The following contains full spoilers for both adaptations of Carrie.
To date there have been over 150 movie adaptations of the various works of Stephen King, many of them terrible, but with his first novel, Carrie, he lucked out tremendously on the big screen. After Brian De Palma’s Vertigo homage Obsession was tepidly received, the director decided to try adapting a book his friend recommended, a horror novel about a young girl with telekinetic powers. 1976’s Carrie was a huge horror hit, scoring Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie and earning a reputation as one of the best horror movies of all time. And although De Palma’s version of Carrie was great, the announcement that Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) would be remaking it wasn’t something I was completely opposed to. After all, It’s 37 years later and the ideas that Carrie toys with couldn’t be any more relevant now with the school shootings that linger in our minds and the bullying the drives Carrie to the eventual infamous prom scene. Of course the new reimagining chooses not to focus so much on that idea, and rather on playing up the horror and spectacle elements of the story. It’s 2013, so go figure.
From the first scene, it’s clear that Peirce and Glee writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa are more interested in making a generic horror movie than De Palma’s adaptation was. The openings of both films prove just this. In the new version, Margaret White (played here by Julianne Moore, and by Laurie in the original) rolls around screaming in a bed covered in blood and gives birth to Carrie and considers killing her with a pair of scissors but stops herself at the last minute. Smash cut to the movie’s title, with blood slowly coming off if it. Already it’s clear that the film is much more interested in scaring the audience than De Palma’s film, which opens with scenes of Carrie being bullied in gym class, quickly establishing what the movie is really about – an isolated young girl brought to the edge. De Palma’s version famously features a credits sequence over slow motion images of teen girls running naked in the gym locker room, a hauntingly hypnotic sequence that creeps the hell out of you in more psychological ways than the new version’s opening. From there, the remake follows essentially the same basic structure, with most of the changes coming simply from the film being set today.
Almost the entire school seems to be made up of 25-year-old rejects from Glee, except for Carrie, who seems like a character right out of 1976. This actually ends up working to the film’s favor, isolating Carrie even more than she was in the first version. There’s an added element of the girls’ filming of Carrie in the locker room and uploading the video to YouTube, but aside from that the movie doesn’t even try to reflect the new era it’s in. Truly, the remake is only different in the way it panders to horror movie audiences, with more scenes of Carrie using her powers and a number of moments of her mother cutting herself.
The prom scene itself is where this all comes to a head in a flurry of violence that is, admittedly, very effective, just as much as the original was. There’s a good period of calm that almost makes you forget what movie you’re watching and just lets you enjoy the prom like Carrie, but it’s the calm before the storm (which is a move that would be much more impressive if the first film hadn’t done the same thing). Then, when Carrie is doused in pig’s blood and goes on her mad rampage, we start to see a big problem. Spacek spent the whole scene wide-eyed and causing general mayhem, but Moretz does something all the more troubling. She actually seems somewhat in control and begins executing specific students with very cold precision.
This continues even more later when she faces off with her nemesis Chris (Portia Doubleday) on the road after the prom. In De Palma’s film, Carrie is walking down the road and only destroys Chris’s car when she tries to hit her on the road. In Peirce’s, Chris is driving away until Carrie starts destroying the road under her in a big CG spectacle. Then Chris turns the car around and goes after Carrie, who proceeds to lift the car off the ground and throw into a gas station in a large explosion. 1976 Carrie is a victim with uncontrolled rage while 2013 Carrie is a victim well aware of her powers and out for revenge.
Problem is, after 2013 Carrie goes on the vengeful killing spree, there’s still a good deal of the movie left where we’re supposed to sympathize with her. But can we? Can we sympathize with this new Carrie who has actively caused so much death and destruction? Not really. There’s a scene that troublingly spells this all out, when Sue (Gabriella Wilde) tries to stop Carrie and pleads with her “Don’t hurt me Carrie!” Carrie then replies “Why not? I’ve been hurt my whole life.”
The little additions to modernize the film, such as the added bits of jump scares and CG horror, are small potatoes to the way it tries to make Carrie out to be the new iconic horror villain. The marketing exemplifies this too, with all the posters showing her dripping in blood with an evil look on her face. It’s sad too, because for much of the film Peirce seems to have an even stronger emotional connection to Carrie than De Palma did, but that all goes out the window once prom hits. There was a lot of potential to actually update Carrie for the modern audience and make it the rare justifiable horror remake, but instead it goes the route we see all too often: copy most of the first film and add more showy CG scenes. The remake isn’t terrible, and the casting of Moretz is probably the biggest mistake out of them all, but with the potential here it’s just disappointing.
If you want to watch Carrie, rent the 1976 version.
Did you see Carrie this weekend? How did it compare to the original film version?
Article by Wesley Emblidge