Carrie White returns to theaters this weekend in Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror classic, for the third adaptation of Stephen King’s novel – and the fourth film that has been spawned from the book, over the years.

While we sit back and wait for the pig’s blood to fall and for Carrie to once again exact her bloody revenge, it seems only fitting that we head into the weekend by looking back on the previous three films that have had the Carrie title attached to them – De Palma’s, the 1999 sequel and 2002’s television adaptation.  Consider this a quick little refresher course, to get you in the mood for this weekend’s fourth dose of telekinetic mayhem!

carrie1

Though many of Stephen King’s stories and novels have been adapted into films and mini-series’ over the years, Carrie was actually the first one to get a feature film adaptation – fitting, considering Carrie was also King’s very first published novel.  Inspired by events and people in his life, King wrote the book while living in a small trailer with his wife, having no idea that the “poor little girl with menstrual problems” (King’s own words) would be his ticket to stardom.  Thanks to the money made from the sale of the book, King was able to quit his teaching job, and the rest is of course literary history.

The genesis of Carrie began in college, where King worked one summer as a janitor.  One day he was tasked with cleaning the rust-stains off the walls in the girls’ shower, taking note of metal boxes on the tile walls that housed tampons.  Years later he was struck with this memory, and he began dreaming up a story about a young girl who has her period in a school shower stall, and thinks she’s bleeding to death.  The other girls begin teasing her, and she fights back.  Only, at this point in time, King had no idea how the girl would go about getting her revenge.

And then he remembered a story he read in Life magazine years prior, about telekinesis.  The article stated that the people most likely to have telekinetic abilities were girls in early adolescence… right around the time of their first period.  Bingo.  It was all the inspiration King needed for the story – combining two unrelated ideas and turning them into high school horror gold.

carrie2

Just two years after the novel was published, Hollywood came calling.  Written by Lawrence D. Cohen and directed by Brian De Palma, the first feature film adaptation of King’s novel starred Sissy Spacek as the title character – a young girl who is bullied at school and tormented at home, to the point that she finally unleashes the full power of her telekinetic fury on prom night, killing everyone in sight and burning the building to the ground.  One of the few horror films that has ever been recognized at the Academy Awards, De Palma’s critically acclaimed adaptation was nominated for two Oscars, and is widely considered to be one of the very best horror films ever made.

Carrie is indeed a masterpiece of horror, an utterly compelling story that is brought to life by two of the finest performances in the history of the genre – courtesy of Spacek and Piper Laurie, who plays her overbearing and abusive religious zealot of a mother.  Remember how I mentioned that the film was nominated for two Academy Awards?  Well the nominations it nabbed were not surprisingly for Best Leading Actress and Best Supporting Actress – both Spacek and Laurie being recognized at the 1977 ceremony.

Quite frankly, though I am a huge fan of the film, I think the Academy got it right that year, by nominating those two rather than the movie itself.  Especially looking back on it nowadays, I must agree with something King said about the film in an interview a couple years back – it’s quite dated, when watched in the present day.  It’s also fairly corny at times, with some odd musical and editing choices, and the pacing of the film is all around a little off.  Though book-ended by incredible opening and ending sequences, the bulk of the film is a bit rushed, and I can’t help but wish that more time had been spent on better explaining character motivations, which would’ve made the horrifying ending all the more effective.  But again, I’d have to attribute most of the issues of the film to the fact that it was made so long ago, which makes it a bit unfair to criticize it and hold it up to today’s standards.

That said, if there’s anything about the film that is completely timeless, it’s again the performances from Spacek and Laurie.  Though King didn’t need actresses for his written story to be compelling, De Palma of course did, and I have to credit the large majority of the film’s effectiveness to the strength of what those two ladies brought to the table.  Spacek was perhaps the perfect choice to play Carrie White, turning the written words on the page into one of the most enthralling, relatable and iconic movie characters of all time.  As for Laurie, I can’t really think of any horror villain who is more frightening than her Margaret White.  She may not have a hockey mask or wield a machete, but Laurie’s performance as Carrie’s mother is absolutely bone chilling, as effective today as it ever was.

Before Friday the 13th came along and turned the genre into a showcase of blood and guts (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), the 1970s were rife with horror movies that focused on story, characters and performances, and Carrie is in my opinion one of the best that came along in the decade that left us with so many classics of the genre.  Sure, it may be a bit dated nowadays, but it’s still one of the best horror stories that’s ever been told.  Which is precisely why it’s been told so many times, over the years…

rage

In the late 1990s, someone who is clearly terrible at coming up with ideas came up with the idea of making a sequel to De Palma’s film, 23 years after its release.  How do you make a sequel to a film that ended with the deaths of pretty much every character in it – including the one who the film was named after?  Well, this is the horror genre we’re talking about, so somebody was bound to find a way.

The Rage: Carrie 2 was released in 1999, a sequel that can be summed up and reviewed in a single word; desperate.  Or pointless.  Or terrible.  Tenuously connected to the events of Carrie, The Rage centers around a new character name Rachel, who has both a crazy mother and telekinetic abilities.  Oh, and guess what?  She just so happens to be the daughter of the same man who fathered Carrie – that dude that was mentioned but never seen in the original film.  And that right there is how you make a sequel to a film that should never have a sequel.  Take notes, Hollywood!

Directed by Katt Shea, The Rage follows pretty much the same storyline from Carrie, only updated for the 90s – in that sense, it’s really more of a remake than it even is a sequel.  Rachel is a goth teen who nobody in school really likes.  After the suicide of her best friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) – who killed herself because one of the popular jocks (Brad from Home Improvement!) had sex with her under the pretense that he really liked her – Rachel finds herself falling for Jesse (Jason London), another popular jock who seems to genuinely be into her.  Only problem is, Jesse’s jock friends don’t like her nearly as much as Jesse does, and they plan on showing it at a big post-football game party that the film is building up to.  They lead her to the party by pretending they like her, and I think you can figure out where things go from there.

The horror genre has seen a whole lot of unnecessary sequels over the years, and they don’t get much more unnecessary than Carrie 2.  In fact, it’s hard to even consider The Rage a sequel to Carrie, because it’s really just a bad high school drama about a telekinetic goth girl – with crow-barred in references and flashbacks to Carrie, in a desperate attempt to make it feel like it’s a part of a film we all know and love.  It’s quite frankly a disgrace that the film even has the name Carrie attached to it – a disgrace to the words Stephen King wrote and the film Brian De Palma made, back in the 70s.  If it were simply titled The Rage, this would merely be a bad movie.  But with the sub-title Carrie 2 tacked onto it, it’s a downright embarrassment.

The story is crap, the writing is crap, and the characters are all completely uninteresting and unengaging, including Rachel – actress Emily Bergl does a decent job, it’s the writing that’s mostly to blame.  The plot is all around a complete mess, pointless nonsensical scenes slapped together to bring all the characters together for the finale, so that Rachel can get her Carrie on.  Since the buildup isn’t engaging or effective in the least – we never get to know Rachel too well or really feel for her – even the finale fizzles and bores, despite some admittedly impressive moments of over the top gore.

I’m the kind of horror fan who tries to find the good in every movie I watch, no matter how bad it is, and if there’s anything even remotely interesting about this movie it’s that they managed to convince Amy Irving to come back, and reprise her role from Carrie.   Now 23 years later, Sue Snell is a school guidance counselor, a career path that makes total sense given the events of Carrie.  Snell spends the majority of the film trying to atone for her sins by saving Rachel’s life the way she couldn’t save Carrie’s, and I must admit that it was kind of cool to see her back – reprising one of her most famous roles, so many years later.

Unfortunately, though Irving tries her best to bring some legitimacy to the movie’s ridiculous storylines, even she can’t overcome the terrible material she’s given.  In one particularly bewildering scene, Snell takes Rachel to the rubble of the high school that burnt down at the end of Carrie, as a way of showing her what happened to her former classmate.  It’s a scene that sounds kind of cool on paper, considering it’s always fun to see sequels return to iconic locations we all know, but the execution is piss poor given the fact that the majority of the structure of the school and all of the rubble is still standing in the exact spot it was left, as if the events of The Rage take place the day after the events of Carrie.  23 years later, and nobody ever bothered to clean the rubble up, or demolish the building?  Did they decide it was a better idea to just leave it as is, so that all the parents of the dead children could be reminded of the tragedy whenever they pass by it?

It may sound like I’m nitpicking one particular scene here but the fact of the matter is that this scene is a perfect reflection of the silliness and terrible writing that’s on display in every single scene of the movie.  Gone is anything and everything Carrie had going for it, leaving behind a modern day carbon copy that tries desperately to recapture some of the magic, but fails miserably on every level.  The 90s aren’t exactly known as being a good time for horror cinema, and it’s thanks to movies like The Rage: Carrie 2 that the entire decade is looked down upon by most fans.

So a sequel didn’t work.  How about a remake?!

carrie3

Written by Bryan Fuller, 2002’s made for TV remake of Carrie aired exactly 26 years and one day after the release of the original film.  Running over two hours long, the movie was supposed to serve as the jumping off point for a television spin-off, where Carrie and Sue Snell were apparently set to go on a road trip and help others with telekinetic abilities.  A silly idea, for sure, one that was tossed out the window after the poor ratings and reception of the movie.

Remember Gus Van Sant’s pointless remake of Psycho from 1998, which was basically a shot-by-shot recreation of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, only with different actors playing the iconic roles?  Well that’s pretty much what this hunk of junk was… except even worse.  Save for a few minor additions and changes – the biggest of which is the fact that the film begins several days after prom night, Sue Snell and the other surviving students relaying the events to detectives – Carrie 2002 is essentially a moment by moment recreation of De Palma’s film… done by Syfy – terrible CGI and all.  Why anyone would want to remake a classic, and not only bring nothing new to the table but also do it a whole lot worse than it had already been done, is totally mind boggling to me.

That being said, there is one element of the movie that makes the 2+ hour runtime somewhat endurable…

Have you ever watched a really bad movie that has one actor in it that rises high above the material, and shines through like a big bright star?  Well this is one of those movies, and Angela Bettis is that actress.  If you’ve ever seen May, you’ll know that it was a brilliant stroke of genius to cast Bettis as Carrie White – a character that likely would’ve been BFFs with May Canady.  Carrie is perhaps the role Bettis was born to play, and she’s brilliantly awkward in it, despite the fact that the material just isn’t very good.  Giving Sissy Spacek an admirable run for her money, Bettis is incredibly entertaining and mesmerizing to watch (as she always is), her performance being the one saving grace of the entire movie.  I think it’s safe to say I would’ve fallen asleep about 15 minutes into the movie when I revisited it last night, if it weren’t for Bettis.

Aside from her, the movie really doesn’t have much going for it.  There is an attempt to correct the rushed feeling of the original film, by delving more into Carrie’s school life and digging a tad bit deeper into character motivations, but it’s all just so boring that I can hardly say they did a good job of adding more depth to the story.  On top of that, the additional focus on Carrie’s torment at school leaves little room for any focus on her home life – her abuse at the hands of her mother essentially being treated as an afterthought.

Patricia Clarkson’s Margaret White is barely seen throughout the movie, and when she is, she’s more a sad figure than a frightening or imposing one.  I’ve always liked Clarkson, and she does a decent enough job in the role, it’s just that she’s never really given much to do.  I guess they felt the high school stuff would more appeal to younger audiences, which is why Carrie’s home life was put on the back burner.  I get it, I suppose, but that aspect is such an important one to the overall story, and the film definitely suffers without it.

But really, what it all boils down to is that this remake is just totally pointless.  We’ve seen it all before, and we’ve seen it all done a whole lot better before, so what’s the point?  Again, the original plan was to turn Carrie into a TV series, so this remake is basically nothing more than a slapped together pilot episode, going through the motions of De Palma’s film in order to get everyone up to speed.  It’s as bad as you’d by all means expect a made for TV remake to be, so I don’t feel the need to rag on it any further.

carrie5

Revisiting these three movies this week, I came to a realization; considering the original film is dated nowadays, and the first attempt at a remake was so half-assed, I’m feeling like Carrie is one horror movie that actually could benefit from another go at it.  It’s a terrific and timeless story, and I can only hope that Carrie 2013 not only tells it well, but also breathes new life into it by bringing something a little different to the table.  Given the talent involved – both cast and director – I’ve got high hopes for this one, and I look forward to taking Carrie to the prom one more time!