Carrie(s) Revisited

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Carrie was probably the first adult horror novel I ever read. I remember getting it in middle school, having outgrown the Fear Street series and other teen reads, as a Christmas present from my mother. She’d gotten it for me after finding out I’d seen the film on a midnight movie show on TV one weekend. I read it in two days.

Of course, as could be expected, I didn’t really understand everything that occurred in the book. My mind was too young then to grasp certain concepts and there were subplots I didn’t even notice until rereading it in high school.

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Carrie is my favorite novel, horror or otherwise. Not only do I just consider it a great book (the quintessential novel for bullied and lonely kids if you’ll accept that), but it further drove me into the realm of horror fiction which has since inspired my own creativity and lead me to other great novels.

The movie however, which I saw before reading the book mind you, I just regarded as another film based on a book. A good film, certainly, but not exactly what I would’ve expected once I knew the source material.

Where was the chubby, ugly Carrie? Where were Sue’s subplot? Where was Carrie as a child?And where was the true chaos and destruction that made up the climax of King’s novel?

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All these things and more were missing from De Palma’s film but I understood even back then that it was not an insult to King’s novel. Financing, whether we like it or not, can help shape a film into what it is. No big money, no big scenes. And story? It’s very hard to pack any book into a film that has to straddle the two hour nark. So that was the reality of Carrie on film for me.

Until 2002…

Before I jump ahead, let me talk about what is so great about De Palma’s Carrie, a film now considered a horror masterpiece despite it somewhat straying away from the novel it was based on.

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The portrayal of Carrie is probably one of the biggest things fans of the film will bring up. Sissy Spacek’s Carrie was almost an ethereal, supernatural being. She was this strange glowing ginger waif who didn’t just not “belong” in her school, but gave you the impression that she didn’t really belong on this Earth either. Even so, we still felt sorry for her. Of all the Carries that have been on film, this incarnation is probably the most sympathetic, especially when set against the commanding performance of Piper Laurie as the fanatical Margaret White.

The perfect casting of Spacek is why the image of the 1976 Carrie is so iconic, because it’s just so damn striking, eerie, and sad. Can any horror fan forget how she looked stepping out from the gymnasium, fire raging behind her blood-drenched form, eyes wide with fear and power?

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This otherworldly mood wasn’t just limited to Spacek’s portrayal though. One of the biggest bits of praise De Palma’s film gets is how atmospheric and genuinely spooky it is. There are no shock scares, no gore to speak of, but the movie still has the power to scare, or at least unnerve, most viewers.

While I don’t consider the movie a great adaption of the novel, I do consider it a faithful one. If anything, it was simply a film of its time, limited in what it could do and achieve because of limited financing and the simple technology of the era. This allows me love and respect Brian De Palma’s Carrie as other fans do.

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In 2002, I was two years away from graduating. At the time I was in an American Literature Honors class, with a book report due. From a list of books to choose from, I chose Carrie. Some might consider it cheating, because I’d already read it at least 3 times by this point, but I don’t. While my classmates were too busy going to the mall, I was reading. This made me a loner, sure, but when I look around now and see adults who haven’t read a book in over two years… I’m okay with that.

Anyway, I chose the book, reread some chapters, and got an A on the paper I turned in. Coincidentally, not long after, I saw a television preview for an upcoming TV miniseries based on the beloved novel.

I won’t lie. I was ecstatic. I have always, and still kind of do, love Stephen King television adaptions. I feel the multiple segments give his stories the room and time they need to be told and, since most of his novels are rarely very graphic, you never really lose much from it broadcasting on public TV anyway. With the word ‘miniseries’, I had faith then that it was the perfect chance for the story to be translated to screen.

I was somewhat right.

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The beginning of the movie, which aired for two nights I believe, supported my hope. Included now were flash-forwards of police interviews (an attempt I believe at including King’s mixed media storytelling of Carrie: newspaper articles, letters, court transcripts, ect.) and scenes from the book that hadn’t made it into the original film, like the rain of rocks upon the White’s house.

Carrie this time was played by genre favorite Angela Bettis who, though I do love, I don’t feel was right for the role (she was 29 when it aired). In fact, the cast is what I had most issues with. Though it was filled with veterans, and even actors who’d been in previous King works, I didn’t feel one person was perfectly suited for their role, besides maybe Patricia Clarkson as Margaret White and Katharine Isabelle as snooty popular bitch Tina (though, let’s face it. PJ Soles’ snooty popular bitch Norma was tops. The ball-cap with the prom gown was unforgettable).

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The ending saw me perk back up, since it was extended and more thoroughly told. The inclusion of the town’s destruction by Carrie was one of the main things I was hoping for and there it was on my TV, although only thanks to the mediocre CGI that was used.

NBC kind of ruined the film as a whole though, thanks to the ending they created that was actually meant to be the start of a planned Carrie/X-Men-esque TV series wherein the telekinetic woman helps others with psychic abilities. Thank God that didn’t happen, for just the ending itself leading to that storyline was atrocious enough.

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At the end of it all, I was left pretty much in the same place. While the original film had a perfect cast and a great mood to it, the TV remake, despite all its flaws, was able to tell the story somewhat more completely. I’d gained some of what I’d hoped for, but lost so much at the same time. In short time, I think I made peace again and realized that some novels just can’t be translated into a live-action format, with Carrie at the top of the list.

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Jump to 2013. An era still heavy with horror remakes and a period when film technology is pretty astounding. Most genre fans groan when they hear that Carrie is getting a 2nd remake, but I’m giddy inside. I pray this incarnation of the novel will get it all right, but after remembering the first two films, I try to limit my hopes and expectations.

I didn’t hold out for very long.

There was an exciting cast attached (Moore, Greer, Moretz!) and the trailers clearly showed the wide-spread telekinetic mayhem I’d always desired. And most promising of all!? A female director was involved! For those familiar with the novel of Carrie, gym teacher Ms. Desjardin believes the lenient punishments the popular girls are given early on are only doled out because the men of the school cannot grasp the severity of the crime against Carrie. It was hard not to see the allusion here, attaching a female director when the first two had been men, and it kind of proved the notion correct.

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This adaption definitely had a tone and individuality of its own. With the present day setting, gone was the eerie 70’s Gothic feel, but it was replaced with something equally frightening: a brutal view of today’s youth, who are petty, cruel, and often act without consequence.

Honestly, the story needed this update in order to land with today’s crowds. A story about bullying in the 1970’s was bound to lose its audience no matter how great King’s original work may still considered. The filmmakers for 2013’s Carrie took a chance with this risky move and, as far as I’m concerned, succeeded. For the first half of the film I couldn’t help be reminded of the modern day religious fanatics we see on the news today and of all the incidents that young bullies and criminals brazenly post to their own social media accounts.

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As expected, the cast was a great asset to the film. Though I consider Moretz too genuinely beautiful to play poor, tormented Carrie, that was my only issue with the cast as a whole. I loved Moore as Margaret and the other young actors I thought were nicely selected. Greer, who I’m used to in only comedic roles, I thought was really fit for Ms. Desjardin.

Most impressively though was the fact that this adaption, despite its updating, probably told King’s story more thoroughly than the other two films. It included the town’s destruction, the rain of stones, and, in the DVDs alternates, a scene from Carrie’s youth that was a major starting point in the novel and an extension of Sue’s pregnancy subplot.

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As expected though, I was in the minority in enjoying this second remake of Carrie. Most horror fans either simply found it “okay” or just completely hated it and thought it unnecessary. And I can’t blame them. The original film is really great. But I do have to wonder how many of the dislikers of the 2013 Carrie have read the novel and realize just how much the De Palma film is missing.

Clearly, the most recent Carrie is my favorite of the three. I don’t discredit or dislike the other two, but ever since I read King’s novel, I’d been waiting for the day when a true adaption of the story was made. While not perfect, I now consider that time has come and gone. Anything more would be the excess that most fans consider Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie to already be.

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As for what I hope to accomplish with this re-visitation of Carrie in all her incarnations, I’m not sure. I suppose I just love debating the merits and demerits of certain films, putting my personal outlook of cult classics like De Palma’s Carrie, or my praise of Peirce’s remake, into perspective for other horror fans.

And if I happen to encourage anyone to actually read the novel, I guess that’s great too. Way too often do I hear about genre fans who have stayed away from, or strayed away from, the literary side of horror when in fact many of our favorite films are based there. Clive Barker’s Cabal (Nightbreed), Scott Smith’s The Ruins, and Koji Suzuki’s The Ring…

As always, I’d love to hear what anyone has to contribute. Post below or even just email me or let’s chit-chat back and forth on Twitter @MidniteMovieGuy. Stay weird horror fiends.

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4 thoughts on “Carrie(s) Revisited

  1. Firstly, that was a cool gift you received from your mother, that particular Christmas, which started you on your journey, to not only becoming a Stephen King fan, but your interest in reading other writers in the genre. King is my favorite author, and while I love “Carrie,” the novel, as I do many of his others books and short stories, I still would pick “Salem’s Lot” as my ultimate favorite.

    Like yourself, I know De Palma’s film differentiated itself from the book in numerous ways, but that never bothered me. When I first saw the ending of the film, the prom scene to be exact, as a VHS rental, I rewound it twice, because I was literally blown away by what I had just watched. I started reading King’s work at an early age, and if I am not mistaken, “Carrie” was the first horror movie I ever saw.

    I think you bring up an interesting point regarding the 2013 re-make of “Carrie,” regarding the way bullying is portrayed versus the way it was shown in the 1970s. The fact that today’s youth are, unfortunately, able to use social media as a weapon, which didn’t exist in the 70s, is an excellent observation.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I love the De Palma version, and even though I think Moretz is a very good actress, who, is only going to keep getting better, to me, Spacek will always be the perfect Carrie.

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  2. I decided to reread Carrie right before seeing the 2013 version, and it’s a novel I read about once per decade. Comparing the book and new movie so closely, Peirce’s Carrie is the most faithful adaptation. I also felt having a gay woman behind the camera added some extra resonance to the text. Carrie was my second favorite film of last year.

    DePalma’s Carrie has long been a favorite of mine, and depending on my mood, I’m glad I have two great Carries to choose from. Neither one spoils the other, or the book.

    I do avoid the TV Carrie though, even though I’m a Bettis fan. And I totally dig The Rage: Carrie 2.

    I didn’t like how many horror fans dismissed Carrie 2013 as an unnecessary remake of DePalma’s film. The film was bullied almost as much as the title character. It’s an adaptation of a modern classic novel. Carrie is the new Dracula, and the book will continue to inspire new adaptations, as it should. Bring on Bride of Carrie, House of Carrie, Boy Carrie, The Curse of Carrie, um, that last one could warrant multiple interpretations.

    And the final face-off between Carrie and Chris Hargensen in Carrie 2013 was the best girl fight in years.

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  3. I’m a huge fan of the novel Carrie as well and always get a bit annoyed when people say DePalma’s film is better than the book or that it’s not one of King’s better books. While I love DePalma’s version and don’t think Spacek will ever be topped in the title role, the book offers so much more depth and a much grittier version of the story. Peirce’s 2013 adaptation is quite good but Moretz just doesn’t capture the beaten down, lifetime-of-hurt quality that Spacek conveyed so well.

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