While my adventure into, for me, uncharted digital territories continues with the addition of Spotify to my world I am conscious that I have been largely ignoring my duties to the world of blog. So let me remedy this with a post about Carrie; the book, the original 1976 film, the 2002 TV movie and 2013 remake. Of course Netflix has been involved. Less ownership more subscription that’s my battle cry these days!
This is an early (1974) outing for Stephen King and as such cuts to the chase very quickly and runs its course after a very suitable 222 pages. Before I go any further let me make it clear that there will be spoilers involved in this post.
Carrie is a senior class schoolgirl who is regularly bullied by her peers perhaps mostly because of her religious upbringing forced upon her by her wilful mother. She has led a sheltered life and when her period begins, at a very late time it is noted, she thinks she is bleeding to death. It begins while she is showering after volleyball class and ends with her cringing in the corner of the communal showers after being chanted at to ‘plug it up’ and having been pelted with sanitary products.
The gym teacher doles out a suitable PE-related week-long detention with the threat that anyone refusing to do it will be suspended and won’t be able to attend the forthcoming prom. The ringleader of the bullies Chris strops off thinking she can be protected by her lawyer father from missing the prom. Turns out she can’t.
Meanwhile one of the other girls who took part in the bullying of Carrie, one Sue Snell, goes on a guilt trip and talks her dishy boyfriend Tommy into asking Carrie to the prom instead of her. Carrie is mistrustful when he asks but is eventually persuaded.
Carrie’s Bible-bashing mum isn’t best pleased that shortly after ‘becoming a woman’ Carrie is now seemingly cavorting with men intent on pawing her ‘dirty pillows’ and forbids her to go. Carrie, who is discovering she has telekinetic (TK) powers strops out and tells her mum to back off with a convincing demo of her rediscovered powers.
I say rediscovered because as a child she had called down stones from the sky to smash through the shingles of the roof and patio when she was angry with her mother for an incident with her neighbour sunbathing in her garden. Once inside she even made the kitchen table smash the window. Since then Carrie’s momma has castigated Carrie regularly and used the closet as a punishment room where the young girl is forced to pray in isolation under the gaze of Jesus upon the cross.
Carrie makes a dress for herself. Her mother points out that she knew it would be red because she is convinced that the Devil is working through her daughter. Tommy turns up takes Carrie to the prom.
Meanwhile Chris with the help of her rather psychotic boyfriend Billy has set up a ‘trick’ involving a bucket (or two, I forget?) of pigs blood which will be dispensed upon the winners of the Prom King and Queen vote. The result of the vote is close – Carrie and Tommy win by one vote having voted for themselves and Chris calling in some favours to get others to vote for the unlikely pair.
A dousing in pig’s blood follows. Tommy is killed by the falling bucket and Carrie unleashes TK hell upon the Prom and the town. Interestingly, compared to the films, she specifically returns home to put paid to her bullying mother who is ready for the stand-off with Carrie, who she has determined is a witch, and in a religious fervour manages to bury a knife in her daughter’s shoulder.
Carrie’s TK powers, and perhaps the knife in her shoulder, take a heavy toll upon her heart and eventually, after wreaking her revenge on Chris and Billy, she collapses and dies. Sue Snell finds her just before she shuffles off this mortal coil and in a really creepy scene feels Carries consciousness (perhaps soul) departing down a dark tunnel into oblivion.
This story is laid out in the book in a series of third person accounts, police records, book excerpts etc. which help keep the action coming thick and fast. Blood, sex, coming of age and religion are strong themes throughout. For me it was highly influential and memorable and it was a joy to reread it as an adult. It influenced some of the thinking behind my books ‘Muta’ and ‘Lucky’.
The 1976 film
The original Brian De Palma film opens with the closing action of the volleyball game, in the TV movie it’s a baseball game and in the 2013 remake it is water volleyball. Some typical voyeuristic 1970’s nudity follows. The locker room showers are fundamentally important to the story but the nudity isn’t – it’s a clear sign of the times.
The TK in the headmaster’s office is subtle and reasonably so for the kid on the bicycle. Carrie’s TK episodes are accompanied with a Hitchcock Psycho shower-slasher string sound effect just in case you didn’t realise that something odd is going on and that Carrie is the source.
American car culture is touched upon in the film, as it is briefly in the book, with the inclusion of an ‘American Grafitti’ style scene with John Travolta playing Billy in his muscle car. Tommy is permed blonde Adonis with curlier hair than his girlfriend Sue Snell. The gym teacher is written more sympathetically in the screenplay and they emphasize her mentoring.
The stones from the sky back story is not featured in the original film. A comedy scene when Tommy and his friends try on tuxedos while Carrie learns how to apply lipstick adds a little brevity before the horror. Carries dress is pink in the film. Momma says it’s red, Carries corrects her ‘it’s pink Momma,’ she says. It’s an odd changed which is carried through all three films.
Tommy turns up in his car – it’s a stretch limo in the other films. Again this is a sign of the times. He shares a kiss with Carrie when they dance together at the prom which was a bit of a shocker (I watched the films in reverse order and this hadn’t happened in any of the other versions). The ballot is clearly fixed in all versions of the film. Chris and Billy are hiding under the stage in the original film as opposed to being in a neighbouring room in the book.
De Palma then detracts from the suspension of disbelief with some heavy-handed but ultimately very visually interesting split screen and kaleidoscope and audio looping effects as Carrie unleashes her TK on some unsuspecting hose pipes. The pig blood soaking is the most realistic of the films being a normal bucket’s worth instead of a Noel’s House Party gunge tank amount of blood in the other versions (the TV version is particularly never-ending in terms of blood flow).
Yes, hose pipes acting like snakes, rather than the power cables and sprinklers in the book. Just like the book it’s not surprising people are electrocuted, but it is surprising that the Prom hall goes up in flames given how much water is around. Chris and Billy’s car crash death is perhaps the most realistic of the three films and then as in all three films she returns home (which is out of sequence but is more effective) she finds that Momma has been to the candle shop.
Every room has candles in it. It’s an accident waiting to happen. As in all the film adaptations, Carrie returns home to take a bath rather than kill her bullying Momma. Trying to wash off the blood is all very Shakespearean – out damst spot etc. Sissy Spacek is brilliant as Carrie by the way and despite being skinnier than I think King was portraying the girl in the book gives the right balance of gawkiness and hidden allure.
Momma’s death is by flying knives as it is in the 2013 remake. Her almost ecstatic dying gasps are really creepy and the camera pans back to show her arranged in the doorway pinned by knifes like Christ on the cross. It’s what she would’ve wanted. Carrie is upset and hides in the cellar as the house collapses and flames around her. There are no falling stones. What eventually remains is a dug-over plot with a ‘For Sale’ sign standing like a crucifix gravestone in the middle.
Sue Snell, who survives Prom Night, visits the plot and a bloody hand grabs her by the wrist. Another trope is born. But it’s all just a dream.
The 2002 TV movie
In the 2002 version Sue Snell is a familiar face from ‘Battlestar Galactica’ – the lovely Kandyse McClure – she has the same haircut as the actor in the original film and maybe that’s why she got the gig. I’m glad she did because unlike most of the cast at least she can act. The TV movie is about 30 minutes too long and fades to black a lot for the insertion of commercial breaks. The creators decided to use police interview scenes to break up the action and so the film in some way follows the structure of the book.
The TK light ‘pop’ is featured in the shower scene as it is in the original film, but the scene takes place in a cubicle and there are no chants of ‘plug it up’ or tampon throwing. Instead an impossible amount of tampons is loaded into Carrie’s locker and the slogan is written on the door. The TK event in the headmaster’s office is a rather unsubtle shift of his desk by about five inches and could hardly be misinterpreted as an accident as the TK event in the book is.
The childhood incident of the rocks falling from the sky is back! But, and maybe realistically, they are fiery like a meteor storm. It’s nice to see but the computer generated damage they do doesn’t seem to match the more subtle damage Carrie sees later in life. In comparison to the 2013 remake Momma seems softer and maybe this makes her religious fervour more dramatic.
On the other hand Carrie is a lot more socially retarded and ‘twitchy’ in this version than either the original or the 2013 remake. It’s a painful portrayal to watch at times and tested the limits of my sympathy. However, in terms of how she reacts to her TK it’s probably more in keeping with the book and it’s made clear that she is ‘Hulking out’ in that the TK works easier when she’s angered. Unlike the 2013 remake where she anachronistically hits the books, Carrie uses that thing called the internet to research TK.
There are some rather tiresome scenes written specially for the TV version one of which features Chris pretending to be nice to Carrie to wind her up about Sue Snell making her one of her projects. Then sure enough Sue Snell helps Carrie with her make up in another scene which features Carrie using a panty liner to blot her lips as per the book.
There is an explicit countdown of the days to go to the prom which works quite well. The prom is Venice themed like in the book and they even have a gondola for a buffet table. Like all the films, but unlike the book, Chris is there for the brutal piggy pig killing.
Again the gym teacher plays the role as the mentor and is a lot less bitchy than in the book. She even survives Prom night in this version admittedly after pissing her pants and crawling through a convenient air duct. Ah, the air ducts – the boon of many a film and computer game. Hurrah for air ducts!
Carrie gets to dance with Tommy and again kisses him, but in this version it’s just a kind of daydream which she is woken from by a drip of pig blood from above that then turns into an unrealistic torrent. As she is doing her TK stuff she is mostly in a trance and is either static on walks slowly with her dripping hands held by her sides. In the 2013 remake Carrie does a lot of witchy poses and holds her hands in typical spell-casting pose.
Chris and Billy’s demise at the hands of Carrie is also less complex than the 2013 remake and sees the car thrown against a tree crushing the seat area and we assume the driver and passenger get squished. Then it’s back home for a quick bath.
In the bath she comes out of her trance and tells Momma she can’t remember what’s happened. This is a big change in comparison to the book and the original film where the damage she does to her peers and the townsfolk is most definitely intentional and a series of conscious decisions. Then Momma tries to drown her. Carrie crushes Momma’s heart from within a bit like ol’ darth Vader might do with his patented Force death grip. There’s no knife in this version, Carrie looks like she’s drowned in the tub.
But wait! Sue Snell to the rescue. A bit of mouth to mouth and Carrie’s fine. So Carrie doesn’t die. Instead Sue drives her to Florida to start a new life despite the fact that Carrie has killed most of her friends. None of the films go for the TK induced heart attack of the book but this is the biggest departure from the original story despite a temporary Vulcan mind meld between Sue and Carrie.
The 2013 remake
The recent remake stays pretty true to both the book and the original screenplay until the final act. The wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz plays Carrie and the equally wonderful Julianne Moore plays Momma. It’s a Momma unseen in either of the other films or featured in the book. The character is more fleshed out. She is shown working in the back of a dress alterations shop and self-harming. Moore plays her for the creep factor and I was therefore expecting the finale to include Carrie’s intention of matricide.
The shared shower facilities are back. It’s interesting that the 2013 remake doesn’t show any boob and unsurprising that the TV version didn’t. The ‘girls’ shower room scene’ is somewhat of a trope these days and appears again and again most recently and obviously in ‘Orange is the New Black’. Interesting that in 2013 they chose to up the ante on the violence – Chris’s cut up face smashing through and being framed by the broken windscreen of Billy’s car being an obvious OTT tweak – but skirted around the nudity. Seems the censors don’t mind the glorification of violence, but they’re unhappy with naked devil’s dumplings.
After the obligatory TK light pop we get an unsubtle glass water cooler smash episode in the headmaster’s office. In all versions of the film the rather unrealistically repeated headmaster’s mistake of calling her Cassie rather than Carrie is emphasized as the reason why she bugs out and does her TK in a kind of ‘my name… is Neo!’ type moment. The bloody hand print on the gym teacher’s skirt that is a key image in the book is presented to us in the remake despite the fact that Chloë didn’t do a very good job of marking her in the previous scene – it’s more of a smear until the wardrobe department transformed it into the proper iconic hand print.
YouTube and mobile phones play a big part in the bullying to the point of the video of her sprawling about in menstrual blood being replayed after the pig blood dousing at the Prom. And yet, as previous mentioned, Carrie forgoes Google in favour of a load of books on TK that she loans out from the library and takes home to make float like Luke Skywalker’s training with the rocks on Dagobah or the candles in the dining hall at Hogwarts. There’s a lot of ‘learning how to use my power’ scenes which reminded me a little too much of similar scenes in the X-men films. It devalues the TK moments when she uses her power against her bullying Momma.
Chris seems a lot more psychotic than in any of the other versions and the book (in which she is largely led astray by Billy) to the point where she is the one that slits the pig’s throat at the farm. Sue Snell’s character isn’t as strong as in the previous versions and Tommy isn’t much of a dish either.
Carries death involves the house collapsing around her and her mother who she has killed in an act of self-defence after the ol’ kitchen knife incident. There are no flames, but there are falling rocks. Lots of ‘em and instead of the hand coming out of the ground we get Carrie’s vandalised gravestone cracking dramatically in the closing shot of the film.
I enjoyed all the films in various ways – the TV version for some of the extra book-sourced stuff they put in as padding, the original for Sissy’s performance and the remake for the real ‘balls out’ TK big budget ending (with the exception of Chris’s demise which was way too OTT).
Why do none of the films have Carrie purposely seeking out her mother to kill her? Is it because we would have less sympathy for her as a result? Is it because they want to distance themselves from the idea that being fundamentally religious and dogmatic is a bad thing that needs to be tackled? Not sure.
I found all the endings of all the films unsatisfactory in comparison to the book. This is saying something because King is notoriously bad at endings.