Carrie (TV Version)

You’re all going to laugh at it
★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2002
Director: 
David Carson
Starring: 
Angela Bettis, Patricia Clarkson, Rena Sofer, Kandyse McClure, Emilie de Ravin
The Setup: 
Girl with telekinetic powers is made fun of by her peers, so she fries them all.
Discussion: 

Sometimes one has the urge to remake a movie, thinking about how much better one could make it or how one could bring it into focus, but in many cases you realize that the impulse to remake it is really just a wish to pay homage to the original movie. There are certain movies [and songs] that are just so absolutely perfect as they are that there would be no point in remaking them—if you did, you would end up with just a replica of the original film [like the Gus Van Sant Psycho], as again and again one would decide that the original dialogue, shots, music, etc. are as perfect as they could possibly be.

For me one of those movies is the Brian De Palma Carrie. I am a huge fan, and even though I has heard that this remake for NBC is terrible, I wanted to see it anyway just to compare and see what was different [or the same] from the De Palma version.

The short answer: everything that is good about this version is lifted directly from the De Palma version. Everything else falls flat. The movie divides into 4 categories: 1) Scenes from the book that were left out of the De Palma version, 2) Scenes and shots duplicated exactly from the De Palma version, 3) scenes and shots self-consciously attempting to be different from the De Palma version, and 4) the new ending. Are you getting the impression that this film has a hard time justifying its existence when we already have the De Palma version? You’re getting the right impression. I can’t figure out for the life of me why this film exists at all.

Oh, and if you watched the De Palma version and said to yourself; “Eh, this is alright, but you know, I think what it REALLY needs is a ton of superfluous shitty CGI,” well, step right up.

The movie opens with Sue Snell [now African-American, but still looking remarkably like Amy Irving] being interrogated by the police. I never read the book, just thumbed read the final pages one day at a Barnes & Noble, but enough to know that this framing device is taken from the book. It doesn’t exactly pan out, as we are often watching scenes that Sue couldn’t possibly know about. We then have a pan across a classroom of girls that mirrors the camera move through the locker room that opens the previous version. There’s some tepid harassment of Carrie, something else, and then we’re on to the shower scene, with a repeat of the pan across the locker room. The footage of Carrie discovering her period is a virtual shot-for-shot recreation. It all follows quite closely [as apparently the first film closely followed the book], though the first clue we get that this film is going to amp up all of Carrie’s powers is when the shower lightbulb explodes with a ludicrous burst of sparks.

But everything here is amped-up, because lightbulbs that simply pop just aren’t exciting enough, are they? In this version, after the principal bungles Carrie’s name to a ridiculous degree, she doesn’t just flip an ashtray, she moves the huge desk 3 feet across the floor [though later the gym teacher says it was five inches]. Similarly, it’s just not enough anymore to knock over the kid on the bike anymore, you have to X-treme sport jump him into a tree. One of the myriad ways in which watching this film makes you appreciate the first one all the more is for its restraint. I don’t know, I found the ordinariness of the light bulb’s simple pop to be much more chilling that the obviously fake shower of sparks created here. It also helped give the impression that Carrie was just discovering her powers and could not control them—and also that her powers were weaker. In this film, she is very, very powerful, and her powers have been around for a long time, but she seems to have even less control over them. This is fine, it’s different, but one of the drawbacks of this is that it makes Carrie a threatening force from the start, whereas in the De Palma version, where she appears more helpless and vulnerable, we are able to have a lot more sympathy for her.

Also cranked up to eleven is Angela Bettis as Carrie. First of all, she was 27 when this was filmed, and it shows. Big time. Next, her appearance is ridiculously made up to look like a stereotypical outcast—all bangs in her eyes and upward glares with head bent forward [when was it decided that “angry intensity” MEANT glaring upward through your eyebrows while bending your head forward?]. She’s also almost always twitching or shaking and utterly catatonic, perhaps closer to the book, but making her come off as someone not interested in fitting in [as we are told that she does, more than anyone]. Also, for someone who reads Teen Chic magazine, she has appropriated shockingly few style and hygiene tips. And the reason for all this is just to make her seem all the more freaky. Contrast this to Sissy Spacek’s performance, in which you could sense her ardent desire to fit in and be liked, her fear and distrust of the other students… just so much going on in her mind that simply isn’t here. What all those things accomplished is to give the audience a way into her character, and to really care for and root for her, which is in large part responsible for the emotional heft of the ending. What happens here has no emotional resonance whatsoever.

The movie includes a flashback [originally shot, but ultimately deleted from the De Palma version] in which a beating from her mother results in Carrie bringing down a hail of stones. This is realized here as a full-on Armageddon-style meteor shower, because goll-darn it, regular stones just aren’t exciting enough!

The rest of the movie proceeds apace. It takes forever to develop the opening scenes, it skips nearly everything that made up the middle of the De Palma version, and with more than an hour left to go, it’s already prom night. This leaves out the girls’ detention, Tommy and friends shopping for tuxedos, and the gym teacher’s relationship with Carrie [in this version, Sue Snell helps her experiment with makeup]. This also leaves out a lot of the emotional resonance to each of these characters that the earlier movie had.

When I saw that Patricia Clarkson would be playing Carrie’s mother, I though “Ooh, this should be really interesting.” Suffice to say, I have never seen Patricia Clarkson be mediocre until now. I don’t mind that she has considerably less histrionic, but she just doesn’t seem scary. She doesn’t even really seem crazy. The other actors also fare poorly. Sue Snell is now model-level gorgeous, which in this case with corresponds with a commensurate drop in acting ability. Emilie de Ravin as Chris actually survives fairly well, and her character gets a lot more time here than she did in the previous version. However, she just can’t convey the id-driven sex-vixen vindictiveness of Nancy Allen. Rena Sofer as the gym teacher is also just WAY too beautiful for her role, to the point where it all becomes a bit ridiculous. There are a lot of moments where the dialogue matches the De Palma version word for word [maybe it’s all from the book?], and at those times you really are just watching a poorly made replica of the first film.

So before you know it we’re at the prom, where many of the most beloved elements from the first film are sorely missed. Since we don’t have much of an emotional connection to Carrie, we are not really involved in her struggle to overcome her fears and try to have a good time. For the same reason, we can have no sense that Tommy Ross may be genuinely coming to like her and be moved by her. Here, when Carrie and Tommy slow dance, there is no “I Never Dreamed Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me,” a beautiful song in its own right and a wonderful advancement of the movie’s themes. To compare, part of that song went: “So come on, let’s dance. Let me have you while I have the chance... because there’s another world, where you have other girls, but tonight there’s only me. And I can’t believe someone like you could love someone like me.” Here the equivalent song goes: “All my life I’ve been waiting for someone like you, and it’s driving me crazy, I don’t know what to do. The time is now, I don’t want to wait.” To top off that compendium of clichés, it sounds like it was sung by the A-Teens or something. There are a shocking amount of shitty teen songs in this version. Because hey, teens MEAN shitty pop, right? I mean, what if in what shot you showed a teenage and you WEREN’T playing shitty pop? How would anyone know what to think?

There is also no heartbreaking slow-motion walk up to the stage after Carrie’s name is called, pulled off so beautifully by Sissy Spacek in the original, and there certainly is no expertly choreographed and edited purely visual build-up to the dumping of the blood, which is one of the most amazing parts of the De Palma film. There are a few references to it, and a few shots that mimic shots and sequences from the first film [including a CGI bucket of blood above the stage—what, it is now too difficult to film a bucket of blood?], and then, when the blood is dropped, about 24 gallons spews down for an unending amount of time… pretty amazing they could fit all that in that tiny bucket. DO FILMMAKERS NOT REALIZE THAT THIS FUDGING OF DETAILS BETRAYS THEIR ENTIRE MOVIE?

It goes on. You can be assured that there’s no split screen. OH! And in this version they DON’T UNDERSTAND that the kids aren’t REALLY laughing at Carrie, she just FEELS like they are, which I thought was made fairly clear in the De Palma version. Bettis not only can’t convey Carrie’s horror at the stunt, she is utterly unable to create the creepily iconic figure Spacek became in the first film. Below you will see an example of one of the shots I mentioned earlier, in which they want to replicate a shot from the original film [left], but are self-conscious enough about it to try to find a corollary shot in the remake [right].

There are a few times during this film when you are likely to punch yourself in the face to divert your attention from the pain the movie is causing. One instance is when the girls are making fun of Carrie and we scan across an evolution chart—BACKWARDS! I think you’ll agree that such scathing and subtle social commentary is a rarity on network television these days. And bitch please—as THOUGH evolution is taught in schools anymore. Other instances are the many jump cuts on display.

Please help us strike back against jump cut abuse, a silent epidemic that has claimed far too many cheesy thrillers.

Now, some spoilers. But let me tell you, these will only be spoilers if you’ve never seen the original, or if you REALLY want to know what happens in this version. In all humility, let me advise you that you will probably get a lot more enjoyment out of reading this summary than sitting through this movie. But, you decide. SPOILERS > > >  There are a few differences in the prom sequence. Most of the kids are electrocuted instead of burnt to death. The gym teacher lives! In retrospect, Ms. Collin’s death was one of the most wrenching and thought-provoking things about the De Palma version. Then Carrie goes on a rampage and destroys the entire town! And it is SHOCKING how ineffective it is! Then Carrie goes home and her mother tries to drown her in her bath [in a scene that is neither scary nor compelling], and Carrie stops her mother’s heart [I think that’s straight from the book].

THEN, ladies and gentlemen, Sue Snell shows up [remember, they’re best friends now], and REVIVES CARRIE. That’s right, CARRIE LIVES!!!! Carrie then GOES INCOGNITO in this crazy punk wig that makes her look like Julia Roberts in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and she skips town to start a new life! And you start to think “What, is this going to be the start of a series? Like she’s going to go from town to town and solve crimes with her telekinetic abilities? She’s going to help helpless little girls find their deadbeat dads and save the local roller rink? She’s going to hook up with another “outcast” with stubble, fab wardrobe and a six-pack and open a bed and breakfast OR FUCKING WHAT?!?!?!”

Then you would look at the IMDb and see that YES, some bright, bright enterprising mind of today was going to turn CARRIE into a television series. But you know how it is, the slobs of today don’t want thought-provoking television, they just want to be spoon-fed pap. Curse the masses. < < < SPOILERS END.

Watching this film gives you that queasy, embarrassed feeling of watching a community theater version of Shakespeare or something. Really, the only reason to watch this is to love the Brian De Palma Carrie all the more. Its economy [it’s 40 minutes shorter and has 12 times the impact], its technique, its structure and construction, its writing, and its emotional resonance are all thrown into sharp relief.

We’re all sorry, Cassie.

Should you watch it: 

Only if you love the De Palma version and you want to appreciate it more. Do NOT let anyone who hasn’t watched the De Palma version watch this one first.

RELATED MOVIES:

CARRIE is the De Palma original and though it varies from the book, its changes make it much more efficient and emotionally devastating.
THE RAGE: CARRIE II is almost a straight remake of the first, though without the quality, but with a very nice performance by Emily Bergyl. Looks like fucking Citizen Kane next to this version, though.