HCF REWIND NO. 173: CARRIE [US TV 2002]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 128 min
Several people, including high school senior Sue Snell and gym teacher Rita Desjarden, are being interviewed in a police station about the disappearance of high school senior Carrie White. Some months before at Ewen High School, Carrie is constantly being picked on by her classmates. At the gym during the showers, Carrie experiences her first period. Having no prior knowledge of menstruation, Carrie believes she is bleeding to death. The other girls crowd round and laugh at her, and later fill her locker full of tampons. An agitated Carrie moves a desk with her mind, and later causes a small boy to crash his bike. At home, Carrie’s unstable, fanatically religious mother Margaret hears about the locker room incident and locks her into a closet to pray for forgiveness from the ‘’curse of blood”. The next day, Carrrie’s teacher Miss Collins subjects Carrie’s tormenters to a week-long detention, but the worst of the bullies Chris Hargensen storms off the field and is banned from the prom. Sue, feeling guilty for teasing Carrie, convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross to invite Carrie to the prom, but Chris wants revenge….
One of the best excuses for remaking a film is saying that it’s going to be closer to the book which the first film was based on. It’s a good argument, especially if the book is a literary classic or very popular, though quite often it’s a lie. Both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to take two particular versions of much-filmed horror stories, were said to be very faithful to their books, and even added the author’s names to the titles, but still deviated and added their own stuff, especially the Dracula film with its reincarnation element which was actually borrowed from the 1973 TV film version. Stephen King was not much pleased with Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining, so 17 years later he was the main force in Mick Garris’s TV remake, to the point of actually writing the screenplay. Now I doubt that many horror fans would claim Garris’s version is anywhere near as good as Kubrick’s, but considering that Kubrick’s film deleted and altered much of the novel and the novel’s writer himself scripted the second version, it has a justifiable right to exist. Therefore you could say the same about the 2002 TV remake of Carrie, even if King wasn’t involved this time. It is much closer to the book. However, it’s also very, very poorly done, and I don’t think it’s a great loss that not many people have seen it compared to the 1976 and now the 2013 versions.
Amazingly, this version was intended as the pilot for a Carrie TV series. Yes, you read that right. Carrie, who you therefore already know survives, and Sue were supposed to go from town to town not just dealing with the events that have occurred and Carrie’s powers, but solving mysteries. A bad idea if you’re supposedly making the pilot to be closer to the book! Writer Bryan Fuller, currently doing good work on Hannibal, and director David Carson were TV veterans, but all Fuller had to do was copy the book to the letter until the ending, and this he almost did. Angela Bettis, whose eye-blinks were digitally removed from the final third of the film to sustain the illusion she was in a trance, was recruited for the role of Carrie White after the people involved in the project saw her work in May. Actor David Keith asked for some positive comments about religion to be put in the script, and a psychic investigator played by Jasmine Guy was added to the story and would have been in the TV series, but her part was cut out. Perhaps even then they thought the series may not happen. Aired exactly 26 years and one day after the release date of the 1976 version of Carrie, it failed to attract much interest and viewing figures were low. The planned series was cancelled, and for that we can be most thankful.
So, ignoring the ending, what we basically have here in King’s book transplanted on to the TV screen, albeit with a bit of trendy so-called teen-speak such as: “This isn’t over! This is far from over! This isn’t even in the same area code as over!” The plot is the same, and watching this version for the first time, two things struck me about Brian De Palma’s version: firstly, how much dialogue was transferred from the book to Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay, and how well an exercise in condensing and deciding what would and wouldn’t work on screen it was. The TV movie does what the book does and frames the story around police interviews after the fact, but this doesn’t work because we know certain characters survive, it weakens the tension, and many of the flashbacks are events which characters would not have been privy too. We get to know Chris more and meet her father, and this extra detail does flesh out the tale, but it makes what is already a really sluggish movie even slower, while the odd important detail, like Sue thinking she’s pregnant, is still AWOL. Where the film really falls down though is in the restoration of some more fantastical moments, which are ‘achieved’ [if that’s too strong a word] with truly shoddy CGI effects. We get to see Carrie destroy the town, but it’s so brief and unconvincing I don’t know why they bothered, while the early meteor shower is hilarious in its execution. Actually, we see a meteor just before the opening credits, so you can’t say you’re not warned about the quality of what you’re going to see! Bad CG seems to play a part in many shots throughout, like a potentially good aeriel view of the prom just after the blood has been tipped.
The good intentions of this version are sunk by the shoddy way it is done. I don’t know if I’ve seen any of David Carson’s other TV work, but he proves himself to be a director of near-incompetence, even going by the standards of network TV, along with cinematographer Victor Goss. Endless and often inappropriate close-ups, hardly any establishing shots, a camera that is unable to keep still even when it’s trying to etc. – it all results in a very claustrophobic experience. Often it seems like one person is filming the events and trying to capture it all on their camera, it’s that bad. What is really sad is that this kind of crappy filmmaking is seen a great deal in cinemas now. A modicum of style is exhibited during some scenes where Carrie’s rage is building, with discolourisation and quick images, but these bits often take forever, even when nothing ends up happening, and when it does it’s ludicrously over-the-top, like the kid on the bicycle who flies ten feet into the air and smacks into a tree. Something that is done quite well is the build up to the tipping of the blood on Carrie, the cutting and shots often well-chosen, though the bucket is so big it’s hard to believe it could remain unnoticed and balanced for a lengthy period of time, and the rampage afterwards is pathetic. The sequence goes on twice as long as De Palma’s and feels four times as long due to the lackadaisical handling, repetition of shots, and avoidance of anything shocking or graphic, though the god-awful CG tables flying around are undoubtedly very funny. A zoom inside somebody to show their intestinal organs is memorable though.
Something that is handled well are the scenes between Carrie and her mother. Rather than in the black comedy manner of the original films, they are done very seriously and are actually more disturbing as a result. Patricia Clarkson portrays Margaret White in a very restrained manner and makes her very believable and frightening. Angela Bettis is strong as Carrie too, especially in her awkward responses to being asked to the prom. She’s not quite as good as Sissy Spacek, but gives her a run for her money in certain scenes. However, this film seems to almost ignore Carrie’s pre-existing rage, and present her telepathic attacks as something closer to demonic possession than the actions of an abused and broken girl with a potentially dangerous power. She goes into a trance, so much so it doesn’t even seem like she’s doing the climactic killing and destruction herself. It seems that someone or something else has actually taking her over. And then there’s that ending, which remains extremely lame [even with a weak attempt at a jump scare involving somebody’s ghost] even if you consider why it was changed the way it was. However, because the majority of the rest of the movie is so poor, it can hardly be said to ruin it.
Overall the acting is weak – for God’s sake Tobias Mehler as Tommy even makes William Katt seem like a good actor. Meanwhile Laura Karpman’s score drones away in the background, sometimes in a semi-techno manner, sometimes vaguely trying to copy Pino Donaggio’s 1976 work. It often irritatingly plays during many scenes when it isn’t needed. Well, it has taken me thirteen years to see this version of Carrie, and in no way shape or form was it worth the wait. The fact that for much of the time it’s so close to the book, a book which, though it isn’t anywhere near King’s best work, I have read and enjoyed, actually makes it more painful to sit through, and, in the end, one wonders why they bothered when they obviously didn’t have the money or the talent to do it properly. Perhaps the 2013 film will be the one to do it right?….maybe?