Why CARRIE Still Captivates

Published on October 19, 2012 by   ·   2 Comments

000000000 Carrie OriginalOne of my favorite things about Halloween approaching is that more and more scary movies start popping up: on cable, on Netflix, in cheap DVD displays in all the big box stores.  Halloween isn’t just about costumes and drag shows and frolicking after dark (though those are all good too!), but it’s also about the dark and shadowy places many of us try to forget about during the other 11 months of the year.  But October rolls around and all of our cinematic nightmares return; what can I say, I’m a girl who loves a good scare.

One of my favorite frights is Stephen King’s Carrie.  The 1976 movie was perfectly cast: Sissy Spacek shines as shy outsider Carrie White, bullied by all of the popular girls and oppressed by her religious fanatic of a mother (played to perfection by Piper Laurie).  If you haven’t seen the movie, you certainly should, especially since a remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie is set to hit theaters this coming March.  Despite some rather questionable fashion trends on display, the film has aged very well and is still creepy and atmospheric.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine a better adaptation of King’s masterpiece.

So why try?  King himself asked this question when he heard about the remake.  After all, Spacek and Laurie’s mother and daughter performances are legendary in the horror world, and the film has remained a favorite among fright fans for more than 30 years.  What could a remake possibly bring to the table that would allow it to compete with the original?

I was initially skeptical that this film would be anything other than an attempt for a movie studio to cash in of a slick remake of a tried-and-true favorite, but I was interested when I read articles claiming that this movie would attempt to be a more faithful recreation of King’s novel.  This combined with the fact that the movie was being helmed by Kimberly Peirce, director of Boys Don’t Cry, made me curious to see what could be done.  After all, I’ve always thought that King’s early novel is easily one of his best: it’s the most concise and tightly plotted book he’s ever written, and Carrie emerges as a truly complex and ultimately tragic character.  Perhaps this adaptation will create a personification of Carrie that is closer to the original work.

000000000 Carrie SpacekDon’t get me wrong: as I said before, Spacek is wonderful as Carrie, but her portrayal is actually quite different from how Carrie acts in King’s novel.  In the film, Carrie is meek and quiet, truly a victim of the popular girls and their bullying.  What’s missing in her portrayal that the novel’s Carrie has in spades is rage.  The Carrie in King’s novel feels the torment of her peers acutely, and her rage at her victimization is palpable.  Spacek’s Carrie is someone who is just pushed to the breaking point: when the pig blood is dumped on her at the prom, she snaps and uses her telekinetic powers to exact immediate and terrible revenge on not only those directly responsible, but on everyone in sight.  King’s Carrie is much more in control of her vengeance: after being humiliated at the prom, she leaves the gym humiliated and returns shortly after to exact her revenge.  In the novel, her revenge is a conscious act: she leaves, but makes the decision to return and make her classmates pay for what they have put her through.  She may have gone mad, but she is much more in control of her decisions than the Carrie in the film.  In fact, in an earlier scene in the book, Carrie is lifting a heavy dresser in her room and realizes that she could hurt people, if she chose to.  And when she suffers that humiliation at the prom, after opening up and believing that Tommy Ross might be sincere in his desire to take her to the prom, she does choose to.  She locks the door and starts the gym on fire and watches as people begin to die.  Carrie’s final confrontation with her mother is also quite different.  The film version is cinematically appealing but reinforces Carrie’s place as victim: Margaret White looms over Carrie with a knife, a crazed delight illuminating her face as she attempts to destroy the sin she imagines she has brought into the world.  Carrie once again is not in control but rather is wounded and terrified, and uses hew power to hurl knives at her mother, pinning her to a doorway in the same posture as the Jesus that decorates the crucifix in the closet where she often locks her daughter to repent her sins.  The book’s version is much more intimate and creepy: when Margaret confronts Carrie with the knife, Carrie uses her power first to stop her mother’s attack and then to make her mother’s heart slow and eventually stop.  All the while, she is talking to her mother, telling her what she is doing.  She wants her mother to know, wants her to feel the terror of her impending death the same way that Carrie felt the years of torment and abuse at her mother’s hands.

000000000 Carrie RemakeIt’s no wonder that Carrie still has meaning for modern audiences who live in a world that has finally recognized the problem of bullying, but hasn’t necessarily made great strides toward addressing it.  In fact, I remember Carrie being rereleased in October of 1999, 6 months after the horrific shooting at Columbine High School.  The book had a new cover that looked a lot like the covers of young adult novels popular at the time, and included a new introduction from King himself.  In his introduction, he relates the story of two girls he remembered from his own school days who were tormented and bullied; he said that in creating Carrie White, he wanted to give those girls the means with which to fight back against their tormentors.  Then he followed that scenario to its tragic end.  It doesn’t excuse Carrie’s actions; it doesn’t make it ok.  It is clear that Carrie is out of control as she exacts her revenge on an entire town.  But what it does do is let us see inside Carrie’s mind, understand how years of torment without any compassion from friend or family lead her to a place where she could unleash her rage in such a horrific way.

Producers gave fan’s at NY Comic Con a “first look” at the new film this month, and buzz on the internet seems to be generally positive.  The Panel at Comic Con included stars Moretz and Julianne Moore (who will play Carrie’s mother) and director Peirce, and while all showered the original film with praise they also noted that this version would present a new version of Carrie White, one which many fans assume will be closer to the Carrie of King’s novel.  The trailer also seems to indicate that the film will place greater emphasis on the aftermath of Carrie’s breakdown and its effect on the entire town.  I for one hope to see a new side to the tragic Carrie White and I’m optimistic: though Peirce is not a prolific director, she has shown through her most famous work, Boys Don’t Cry, that she has a deft hand understanding those who experience mistreatment and violence at the hands of the others.  And whichever Carrie ends up being your favorite (Sissy Spacek, Chloe Grace Moretz, or King’s literary creation), it is clear that Carrie White will continue to captivate moviegoers and fright fans for years to come.

For more about the new remake, visit http://YouWillKnowHerName.com and be sure to watch the new trailer below if you haven’t already seen it.

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Readers Comments (2)
  1. Joe Chinatown says:

    Janessa, thank you for such a great article about a modern monster but one built by the events of terrifying bullying. You wrote about Carrie from a perspective that is oft forgotten. “I’m still out there,” Carrie would say if we saw her today, on a bus somewhere in a city. It would probably take 10 minutes for everyone to notice her blood soaked self due to the smartphone zombie hypnosis that causes all to disengage with the world. Eventually, they would see her and clear out the bus, screaming. Carrie would just wink. 😉

    • JanessaJaye says:

      I’m so glad you liked it. I still think this is King’s best book – it’s the tightest in terms of editing and it is absolutely frightening in what it implies! :)

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