This October saw the rebirth of a horror classic: “Carrie,” the story of a teenage girl with telekinetic powers who gets pushed to the brink by bullying on prom night to unleash her fury on her hometown. Stephen King wrote the book in 1974, the first of many horror novels King would pen throughout his illustrious career. In 1976, a film version directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie White hit theaters. A few other adaptations have come out since then, including a musical and a sequel, showcasing America’s affection for the chilling tale of revenge and despair.
Between King’s novel and De Palma’s movie, this most recent rendition had a lot to live up to. It serves mostly as a remake of the film, as it followed most of what the 1976 film altered from the book. Both movies stick close to the novel’s plot: Carrie White, raised by a single mother who is extremely and aggressively religious, discovers after a horrific bullying incident in the girls’ locker room that she can move things with her mind. Sue Snell, one of the girls who took part in the bullying, tries to atone by getting her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to ask social outcast Carrie to the forthcoming senior prom. Another of the girls, Chris Hargenson, learns of this and plots to enact her vengeance on Carrie for getting her in trouble. With help from her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, she makes sure Carrie and Tommy are named prom queen and king, then dumps a bucket of pig’s blood on her. Enraged, Carrie goes on a rampage, setting the school on fire before making her way own to kill her mother, who mortally wounds Carrie because of her belief that she’s a spawn of the devil.
The 2013 movie includes a few extra tidbits from the book that the original movie left out. After Carrie kills her mother, Sue finds her and stays with her while she dies. It takes place at the White house instead of some random spot on the outskirts of town, but it still gives the audience one last glimpse at Carrie’s humanity and her tragedy from another’s eyes. Carrie also points out that Sue was pregnant with Tommy’s child, something that’s hinted at in the book. After she psychically tosses Sue from the house, Carrie uses a rain of stones to bring it down around her, harkening back to when she did the same thing after an incident when she was 3. Sue even ends the movie by speaking to what can be assumed is the White Commission, which was formed in the book after the events of prom night to investigate telekinetic activity.
The current version has a few key traits in its favor. Julianne Moore is terrific as Mrs. White. She adds a level of madness that wasn’t quite there in the original film. The way she constantly deals with stress by scratching and cutting herself unnerves the audience every time she’s on screen. The actors who play Tommy and Billy are also a step up. Ansel Elgort (Tommy) seems to be genuinely enjoying himself with Carrie at the prom than his 1976 counterpart, while Alex Russell (Billy) pulls off the car-obsessed bad boy more than John Travolta, who was making his film debut in “Carrie.” The modernization of Carrie’s bullying is well-handled, too, with Chris creating a fake Internet profile for Carrie and a recording of the locker room incident spreading through the school through everyone’s phones.
Missing from both film versions, however, is the way King chose to tell his story. Interlaced between the usual narrative that bounces from character to character are clips from books, reports and news and magazine articles from the world of Carrie. Some of them are scientific papers explaining telekinesis to the readers, some are snippets of stories telling of the aftermath of the prom night massacre, and some are more detailed reports into Carrie’s and her family’s past. From the outset, readers know Carrie has psychic powers and that she will go on to kill a lot of people at high school, as well as her mother. The movies play the narrative straight, telling the story from chronological beginning to end.
The movies also downplay the destruction Carrie leaves behind. The movies stick to the horror and high school and home, but the rest of the town is largely unscathed. The book shows Carrie making her way slowly through the town on her way home, setting fires on her way to and from a church to pray. Even the way Carrie finishes her mother is toned down in the movies. While it’s still brutal and painful in the movie versions, with Carrie psychically pummeling her mom with any number of sharp objects around the kitchen in self-defense before bringing the house down around her in grief, Carrie is much more cruel in the book. She reaches out to her mother’s heart and smothers it with her mind, taking away some of the innocence of the movie tries to give her before her end.
All three versions are worth the time, though the book tells the most fascinating, complete and heart-breaking story. The new movie does enough to warrant the remake, but the original is the better watch for its originality and the stronger horror elements.