzu-Mainn Chen, The Tech (MIT)


"In short (well, not-so-short) this is the book that has everything - adventure, romance, prophecy, allegory, satire, fantasy, realism, apocalypse (...) This is a book for the 90s, when America (sees itself) less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders." - Robert Kiely, New York Times

I know some may find it blasphemy to pick anything but The Stand or It for the top spot, but I respectfully disagree; this is simply a better constructed novel. It's no less epic in its own way and definitely as atmospheric and surprising and fulfilling. This was one of the first I read for this project, and I asked How does it compare to Duma Key? of everything I read after it. And while some came close - I wouldn't argue with anyone who swapped in any of my top twelve with the top spot, actually - none felt as whole as this.

"Mostly I listened to the sigh of the waves, so like the breath of some large sleeping creature, and I looked out through the glass walls that fronted on the water."

"I realized the shells were talking in a voice I recognized. I should have; it was my own. Had I always known that? I suppose I had. On some level, unless we're mad, I think most of us know the various voices of our own imaginations. And of our memories, of course. They have voices, too. Ask anyone who has ever lost a limb or a child or a long-cherished dream. Ask anyone who blames himself for a bad decision, usually made in a raw instant (an instant that is most commonly red.) Our memories have voices, too. Often sad ones that clamor like raised arms in the dark."

"Art is the concrete artifact of faith and expectation, the realization of a world that would otherwise be little more than a veil of pointless consciousness stretched over a gulf of mystery."

It is characterized by some of the repetitive phrasing and plot-shortcuts in its back pages as you'll find throughout King's work (represented here by Wireman's many "muchacho"s and Jack's developing some kind of ventriloquist-clairvoyance / the general being-helped-by-God-against-Perse business), but if I had to point some alien civilization to King's work or pick only one for a time capsule, this would be my pick. It's got it all, and he's never done it better.

While Dog Star Omnibus will continue as a definitive source for my various preoccupations, the King's Highway is now closed. It will reopen with Joyland and Doctor Sleep or as events warrant. Thanks for traveling with me.

Last Edited: 8/11/2015

King's Highway pt. 71: Carrie

Stephen King gives a pretty detailed account of how Carrie came into existence in On Writing, but I first read the description of  its conception in George Beahm's The Stephen King Companion. I read that for the first time in 1987. King was well on my radar by that point, hence my getting a copy of The SK Companion for Christmas that year. Carrie was one of those films in heavy circulation at sleep-overs or parties or what not, but I somehow avoided seeing it until I was seventeen.

I didn't read the book until just last week.

Anyway, the first time I learned what this one was about was from the aforementioned Companion. Here's its description, as accompanied by some images from the movie:      

“As Holden Caulfied in Catcher in the Rye tries desperately to become part of the world around him and it refuses him, so Carietta White longs to become part of the in crowd, but can't.
“Alienated at home by her mother, Margaret White, a fundamentalist Christian...
“and alienated at school by her peers,
“Carrie is finally befriended by Susan Snell, who takes pity on her.
“Snell asks her boyfriend Tommy, on whom Carrie has a crush, to take Carrie to the prom.

“He agrees, and at the prom, something terrible happens.

Carrie, a wild talent, unleashes her powers as all hell breaks loose.”

Having now read the book, I wouldn't summarize the events quite the same way Beahm does. I don't know if Holden Caulfield is really an apt comparison, and Snell doesn't quite befriend Carrie. She acts behind the scenes in a manner somewhat friendly to the “idea” of Carrie, but in her own way, she's playing with Carrie (albeit benevolently) via proxies the same way Chris is. In a speech familiar to King characters throughout his career (and echoed as recently as Dreamcatcher and Under the Dome) she explains to Tommy:

“'But hardly anybody ever finds out that their actions really actually hurt other people! People don't get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don't stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it. (...) Someone ought to try and be sorry in a way that counts... in a way that means something.” 

King mentions it as “a young book by a young writer. In retrospect, it reminds me of a cookie baked by a first grader — tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom.” Fair enough. For me, it suffers mostly in its final act. Sue's psychic bond with Carrie comes out of nowhere and strains credibility (not to mention deprives Sue's “just an all-too-human girl”ness of some of its power), and the supplementary material (from “the White Commission” and books examining Carrie' telekinetic attack and isolating the TK Gene, etc., including a fictional post-event memoir of Sue Snell's,) while cool, dilute some of the suspense. The reader is never in doubt of the tragic outcome of Carrie's story. 

Of course, neither was I, having seen the movie a dozen times and its being one of the more well-known modern points-of-reference for people of all walks of life. “Carrie at the Prom” is cultural currency that is widely accepted, like “Shaka, When the Walls Fell,” or something.

A scene not in the book.

I suspect if this was King's only published novel, (with no film version) it'd be known only as a curiosity of the seventies and not an underground classic. (Of course, who can know such things? Ergo, Ur-Kindle.)

Which is not to say it is isn't eminently readable. Kev (among others) mentions in his review that it's really a twisted update of the classic fairy tale: The Cinderella aspect: “Carrie White is the tragic Cinderella character, a shy, socially awkward teenager at the lowest rungs of the high school caste system. When Carrie experiences her first menstrual period following gym class, the other girls - fulfilling the roles of the wicked stepsisters - torment her, cruelly asserting their superiority.
“King's clever re-imagining of Prince Charming and the ball yields some surprising results:
“when forced to accept Carrie even as a temporary member of their society, her classmates find her surprisingly easy to like.
“The cruelty doesn't end there: in place of a wicked stepmother, we find Carrie's biological mother, driven to the point of madness by an unbalanced personality and religious fanaticism.

“Just as the onset of Carrie's period seems to trigger her own dormant telekinetic abilities, it also heightens Margaret White's instability. The theme of a parent being threatened by a child's encroaching adulthood here is twisted and heightened to horrific extremes.” 

Twisted Fairy Tale or Rite of Passage Gone Wrong; either way, it gets you where you live. I think we all look back upon adolescence - whether with fondness or dread - as a tour of duty we're just fortunate to have survived.

One of the survivors interviewed for the White Commission mentions that Teddy Duchamps, one-time-proprietor of the Amoco station that blows up during Carrie's rampage through town, has been dead since 1968. (His son runs the station now.)

Had to look this up to make sure, but not to be confused with Teddy Duchamp, no-s, of “The Body.”

I wanted to mention: in Beahm's book, there is a match-the-origin-story-with-the-novel-it-became chapter (or quiz), and the one for Carrie always stuck with me. Paraphrased, it's “King meets a woman reading Scripture at the laundromat and wonders what kind of children she might raise.”

This anecdote has been expanded, and altered somewhat, over the years. (Probably, Beahm is mixing together strands of the official inspiration for Carrie King relays in On Writing.) But to a young Bryan McMillan, this was the first time it occurred to me you could look at people and ask such questions and write about it. Like I said, I was thirteen or fourteen. I'd been reading for years and loved stories and fancied myself a writer of them, but this description of King's inspiration for Carrie activated something in me at the time.

Brian De Palma's film adaptation, according to King, made his reputation as an author.

Although he sold the book's paperback rights for a hefty sum, it was the film's popularity that brought King the national attention he's never relinquished. And while both De Palma's reputation and fortunes have ebbed and flowed since Carrie, King's have only improved on both counts.

I often find myself championing unpopular viewpoints, and my affection for De Palma's films might qualify as one. But this one is easier than most, as I genuinely enjoy De Palma's work and am as fascinated by the best of it as I am bemused by the worst of it. Few filmmakers have left such a varied body of work.

But let's stick with Carrie. Easily one of his more accessible pictures. As noted here: “Technically, the film is among De Palma’s most accomplished, with great binary compositions achieved through the use of a split-diopter lens (...)

and the long crane shot that “moves through the crowd at the prom and shows the actions of several significant characters, then moves up into the rafters of the gymnasium to show the suspended bucket of pigs’ blood, and finally zooms back to the point where it began.” Agreed. Nearly every film in his catalog has one unbroken shot sequence that calls attention to itself, and while all are agreed on the difficulty of pulling them off, De Palma fans debate which work for the story and which seem out-of-place. I consider myself a more-than-casual De Palma fan - his films and I have upgraded to “It's Complicated” from “Casual” - so I've got my own nominations for each of those, but this was the first time I really grokked how good this sequence really is. Like Scorsese mentions in his (excellent) Personal Journey Through American Movies, these long crane shots are the hardest to pull off. (How Max Ophuls did it so routinely, with the equipment he had, still blows my mind.) This entrance to the prom definitely belongs in any serious discussion / ranking of them.

And it keeps getting technically more and more impressive after this shot, is the crazy thing. And they fit the story/ subtext perfectly.

Billy and Chris are bathed in red, (right) as Carrie is, albeit with blood instead of via a camera filter, on her side of the frame; she is lit by the purple, blues and glows of the prom-design.
Carrie's frame moves from left to right, and the camera zooms in on her face.
Incidentally, the theme of the prom is changed from Springtime in Venice in the novel to Love Among the Stars for the movie. This gives it a mythological feel, as if she (the wild-talent-demigod) looks up at her fixed tragedy as a constellation.
Boom. Her vengeance replaces said stars, and the lighting/ split-screen changes accordingly.
Everybody Go Dead Now.

Carrie's exit is one of the most beautiful bits of the film and is not adequately conveyed by the below. We see her momentarily against a dark blue background before it is transformed into the yellow and orange by the rising flames, and Carrie's silhouette turns from dark to red.

Masterful stuff. All possible credit, as well, to Jack Fisk, art director extraordinaire. When Terence Malick, Brian De Palma, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson want to keep working with you, you know you've met a high standard of mise-en-scène. Like or dislike their films, no one can fault their acuity with visuals.

From that Pajimba review, hyperlinked above,  “I think of Carrie as a sort of precursor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Both play out the traumas of adolescence by literalizing and extending them to extremes that are both funny and chilling. The film is full of deadpan jokes about the inherent melodrama of adolescence — note how thunder clatters outside the window and lightning splashes across the face of Mrs. White when she first exclaims, “Prom?!”

Not to mention the tuxedo scene, which is distinguished by a brief burst of sped-up audio amidst the typically-zany “dudes getting tuxes” trope. (De Palma is nothing if not wink-tastic about such things. If the viewer is ever meant to raise an eyebrow at the signs-and-signifiers aspect of anything he films, the soundtrack / audio, for better or for worse, will often strongly suggest which way to 'read' it.)

But I like this tuxedo scene, as it suggests a knowing wtf response to how teenage life is depicted onscreen. I grew up on Growing Pains and Corey Feldman's “Later for you, man - LATER FOR YOU, FOREVER!” after-school specials, all of which were dated (like most depictions of high school life) five seconds after they aired. Carrie, despite the horrendous costumes and some other “dated” aspects, is pretty instantly familiar as a sincere representation of high school Hell. Its metaphors and imagery continue to connect with audiences today.

Speaking of sped-up audio samples, the sound effect given to manifestation of Carrie's powers recalls rather pointedly the four-note violin theme from Hitchcock's Psycho. Which brings us face to face with one of the criticisms that has dogged De Palma throughout his career, his appropriation of Hitchcock. 

As discussed here De Palma does not copy Hitchcock, he follows him, and his films (specifically Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and, to a much lesser extent, Obsession, Body Double, and Raising Cain) are not imitation Hitchcocks, they are rather authentic and ingenious developments of the same themes that once obsessed Hitchcock... De Palma took the threads that Hitchcock laid, and then ran with them.”

Depending on how you feel about that explanation will determine how willing you are to roll with the punches, I think, on De Palma's Hitchcock explorations. I don't suggest any
roll is the right one, here, of course, just such a thing is either impossible to defend or relatively harmless, depending on your point of view. (shrugs) That's-a De Palma.

Regardless, the casting is just about perfect. 

Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles are great as the bad girls.
You really, really hate them.
And is that...?
I was surprised to discover P.J. Soles had a bit part in this Cheers episode in 1984. She had memorable roles in Halloween and Stripes after Carrie, then primarily worked in TV, according to her imdb. Anyway, not that she was this huge star, just her character in this Cheers episode has one or two lines that could have been delivered by practically any actress, then that's it.
Travolta's Billy Nolan makes a less successful transition from the novel. But Billy might work better as he is in the movie: an inept guy manipulated by a stronger female than he does in the novel, where he shares many character traits with other smack-'em'up-and-work-on-the-car King villains.
Piper Laurie is amazing. She lost to Beatrice Straight from Network for the Academy Award. The conflict between Carrie and her mother...

...and between Carrie and Creepy Jesus

is just about as harrowing as has ever been explored onscreen.

It's a little dated (as evidenced here) but it holds up rather well.
I'm actually not really looking forward to the 2013 remake. Kimberley Peirce isn't a favorite. But! I'll give it a whirl, of course, and hope for the best.

In closing, the novel isn't bad, but the film is a classic. De Palma (like Kubrick or Cronenberg) never returned to King's material for any other films, but he knocked it out of the damn park here. 

And with that, I suspend Reading Operations for the King's Highway.

(Squeal of brakes, radio blaring AC/DC...)