Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Second Comings: A Tale of Two Carries

by Alejandra Gonzalez
As a faithful fan of both horror and Brian De Palma, it was only a natural reaction for me to fall deeply in love with the 1976 adaption of the Stephen King novel Carrie. After having become so fond of the beloved horror classic, it was also a natural reaction for me to have been highly anticipating its remake (directed by Kimberly Peirce) when it was first released in 2013.

Now, call me naive, but I have always had great faith in horror remakes despite so many of them being hugely disappointing and often unnecessary. Still, there are rare times where, as a result of vast improvements in filmmaking technology (and just good fucking filmmaking in general), remakes have been just as good, if not better, than the original. I decided to put myself through rewatching both the 1976 and 2013 versions of Carrie to be able to more fairly and freshly decide whether or not this was one of those times.

Spoiler alert: it most definitely was not.

The Characters
Before we go on to explore both versions in terms of plot quality, I thought we’d look at what I feel is the heart of most beloved movies: their characters. Seeing as though the 2013 version of Carrie is almost an exact shot for shot remake, we are met with all the same familiar characters we love from the original. We know that Carrie is supposed to be a misfit adolescent who is tormented by her peers at school. We also know that Carrie is meant to be extremely awkward looking, meek, and showing a serious lack of confidence which makes her an easy target for bullying. Notice I said “supposed to” and “meant to be,” because the Carrie White we get in 2013 is just not that. As played by Chloe Grace Moretz in the remake, Carrie is more confident and quick to stand up to her emotionally abusive mother, constantly displaying skepticism and even slight defiance towards her when asked to repent and pray. As played by Sissy Spacek, Carrie is perhaps a little reluctant but so terrified of her deranged mother and her bizarre punishments (locking your child in a closet proves to be a sorry ass means of time-out anyway, the movie proves) that she dares not speak out against her. This is one of the most imperative differences in both versions of Carrie White. Spacek’s Carrie makes it easier to empathize with her, which influences viewers to believe the real monsters are Margaret (Carrie’s mom) and her bullies who only got what they had coming for them. 2013 Carrie is not as easily imposed on, which is an admirable quality but only makes her backlash seem like more of a hostile revenge plan as opposed to just her acting on pure badass telekinetic instinct the way it felt in 1976. Moretz just doesn’t pull of the “tormented teenage girl” persona the way that Spacek does so fantastically. It also becomes difficult to look past the fact that Carrie in the remake is played by a generally attractive girl that looks like they tried too hard to make her look gawky. While pretty girls are (obviously) still vulnerable to being bullied, it’s not as easy to believe on screen. Spacek (who in my opinion is beautiful even as Carrie) has an effortlessly awkward quality about her, which allows the audience to better understand why it is that she gets tormented at school.

Speaking of which, the characters that constitute Carrie’s peers in 1976 also differ from the ones we see in 2016. Now, I feel like I have to say that differences in characters found in remakes are not always bad. In fact, changes are usually encouraged; otherwise, why is the movie being remade to begin with? But this is only true when the differences strengthen the weaknesses the original rendition might have had, which is not the case with Carrie. Besides Carrie, her peers also pale in comparison to the original characters from 1976. For example, Billy, as played by John Travolta in 1976, was written as the goofy boyfriend of Carrie’s primary tormenter, Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen). In 2013, his character (played by Alex Russell) doesn’t have the silly characteristic and is instead written as the school’s “bad boy” who completely lacks any hint of empathy or personality. Not that Travolta’s Billy isn't still a complete jack-ass, but tiny details like his goofiness made it easy for the audience to still kind of like him, therefore making his merciless murder a little bit more impactful on us. This also applies to other characters like Portia Doubleday’s Chris Hargensen, who in 2013 maliciously kills the pig to harvest its blood, whereas in 1976 she had Billy do it for her. While only minor character details are changed, it still hugely affects the tonal shift (which we’ll touch upon later) in 2013, making it a way less effective transition from dreamscape to nightmare when Carrie is pushed over the edge the way the 1976 original does effortlessly.

The Plot
I know it feels like I’m either being biased or completely bashing Carrie’s 2013 remake, but taking a look at the plot of each version will give me an opportunity to explain that there are a few things I definitely do think it did well. For instance, during the opening scene where Carrie has her first period, instead of her bullies only throwing tampons at her in the shower (1976), in 2013 the girls take out their phones and record her breakdown to be later uploaded for everyone else to see (talk about relentless). I think that the use of technology in 2013 that wasn't available in 1976 makes the movie more accessible to a younger generation of viewers and also puts into perspective just how bad Carrie’s bullying is. It makes it feel like Carrie’s peers in 2013 are genuinely wicked people with absolutely no compassion. This would have been super effective if the remake hadn’t made Carrie out to be someone who seems like she's planning revenge against her classmates when she discovers her telekinetic powers. In 2013, we see Carrie researching and practicing telekinesis and then (creepily) smiling when she realized she not only had these powers but is able to control them. There’s a particular scene where Carrie makes a flag move as she stares at it from inside and the look she has on her face feels like “Wow, I can't wait to unleash my wrath upon these assholes,” which feels a little out of character for Carrie.

What I felt was most badass and effective about 1976 Carrie was that her powers felt involuntary and triggered by her torment. It made her all the more terrifying, and also made her a victim of not only her peers but also her own omnipotence. This is also the case when we look at the turning point of Carrie: the prom. This is where that “tonal shift” I mentioned earlier comes into play. One of my favorite things about the 1976 original is the dreamy nature of the movie, all the way through to where we see Carrie at prom. We sympathize with her and want her to have a genuinely successful prom night although we know that probably won’t happen. Because throughout the movie she didn’t exactly show signs of seeking revenge and just genuinely wanted to be left alone, the shift is way more effective when she goes from the helpless Carrie we knew to completely losing her shit and unleashing a merciless wrath upon everybody, even those who tried to help her. In 2013, the shift becomes blurred since we pretty much expected Carrie to do what she does, making it less effective. Another thing that made her vengeance a little less persuasive is the fact that she lets her gym teacher (who had previously been trying to help Carrie throughout the movie) go free, which she doesn’t do in 1976. Because of this, it almost subdues Carrie’s power as something that she can control as opposed to a telekinetic instinct that (while she is able to manipulate) controls and overcomes HER, ruthlessly destroying anything that tests her.

The Other Stuff
When it comes to horror movies, the only thing that might be just as (if not more) important than the story/characters is the atmosphere the movie sets. The atmosphere set in 1976 can definitely be described as a teenage dreamscape setting up for a nightmare ending. One of my absolute favorite things about the original Carrie is its dreamy score by Pino Donaggio. While initially setting a pleasant, almost whimsical atmosphere, his score also contains deeply foreboding undertones that indicate to viewers that there is something terribly fucked up going on here. The 2013 score by Marco Beltrami is a lot less soft and romantic, taking the form of what a generic horror movie score should sound like from the very beginning. This further affects the shift in atmosphere mentioned earlier. It also is interesting to notice how in 1976, the colors Carrie uses are bright and soft all the way through the prom. It really feels like a dream until then, when things shift into a nightmare and the colors dim and become dark. The initial dreamy tone juxtaposed with the eerie and dark tone the film adopts later really helps Carrie leave a resonant unsettled feeling in the viewer. 2013 Carrie looks muted and grey throughout its entirety, which again, mutes Carrie’s gradual demise. A perfect example of this is the very opening sequence of Carrie getting her period in the girls locker room in 1976. The steam wafting around a bright room full of giggling girls while Donaggio’s magical score plays is one of my favorite opening sequences because it does not feel like a horror movie by any means -- until Carrie completely freaks out at the sight of blood trickling down her leg, that is. This catches the viewer off guard, subsequently pulling us in, which the remake does less effectively, already setting up a dark and dreary atmosphere from the get go.

The Final Verdict
It’ll probably come as no surprise that it is difficult to recommend the 2013 remake of my beloved Carrie to anyone when the nearly perfect original exists. It may have been easier to recommend had the remake not paled so greatly in comparison to De Palma’s masterpiece. I mean, to be fair, it WAS a masterpiece and hard to one-up at that. This is definitely not the remake to show somebody who is already skeptical of movies being rebooted, but it does have value in that it proves the 1976 original certainly stands the test of time. I hope that someday Carrie gets the remake it deserves, but unfortunately Peirce’s 2013 adaption falls short of that.


  1. that's a nice column. there's so much materials. you're set for a while.

    as for these movies in particular, i'm one of those crazy person who don't quite like the original Carrie. and i really like the remake. i know, crazy, and i usually prefer the original stuff, but carrie never did it for me.

    1. Aw! That's perfectly fine that you like the remake but not the original. I just think that the original was more effective and definitely had a way more haunting tone to it. It stuck with me, and still does!

  2. I LOVE the De Palma version of Carrie, which still has one of the all-time great jump scares. I completely agree about the music score - the "Bucket of Blood" cue (which plays as Sue Snell gradually comes to understand what's about to happen and tries to stop it) is a mini-masterpiece of suspense music.

    1. The score is fucking brilliant. I listen to it all the way through every few months and question why I don't listen to it every day of my life

  3. Michael GiammarinoMarch 1, 2017 at 5:51 PM

    I think what I found most troubling about Kimberly Pierce's remake is it became, by the end, something akin to a superhero origin story. And that's not the movie Kim wanted to make. The ending was changed a number of times. The ending Kimberly had in mind, the ending she initially shot, shocked the execs so much, they made her cut it back so many times, ultimately they just went with a different ending altogether. I'm not sure if the film would have worked with that ending, though. I don't think the studio knew what they wanted. While Kim tried to harken closer to the book, the studio made her go the simpler route, and crib off the original as much as possible.

  4. Per Adam Riske in the pertinent F! podcast, the 2013 film must be exclusively referred to as X-Men Origins: Carrie. Thank you for your cooperation. :)

    1. Michael GiammarinoMarch 4, 2017 at 3:31 AM

      I didn't remember Adam ever saying that (well, it was four years ago, so there's that), and he ain't wrong. What sucks is that wasn't the film Kim Pierce set out to make. But that's what happens when a studio makes poor decisions and rips 40 minutes out of a movie they have no idea what to do with.

  5. Nice article and comparison. I haven't seen the newer one (was put off after listening to the fthismovie podcast), so I can't speak to that.

    The only issue I have is in your last sentence where you said, "I hope that someday Carrie gets the remake it deserves". Rather, I would argue that the original is SO good that it deserves to be left alone and not remade (which, invariably, will not stand up to the original, as you pointed out). I hope it never gets remade again.