From time to time, Classic Horrors will feature movies released after 1978 when they have a direct connection to those released before 1978. Beginning in May, 2010, until it expanded its content to include more than just the horror genre as Boom Howdy.com, I wrote a column for Downright Creepy.com called “Remake Rewind.” With permission of Boom Howdy, we present a version of one of these posts…
1976 was a good year for horror. I was at the perfect age when “everyone” in junior high went to a movie on Friday night, usually at the Esquire Theater in my home town of Enid, Oklahoma. For me, the experience continued a few months later when a movie would appear on HBO, I would record it with the family Betamax and then watch it over and over again. This cycle occurred with two horror movies that year which have since become lifelong favorites: The Omen and Carrie.
I sometimes cringe when I hear one of the “classics” is being remade. But when I stop to realize my age and the fact that Carrie, for example, was released almost 40 years ago and there’s an entire generation that has never seen it, I try to buy the sadness deep inside me and muster an open mind.
I have nearly forgotten that the 2006 version of The Omen exists. It was produced during a writer’s strike in Hollywood with the original shooting script, which made it (as I recall) a nearly word-for-word remake of the original movie. That was blasphemous, because if you’re going to remake a movie, you should at least update it for the era in which it’s being made.
This is where the new version of Carrie, postponed from its original release date but eventually delivered in time for Halloween 2013, succeeds in surprising and satisfying ways. It’s based largely on the original screenplay and, in fact, is credited in part to the original writer, Lawrence D. Cohen. However, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has tweaked it, not just for the sake of updating it, but also in ways that are subtly meaningful. The result is a movie that’s familiar, but also absolutely relevant to the times in which we live.
What has been more relevant the last couple of years than bullying? And who is a more perfect poster child for bullying than Carrie White? Whether you’ve read Stephen King’s book or seen the 1976 movie by Brian DePalma, you’re probably familiar with the story. As high school student Carrie belatedly “becomes a woman” (and is ridiculed for her reaction), she discovers that she’s also developing telekinetic powers. In all versions of the story, the first part is really nothing other than build-up to an extended set piece in which Carrie exacts her revenge.
One of the biggest differences in remakes is that in the 2000s, everyone has computers and cell phones. In Carrie, they exist not only to show that we’re no longer in 1976, but also to show that in this day and age, you don’t just bully your victim by laughing and calling them names, you also film it with your mobile device and post it on YouTube. That’s the kind of subtle relevant tweaking to which I refer.
Aguirre-Sacasa’s screenplay and Kimberly Peirce’s (Boys Don’t Cry) direction does this throughout their version of Carrie. While the 1976 original holds up pretty well today, there are inevitably some lines that make you groan. The 2013 remake feels entirely authentic. It even “corrects” a couple of mistakes from the original in scenes that are similar.
For example, it always bothered me that when Carrie is locked in “her closet” in the original, she suddenly exits a few hours later and creeps up on her mother at her sewing machine. How did she get out? I know, I know, she has telekinesis; she could have slid the lock with her mind. But we don’t see that happening. In the remake, her mother goes to the closet door and unlocks it. It makes more sense at that point in the story.
(Also, and please remember I’ve seen the original many times, it has always bothered me that Tommy Ross tells the coach that taking Carrie to the prom is “between Sue and I”. Of course, it should be “between Sue and ME”. Aguirre-Sacasa and Peirce correct this grammatical error in their version.)
What are the more significant differences in the two versions of Carrie? Well, they lie primarily with the actors and the approaches they take to the characters. In 1976, Sissy Spacek was a little old (mid-20s) to play a girl in high school. Nevertheless, she delivered a heartbreaking performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination. Sorry, there’ll be no such accolades for Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s more age-appropriate (as is the entire cast); however, she doesn’t come close to expressing the loneliness and sadness of Carrie White.
On the other hand, she is more joyful while discovering her powers. Throughout the original Carrie, Spacek seemed more a victim; her powers were out of her control. In the remake, Moretz seems more purposeful in testing her powers and, therefore, more responsible for the eventual revenge and destruction. For example, in the original, Carrie has a mental outburst that breaks a mirror in her house. This surprises her. In the remake, Carrie has a mental outburst that breaks a mirror in the school bathroom. This surprises her; however, she takes the additional opportunity to “play” with her powers, raising the pieces and gleefully floating them in the air.
That is one of the subtle difference to which I again refer. It’s more obvious during the mayhem at the prom. In the original, Carrie seemed in a trance. She stood wide-eyed and frozen, jerkily turning her head to initiate general destruction. In the remake, Carrie is more alert. She gracefully moves her arms like a puppeteer to initiate specific destruction directed at specific victims. (And, in a wonderful embellishment, she even floats off the stage into the chaos.)
The other major character is Margaret White, Carrie’s mother. In 1976, Piper Laurie also received an Oscar nomination. Her performance was over the top. She was clearly a religious zealot who fervently controlled Carrie’s life. Julianne Moore takes a much more subdued approach. In a new prologue to the story, we experience Carrie’s birth and gain a little insight into why Mrs. White is like she is. But the mental issues of Mrs. White are more prominent than the religious issues; she’s a cutter who speaks more frequently of her own sin than her daughter’s.
The problem with this difference is that Mrs. White appears more pathetic than threatening. She still deserves what she gets, but it’s not nearly as impactful. At the same time, we don’t feel much compassion for her, and that’s problematic.
The other actors offer appropriate updates to their characters. Gabriella Wilde fills in for Amy Irving as the only girl sympathetic to Carrie, Sue Snell. Alex Russell swings the pig-killing sledgehammer of John Travolta’s Billy Nolan. Ansel Elgort wears the tuxedo of William Katt. And Judy Greer waffles in her sympathy for Carrie as Coach Desjardin, in place of Betty Buckley as Coach Collins.
The only weak link is Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen. Nancy Allen played Chris in the original as a mustache-twirling villain with no redeeming qualities. Doubleday instead gives her an inconsistent vulnerability. Her ultimate fate is the same as the original, but it’s less rewarding in the remake. I understand wanting to make the character more sympathetic, but the movie doesn’t go far enough in doing so.
Besides the aforementioned prologue being new to the movie version of Carrie, the climax now includes elements from Stephen King’s novel that I assume were simply un-filmable in 1976. These include a more complete destruction of the entire town, not just the high school gymnasium, and the destruction of Carrie’s house, not just by the original’s implosion and sinking into the ground, but by the falling of rocks from the sky.
Finally, the elephant in the room… Carrie (1976) was a stylistic masterpiece, using slow-motion, split screen and an overbearing score by Pino Donnagio. Carrie (2013) is not. Slow-motion is used in brief reaction shots of Carrie herself, but never a larger group of characters. There’s no split screen (nor should there be), but we do see the dramatic moment of the bucket pouring blood at least four times. And the score by Marco Beltrami is barely noticeable.
I happen to adore the cinematic trickery of Brian DePalma. (I even wrote a high school research paper comparing him to Alfred Hitchcock, a fact of which I suppose I shouldn’t be proud.) I love the technical manipulation used to generate suspense. The remake relies more on substance. For me, it’s just not as effective. For today’s generation, it may be. I’m very curious to see how the junior high crowd takes to it and how that is reflected in box office dollars. Whatever the case, I can’t imagine it’s a movie from which anyone could receive as much joy over the years as I’ve received from watching the original Carrie.
Carrie (1976) = 9 (out of 10)
Carrie (2013) = 7 (out of 10)