After watching the original movie version of Carrie (1976) so I could compare it to the remake, I decided to complete the tormented-telekinetic-teen experience by watching the 2002 TV movie of the same name and the 1999 “sequel” called The Rage: Carrie 2.
While there were more similarities than differences among all interpretations of the story, I became increasingly curious about the similarities and differences of these screen versions compared to the original Stephen King novel.
Therefore, I did something quite rare for me these days… I read a book! Granted, at only 181 pages, Carrie (Stephen King, 1974) is an easy read. Still, to find the time and concentration required to complete it and retain the salient points was quite an accomplishment for me. What did I learn? Which screen version is most faithful to the source material?
First of all, every screen version is surprisingly faithful to the book, even The Rage: Carrie 2, to an extent I’ll explain later. The liberties taken to transform word to vision are minimal. When there are multiple remakes of a story, I always wonder if each new one is really an interpretation of the book, or a remake of the original movie. In the case of Carrie, it’s an interesting hybrid. What I mean is, the changes made in the original movie by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and director Brian DePalma are changes retained in subsequent versions. While later versions may have incorporated more subtleties from the book, none of them jettisoned the changes made in the original.
For example, during the climactic prom scene in the book, Tommy and Carrie are seated on stage in the prom king and queen thrones when two buckets of pig blood are dropped from the rafters. When Carrie realizes what has happened, she tries to run from the gymnasium, but is tripped by a cruel classmate. She falls, sliding across the floor leaving a trail of blood. This is when most of the laughter begins. Carrie then runs outside, collects her thoughts and returns to the gym, locking the doors from outside and peering through a window to watch the destruction unfold.
Due to a creative decision to which I’m not privy, the original movie version of Carrie altered this scene slightly. As you well know, when Tommy and Carrie are standing on stage and the bucket of blood falls, Carrie remains in position while she orchestrates the destruction from within the gymnasium. No subsequent screen version of the story departed from this order of events. Even though they may have included more elements from the book, they never returned to the way this scene was originally described.
On the other hand, one of the most significant embellishments in Carrie (1976) was the interpretation of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White. Having seen the movie many, many times since first reading the book, I came to believe that she was originally written as an over-the-top religious zealot who was equal to, if not more important than Carrie herself. When later screen versions toned her down, I faulted them for it.
It turns out, upon re-reading the book, these subsequent movies had her character more aligned with Stephen King’s description of Margaret White than the original movie. So, while in the 2002 TV version actress Patricia Clarkson seems too low-key and in the 2013 movie version Julianne Moore is a cutter, their performances are actually more faithful to the source material than that of Academy Award nominee Piper Laurie in the original movie.
Surprising to me, the 2002 TV movie is the most faithful to Stephen King’s book. For example, it includes the circumstances leading up to and the stoning of the White house when Carrie was a child. (In the 2013 remake, the stoning occurs at the end.) It also attempts to incorporate an element of the book that you’d think would be un-filmable…
The narrative of Stephen King’s Carrie (the book) is framed every few pages by excerpts from a book by Sue Snell, press releases about the destruction of the town and transcripts from the “White Commission” created to uncover the truth about what happened on prom night. The narrative of the TV movie, Carrie, is framed by interrogations of surviving characters by an unbelieving and suspicious detective (David Keith).
(I wonder if there is yet another version of Carrie yet to be made that follows the structure of the book even more closely than the TV movie. It would be a commercial risk, but with a talented director, a low budget version of the story told mostly verbally by witnesses with occasional flashbacks to key scenes might be intriguing for audiences more interested in what their imaginations can conjure than what special effects can show them.)
How does The Rage: Carrie 2 fit in? While its flashbacks of Sissy Spacek are offensive to me in this vehicle and the notion of making Rachel Lang (spoiler alert) the half-sister of Carrie White seems a strained idea at best, it does expand upon a concept from the original book. Some of the later excerpts in the book present a scientific explanation for telekinesis. The Rage: Carrie 2 considers this notion in its explanation of how there can even be another tormented-telekinetic-teen running around in the world.
Just because one movie is more faithful to the source material does not automatically make it a better movie. For dramatic purposes, screen versions of books are never entirely faithful. They unfold differently and books require more imagination than movies. While I now respect the 2002 version of the book more than I ever remembered, I think I’ll always return to the 1976 version as my favorite. It is the most concise telling of the story with the best acting and it packs the most entertainment punch.
As a closing thought, please consider that the 2002 TV movie version of Carrie was actually a pilot for an ongoing television series. Instead of incorporating threads into the story that might be woven into a larger plot, it simply tacks on an ending where (spoiler alert) Carrie survives and Sue drives her to freedom. We’re left wondering where she will end up and what havoc she will wreak. This concept seems ill-conceived; however, the creative mind behind this version was Bryan Fuller, who has since successfully brought another unlikely horror movie to life as a TV series, Hannibal. This makes me kind of wonder how he would have continued Carrie’s story.