Editorial: The Many Faces of CARRIE
Everyone, horror fan or not, knows who Stephen King is. Whether they read one of his books or watched one of the many film adaptations of his work, you will recognize one of his creations. Many children have a formed a fear of clowns after meeting Pennywise in IT or are hesitant to stay at hotels after THE SHINING or 1408. A story many are familiar with is that of Carrie White, the girl with the religious fanatic for a mother who is taunted so much at school that it eventually leads to a blood bath of a prom. She kills her tormentors using her newly discovered telekinesis and ends up dying in the end alongside her mother. Her story was doomed from the start and, as tragic as it is, serves as a cautionary tale to those who might want to think twice before making fun of someone. King’s novel, his first actually, has had such a cultural impact that it often referenced in outside material and “they’re all gonna laugh at you!” is one of the most famous movie lines ever. Multiple versions of the novel have made their way onto the screen and I find her to be one of the most fascinating characters to watch. Starting with the most recent version (the best for last, perhaps), what follows is a look at the different interpretations of Carrie White and how their timing might have influenced how her story was told.
In 1999, Kimberly Peirce released her directorial debut BOYS DON’T CRY, a raw insight into the hate crime of Brandon James, a trans man who falls in love with a woman while living in a small town in Nebraska. The film was ground breaking, not hesitating to put on display a different kind of sexuality on screen viewers have now become used to. The film earned many accolades, including an Oscar for leading actress, Hilary Swank. Fast forward to 2013 and it’s announced that Peirce was directing a more faithful adaptation of CARRIE than that of Brian De Palma’s 1976 version.
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the final product ended up resembling more of the De Palma movie than the novel itself. It resembled it so much that the 1976 original screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen has a writing credit (hardcore fans will recognize much of the same dialogue in this remake). Carrie is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, familiar to genre fans for her other remakes LET ME IN and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The Moretz version is more or less the same as her powers manifest after her first period, but a self confidence seems to shine through as she discovers youtube videos of others with the same ability and tests herself with how far she can go. Played by Julianne Moore, Margaret White, Carrie’s mother, isn’t given much of a chance to be developed here. At no fault of the incredibly talented actress, Moore is simply given a script, not a character, and she does what she can as her scenes feel more like gimmicks to go through the motions viewers are familiar with. She cuts herself and tells us that these are Godless times, but she’s nowhere near as scary or intense as Piper Laurie. A significant highlight of this remake is Portia Doubleday as bully Chris Hargensen, here seen as a spoiled rich girl who has Daddy take care of any problems that fall in her way. Chris is given more of an update compared to the other characters as she films on her smartphone the girls throwing tampons at Carrie and uploads it online, providing evidence that assists in her suspension from both school and prom. The best scene in this version is without a doubt when Chris in confronted in the principal’s office by Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer in a surprisingly welcomed turn) to prove she wasn’t responsible for the locker room incident. All Chris has to do is provide her phone to show there is no such video, but Chris refuses, looking at her lawyer father for back up. “Isn’t this an invasion of privacy?” pleads the privileged American teen as so many of heard stories of money buying kids out of trouble, never learning the concept of consequences and responsibility.
Around the time of release of Peirce’s film, online bullying became a hot topic with the ever rising freedom of speech that comes with social media, sometimes leading to suicide, often with those of a young age. Chris is seen uploading the video without second thought, creating a fake profile in her mind of what answers Carrie would provide (Favorite Drink: Bloody Mary). She does this as she is unbuttoning her boyfriend’s jeans and about to simulate making out with one of her female friends. Her relationship with Billy Nolan is that of an equal partnership: she is a modern woman who can hold her own, not afraid of giving a pig it’s final gutting, pulling the rope that drops the bucket of blood onto Carrie, and ultimately encourages Billy to run Carrie to the ground in the end. After witnessing her friends getting killed at prom, Chris texts her father to come get her as she drives away from what she caused, still not finding in herself some kind of humanity. That moment finally reaches her after Carrie levitates her car, pausing for a moment for the two girls to look into each other’s eyes to face the fact that they are both monsters and blood is literally on their hands. Carrie slams the car into a gas station, forcing Chris’s face to burst through the windshield, destroying forever a once beautiful face that probably helped her get her way in life. The now mega famous Ansel Elgort provides a sweet charm to Tommy Doyle in that dumb jock who means well kind of way, but this version of CARRIE strongly belongs to Doubleday as Chris. A big issue with the movie is that many of the characters and plot devices have been updated (including a much bloodier prom sequence), but the White family feels stuck in time as if there was a confusion as to how to bring Carrie and Margaret into a new era. This version is far from bad. There are redeeming qualities and hints of what could have been, but ultimately CARRIE 2013 offers more of the same product.
In 2002, Bryan Fuller, creator of cult fave TV shows like DEAD LIKE ME and HANNIBAL, developed the idea of a potential television series version of CARRIE. To see how much of a demand there is, a backdoor pilot was produced in the form of a TV miniseries for NBC, casting genre favorite Angela Bettis in the lead role this time around. Known for her work with writer/director Lucky McKee, Bettis has a knack for bringing to life the most bizarre and awkward of characters to the screen so this role would seem like a great fit. My personal favorite film of hers is MAY, where a woman who has a difficult time connecting with the people around decides to take body parts from people she deems to be beautiful and create the perfect companion for herself. An excellent experiment in how one copes with society when you learn the concept of imperfection, MAY has always stayed with me as the highlight of Bettis career though I also admire her “Sick Girl” episode of MASTERS OF HORROR.
The miniseries version of CARRIE has the obstacle of being made for network television, before genre programming went mainstream and getting away with murder was legal for basic cable. All profanity, sexuality, and violence have been toned down for censorship purposes, stripping the material of any sense of real substance and instead giving the feeling of an after school special (especially with how Carrie’s first period is filmed). When Carrie’s powers come to light, she starts twitching and almost looking like she’s suffering from seizures. She’s more on edge when Tommy is slightly late to pick her up for prom.
There’s no argument that the miniseries is the most faithful version of King’s novel, but the pacing is extremely slow, cutting into the main story are interviews with a detective investigating the prom incident and what caused it. While much of the book features articles of the incident to help heighten the magnitude, here it feels like a completely different movie was cut into it. At the point of release, everyone watching knows what happened so the detective subplot feels more like filler to complete a movie that’s over two hours long (that’s not including the commercials when it aired!). The characters here feel way too vanilla, creating an impatient sense of urgency that we just want to get to prom sequence to watch everyone die.
To leave a window open for the TV show that never happened, Carrie survives at the end, giving her mother a heart attack and revived by Sue Snell. Sue ends up running away with Carrie, who has back to back nightmares for the sake of jump scares, but the possibilities feel uninteresting. One thing I admire about this version is the prom scene. Bettis gives an expression like that of a traumatized child, almost like she’s completely blacked out and not even realizing what she is doing. Walking out of the school, we witness the town being set on fire as Carrie makes her way home, really emphasizing how much damage she can really do. This version truly means well, but with censorship and an open ended conclusion, it’s not too memorable for those who aren’t already part of the built in fanbase.
In 1999, we got a sequel no one asked for with THE RAGE: CARRIE 2, a pseudo remake itself as it follows similar beats, but allows a continuation of the White story in an interesting way. I’m actually a fan of the sequel as it was reminiscent of recent scandals at the time and allowed those events to help explore a horror story that wouldn’t feel as effective without it. In 1993, the Spur Posse was a group of California high schoolers who encouraged each other to pursue sexual conquests, no matter the girls’ ages and kept a point system to keep track. Arrests were made, but not much consequence followed, leading to nationwide controversy.
In THE RAGE: CARRIE 2, the high school team keep a similar point system, breaking girls’ hearts, one of whom (played by a young Mena Suvari) ends up killing herself. Her suicide sparks a conversation at the school, especially from survivor of the original film, Sue Snell (Amy Irving reprising her role), who is now a guidance counselor. Suvari’s best friend is Rachel (Emily Bergl) who is in the foster care system due to her mother being diagnosed with schizophrenia, believing the devil has taken over her daughter. Rachel is aware of her power since she was little, but keeps it secret by managing her emotions. Sue notices her ability and learns that Rachel shares the same father as Carrie White and has inherited the power.
Like Peirce’s remake, THE RAGE places emphasis on the lack of consequences as it turns out Suvari was a victim of statutory rape and town politics allow the assailant to go free. The bullies here are much more elaborate as they actually go to great lengths to earn Rachel’s trust and thrust her in an incredibly mean prank involving a sex tape at a football party. Fortunately, this is the late 90s and advances of special effects give Rachel the power to exact some gruesome kills. I’ll never forget my excitement as a 13 year old in the theater when a character’s glasses explode, causing shards of glass to gouge out her eyes.
Bergl is excellent as Rachel, providing a wounded soul whose guard is up and rightfully so. Her foster parents are in it for the check and her only companion is her childhood dog who gets run over by a car in a devastating scene. As she lays dying at the end, she is surprised to see her mother running to hold her, but is abandoned once again, left crying “I don’t have anyone.” She is given a sense of hope when she dies knowing that someone out there did actually love her. Bergl gives Rachel an edge that doesn’t allow her to fit into one category and is allowed to showcase a multidimensional character who was under seen as THE RAGE was a box office bomb and immediately dismissed by critics.
Then, there’s 1976, the first of countless Stephen King adaptations is released. Not only is Brian De Palma’s film considered one of the best adaptations, but a classic in the overall world of film. Nominated for two Academy Awards, Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie give us the most memorable mother daughter relationship ever captured on film, one that shows that love bound by blood can be expressed in the most awful ways. Spacek’s Carrie is an innocent and soft spoken girl who is scared out of her mind when her first period arrives while showering after gym class. She straight up believes she is bleeding to death and the other girls laugh and throw tampons at her. After learning what a period actually is, Carrie looks embarrassed as she’s sent home from school to a mother who shames her for what she considers to be a sin. Carrie genuinely yearns for her mother’s affection, but is forced to her closet to pray for hours at a time. The pressures from home and school eventually lead to her infamous prom night and the rest is history.
The film doesn’t need much more explaining as if you’re reading this article then you’ve already seen it. It’s the other variations of Carrie’s story that have been seen less, not that it’s necessary, but I find them interesting as to what changes with each decade and what stays the same. CARRIE 1976 is the definitive version of the novel, unafraid to embrace a burgeoning sexuality from the darkest angles and the stubbornness of humanity that ends up costing several lives in Carrie’s story. Maybe it was the way Hollywood approached filmmaking at the time, but if CARRIE was brought to the screen now for the first time by De Palma, how far would he be allowed to reach? I wouldn’t be surprised if several years from now another version of her story is made and I’ll be there watching, even if I’m the only one