“I’ve heard rumblings about a Carrie remake….Who knows if it will happen? The real question is why, when the original was so good? I mean, not Casablanca, or anything, but a really good horror-suspense film, much better than the book.” – Stephen King, as quoted in Entertainment Weekly, May 2011
Of course, King knows why, and the 2013 remake, directed by Kimberly Peirce, didn’t disappoint: after recouping its $30M budget, it went on to make an additional $50M worldwide. But he was right to question the remake’s necessity. Brian De Palma’s 1976 original is one of the best horror films ever made. And since, as King points out, it already tops the book, what remained to be done?
In fact, the book is an effective pot-boiler, but nothing more. In this sense, it was a perfect candidate for adaptation. That is, by someone who understands the implications of adapting a book like this. Brian De Palma did. But the producers of the remake, who evidently let it be known that the new script would be “more faithful” to the novel, clearly did not. It isn’t the kind of novel one should be “faithful” to; it is the kind of novel one should use as a springboard to something better.
And what is “more faithful” anyway? The new film begins with Carrie’s birth. Just as in the book, Carrie’s mom, Margaret, gives birth all by herself: she doesn’t hold with modern medicine and she certainly has no friends. On top of that, I think she’s still hoping the baby will turn out to be some weird tumor she can toss in the garbage along with the sin that produced it. But, no, it’s a baby, all right, and though she tries to kill it, she can’t bring herself to do it.
Now, in the book, the police find her hours later, exhausted, and with little Carrie at her breast. It was a battle, one that Margaret lost. In the movie, she goes soft on the little thing and cuddles her. It is the beginning of a strange new element in the story: Margaret’s “love” for Carrie. I suppose the Lord of Faithful Adaptations giveth with one hand, only to taketh away with the other.
It does, however, tell you what you need to know about the remake’s definition of “faithful”: if a scene in the book is violent, it will try to include it.
To its detriment, it reproduces the vengeful side of Carrie’s personality. One of the reasons the original works so well is that De Palma (and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen) tossed most of that aside and focused on the girl, not the avenging angel. I enjoy watching Clint Eastwood wipe out the bad guys in all those “man with no name” movies, but that’s because the bad guys are evil and they are adults. As King has one of Carrie’s classmates point out in the book, we aren’t dealing with adults here, we’re dealing with kids. (She repeats this several times.) One or two of these kids might be evil, but the rest are just…kids. What this means is that, while we might sympathize with what Carrie thinks she would like to do to them, we can’t sympathize with her actually doing it. (I saw a question in a Goodreads group about Carrie: “did you cheer her on?” Good Lord, I hope not. She kills scores of kids, the great crime of most of whom was probably nothing more than that they ignored her.) It’s a subtlety that is lost on Peirce; consequently, we never feel for Carrie the way we did in the original film.
It isn’t for lack of trying on the part of the actors. While I certainly wouldn’t put Chloë Grace Moretz in Sissy Spacek’s league, she does well in the title role, and some of her scenes with Ansel Elgort, as Tommy Ross, the boy who takes Carrie to the prom, are quite sweet. But this is another thing De Palma had going for him: a killer cast: Piper Laurie (who, King said, “really got her teeth into the bad-mom thing”), William Katt (the embodiment of the All-American boy), Amy Irving, Nancy Allen (much more believable than Portia Doubleday as the girl who can “take her pick” of prom dates), and John Travolta (who does something extraordinary, playing both parts of his bad boy role, coming across as bad, yes, but also as a boy).
In 2002, television got into the act with its own Carrie adaptation. This one stars Angela Bettis as Carrie. (You might remember her as another eponymous character, from another film released the same year — May.)
The oddest thing about this adaptation, which in other respects is probably as good as the 2013 remake, is the ending: Carrie doesn’t die. Why? Because the film was originally intended as a pilot for a TV series. I don’t consider this a spoiler, because it’s really nothing more than a tacked-on ending setting up a series that, thankfully, never happened. According to the Stephen King Wiki, it was supposed to be about how Carrie moves to Florida to “help others with telekinetic problems.”
The reason to watch this one, if you like King’s book, is that it is the only adaptation to try to recreate the novel’s documentary approach. It begins with Sue Snell — the girl who convinces her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom — being interrogated by the police. This is a couple of weeks after the disaster. Other interrogations follow periodically throughout the movie.
The other reason to see it is that it is also the only adaptation to depict the devastation that Carrie wreaks upon the town at the end. The other movies show what she does to the school and a gas station, but as any reader of the book knows, Carrie didn’t stop there. Neither does this movie.
These two elements more or less cancel out a bizarre twist at the end that was also probably dictated by the proposed series, but which I won’t reveal, other than to say that it manages to walk Carrie’s character right down the middle of the road, between “innocent” schoolgirl and vengeful spirit.
1976 Film: ♦♦♦♦♦
2002 Telefilm: ♦♦½
2013 Film: ♦♦½
While I agree with Stephen King, I think that it can be said that De Palma’s Carrie is definitely one of the Casablancas of horror film.