With November marking 40 years since the classic Brian DePalma film of Stephen Kings’s novel was released, it seemed a good time to revisit (and in some cases for me, visit for the first time) all the different screen versions of Carrie that have been produced over the years. I did write a review of the fairly recent Chloe Moretz-starring version where I compared it to the original but it doesn’t hurt to revisit things after a few years and it was particularly interesting watching the same story being told by different people over the course of two days. I still haven’t read the book so I can’t compare which version is most faithful, but this is my own opinion of each film. Here goes! The Clash of the Carries! The Ultimate Carrie Showdown! The… yeah I’m done.
Carrie (1976) Director: Brian DePalma
The “original” classic here, and after 40 years it would be ridiculous to say that it hasn’t aged, but it still holds up as an excellent teen/horror movie. DePalma’s visual flair is evident throughout, with his trademark split focus shots, wild camera movements, and split screen moments that in the wrong hands can be ridiculous but are used selectively, to awesome dramatic effect. Sissy Spacek sets the standard for all Carries to follow, a vulnerable outcast who is understandably terrified of being both school and home, Spacek looks utterly lost throughout the entire movie. It’s impossible to not feel sorry for her, and her expressions in the climactic prom scene are nothing short of terrifying. Rewatches of this film don’t seem to diminish the effect of the climax, because the prom scene pre-pig’s blood is so entirely dreamlike and perfect, and goes on for so long that even when you’ve seen it a number of times, you still find yourself wishing it won’t happen. My girlfriend said “let’s just switch it off here; it’s all fine” which pretty much sums up my feelings about it too. The film in general has very little to complain about in my opinion (other than the horrendous ’70’s hairstyles), and while I felt like I wanted to see a bit more about Carrie’s mother’s story I understand that the approach DePalma took allowed Carrie to take most of the audience’s sympathy and not to distract us from being terrified when her mother loses it (which really happens quite a few times). She’s still not entirely mindless though either, so she doesn’t become a villain characteur. This is an excellent movie that is deservedly considered a horror classic. Did we need any re-adaptations? Probably not, but if we must we must. The biggest surprise however, given the very much closed ending of this film, is the one that comes next in the chronology: a sequel!?
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) Director: Katt Shea
If two decades seemed long enough for Carrie to have escaped the curse of the classic horror movie sequel, we were wrong. 1999 saw the release of the entirely uncalled-for sequel which somehow manages to balance being a terrible retelling of the same story while also having nothing in common with the previous movie. A moody opening features a seemingly psychotic woman painting a red line around her living room before she is interrupted by her daughter. She slaps the paint brush in the daughter’s face. Now, whether this is meant to be artsy, as though the red paint is foreshadowing the pig’s blood, whether it’s a cheap way of avoiding showing a young child getting actually slapped in a movie, or whatever, did no one stop to think just how goofy this looks? I guess not. Well, smash forward to 1999 and Rachel (a.k.a. Carrie 2) is now at high school. She’s a bit of a goth, and every shot of her bedroom or locker shows a Marilyn Manson poster, so I guess this is the characterization we get to show that she’s “troubled”. As far as her school life goes she’s an outcast because she’s alternative, but she is hardly bullied, as opposed to screaming that she’s dying when she has her first period she’s discussing her best friend losing her virginity, and she seems all round a fairly normal high school emo kid, so there’s really very little to feel sorry for her about. But obviously things happen and tenuous links are made to the first movie to weasel in an explanation for the fact that Rachel starts moving things with her mind, and horrible pseudo-artsy black-and-white shots are thrown in at random points to make us feel like something exciting is happening. All this is wrapped around a tedious 90’s high school setting with all the unbearable elements that come with that. Now, we can’t blame the film for being made in 1999, but we can blame it for having obnoxious comedy moments with one of the guys from American Pie. He serves no purpose in the movie, just occasionally shows up to make a shit joke about what’s happening. Even during the climactic
prom party scene which is actually a really cool setpiece, it suddenly cuts to this guy who makes a stupid joke along the lines of “we’re missing a killer party dude” killing what little excitement or tension that the climax of this otherwise pointless movie had managed to muster up. This film manages to be barely watchable and little more than that.
Carrie (2002) Director: David Carson
This version of the story was made as a TV movie for NBC, one part a re-imagining of the novel, and one part a pilot episode for an upcoming TV series of Carrie. The TV series never came to be so we are left with this odd relic which follows the story almost religiously until the final moments (because obviously the title character kinda needs to be alive for a series right?). The film is told from the perspective of Sue Snell, who through the course of all versions of the story takes pity on and eventually becomes friends with Carrie. She is conducting a police interview to an incredibly skeptical officer who believes she is understating her part in the tragic events at the prom. Straight from the beginning I found the sharp-tongued Sue Snell incredibly irritating. She talks back to the policeman with such a sneering over-confidence that really falls flat & makes her an incredibly dislikable character. Even worse than Sue Snell is Billy Nolan, played by John Travolta in the first movie. DePalma showed this character was certainly not a nice guy, and hinted at being abusive to his girlfriend Chris, but in this version he’s “lock him in a padded cell” psychotic, disturbing to the point of being laughable. It seems to almost portray Chris as a sympathetic character, which I feel is defying the point of the story (a theme that will become more evident through this review). However, Carrie herself, played by Angela Bettis, is thankfully much more likable. She is actually the highlight of this retelling, rivaling but not quite outdoing Spacek’s performance in the first film. The extended runtime of just over 2 hours you would think should give us a bit more insight into some backstory about the mother or to expand on some aspects of the story but it really doesn’t do much of that at all. A flashback to Carrie’s birth and the resulting meteor shower should have remained omitted because the CGI effects in this scene are unspeakably bad. Even a TV movie shouldn’t get away with that! Somehow the same story is just stretched over a longer time, albeit with less edge due to a key producer apparently wanting this version to have less anti-religious sentiment (i.e. defying the entire point of the story), and the general blood & gore & bad language being reduced greatly (i.e. defying the point of re-making a classic horror). Interestingly Carrie’s powers seem a lot stronger from the beginning; whereas near the beginning of DePalma’s movie she simply smashes an ashtray sitting on the desk in the principal’s office, in this version her tantrum causes the whole desk to be shoved across the room. All the other early telekinesis scenes are re-hashed with this exaggerated effect. Some may find it more exciting, but it verges on looking more like a spoof than a remake at times. This is really as far as the film deviates though; the majority of the film just is a very polite, TV-friendly scene-by-scene retread. of the original with some 21st century tweaks. The re-write on the ending is what I was really excited for, and when it was revealed I was reminded that I was a fool for getting my hopes up. The only truly original part of the movie is extremely weak and makes rather little sense, purely a botched together setup for the series that never followed. It’s not entirely awful, with some good cast members making this revamp of the story bearable, especially the title character herself, but ultimately after a single viewing of this, if I ever want to see Carrie again I’ll definitely pick the superior-in-every-respect DePalma version.
Carrie (2013) Director: Kimberly Pierce
Since a terrible sequel and a little-known-of and rather pointless TV movie weren’t enough to tarnish the reputation of the classic story, a big screen “reimagining” was announced in 2011 to the delight of practically no one. But, over time the unusual choice of director and lead actress garnered curiosity and threatened to be one of the few good horror movie remakes. Well, it’s actually very worthwhile in my opinion. You can read my full review from when it was released here and my opinion hasn’t changed all that much on revisiting it. To summarize it suffers the same downfall of any direct re-do of common source material that it follows the same main plot beats. It’s perhaps unfair to call it lazy for this reason because major changes to the plot would have probably ruined the purpose of the film. There lies the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” issue in continuously remaking and rebooting old horrors; changes or no, people won’t be happy with it! That said, there is enough added to give the film it’s own identity… a bit. Chloe Moretz is by far the prettiest Carrie of the lot, a choice that many criticized, but she isn’t bullied just because she looks weird (sorry, other Carrie actresses); she’s a total outcast who has a religious fanatic mother, and simply doesn’t know how to socialise. Pretty or not I think it’s fair to say she’d be bullied in the real world and Moretz plays Carrie brilliantly, from naive and insecure doormouse at the beginning to psychotic mass-murderer in the climax. Between Carrie’s portrayal and Pierce’s 21st century updating of the story this film succeeds in making stronger points about bullying and even the reasons she is such an outcast than any other adaptation. Similarly, the backstory for the mother is better fleshed out than any other version, bringing together a more heartfelt rendition of the deeper emotions in the story, where DePalma’s version is much more effective in conveying and playing upon more raw, primal emotions. That’s not to say that the blood and violence has been omitted; plenty of blood is shed by many characters, especially in the extended scenes of carnage at the climax that special effects technology simply wouldn’t have permitted in the 70’s. I really do believe that this film stands strongly against DePalma’s first adaptation, even if it does prop itself up on DePalma’s movie. I like the changes that have been made, although there could well have been a few more perhaps to really make it stand on its own legs and really prove itself necessary despite the inherent risks.
I would happily have copies of the DePalma and Pierce adaptations next to each other on my movie shelf, entirely disregard all knowledge of the sequel existing, and to be honest I’ve already forgotten that the TV movie exists it was so pointless. while I really do have a lot of praise for the Kimberly Pierce movie, I feel it would be wrong to claim it matches, certainly that it outperforms, the first movie from 40 years ago. Pierce always steered clear of the term”remake”, stating clearly that it was a fresh take on the book but DePalma clearly got so many things right that Pierce had no option but to essentially remake at least certain moments in the film. DePalma’s version is not just the best adaptation to date, but it clearly lays the foundations for all future versions so far.