Adaptations & Remakes is an ongoing feature where I take a movie or a book and compare it to its remake and/or adaptation. Each post follows the same basic format:
- General plot overview/source material
- Original movie/first adaptation
- How I would adapt and/or remake it.
- How they adapted/remade it
And don’t forget, you can follow around the internet with the links below.
Source Material: Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie White is a social outcast with an insanely sheltering religious zealot of a mother. Things start to turn around when she’s asked to go to the prom. However, nothing is as it seems and Carrie has a secret ability that threatens to be an uncontrollable danger.
I read Under the Dome in preparation for the TV show (you can read my episode reviews here). After I finished the 1,000+ page behemoth, I placed it in the number 6 spot on my “King ranked” list and felt the urge to read more King. I picked Carrie since I wanted some early King and I was interested in the epistolary nature of the storytelling. I also wanted a shorter novel.
All the best ingredients of King are present in Carrie. Carrie and Margaret White are very strong characters. The latter acting as background development for Carrie is a good utilization of the low page count of the book. Aside from them, however, there aren’t many more characters to latch onto (aside from Sue Snell, I suppose). You can argue that Carrie and her mother are all the book needs and, to an extent I’d agree, but it was just slightly disappointing after reading the strong ensemble character tale of Under the Dome.
Character development aside, King’s storytelling is mostly on point here. The slow build toward the horror of prom night is really well done. Add to it the strikingly ominous undercurrent of adolescent anger and social fears and it’s very clear why this book was a hit and established King as a voice of horror to be reckoned with.
My only real issue with the book, however, is the epistolary storytelling. The book unfolds in a mix between traditional narrative and excerpts from various documents and publications written after the events of the book. It’s a good, if gimmicky, device, for the most part at least.
My problem is that King gives away too much detail in the excerpts. I would have much preferred he kept the excerpts vague, slowly showing us the scope of the prom night disaster. Instead, it’s pretty clear how the story is going to end throughout the entire book. Still, however, it’s a compelling story and King writes the awkwardness and fear of adolescence very well.
Carrie now occupies the number 12 spot on my King ranking list.
How I’d Adapt It
I would make sure I hit all the major points of the story. I’ve said before that I am a purist when it comes to adaptations. So I feel I should somehow honor the way King told his story. I would honor the epistolary storytelling by opening the movie with a scene of Chamberlain as a ghost town. I would include a vague voiceover from some of the court proceedings and telekinetic investigations to hook the audience.
I wouldn’t show the full scope of the disaster. But I would absolutely make sure I gave the impression that something horrific has happened. I would cut to and from some locations that would be fixtures in the scenes to come. The aftermath scenes would have police tape and maybe a few quick shots of rubble.
From there, I would proceed as the book does. The development of Carrie and her mother is great and could be well suited for a movie. Maybe I would incorporate flashbacks to flesh out the insanity of Margaret in a relatively organic way.
Sue and Tommy would be as they are in the book. I would play up Sue’s sympathy in having Tommy take Carrie to the prom. I feel like it didn’t come across strongly enough in the book.
I wouldn’t make Chris and Billy quite as ruthlessly evil as King did. They almost came across as caricatures. However, I wouldn’t try to make them sympathetic. I would probably make the catalyst for their prank on Carrie be something of a little more significance than not being allowed to go to prom. I understand the pettiness of the situation makes the destruction all the more tragic. I just don’t think it would play quite as well in the movie as it did in the book as the motivations of Chris and Billy are a bit black & white and fairly internal.
The movie would work better if Chris’s prank was primarily in response to seeing Sue and Carrie fraternizing. Chris would be compelled to humiliate Carrie to put her in her “place” and reaffirm the hierarchy of her social circle. It would be just as evil while playing up the adolescent fear that was painted so well in the book.
I definitely would not skimp on the scenes of destruction through the story’s climax. In fact, I would probably increase the violence and death a bit as the story reaches its conclusion.
How They Adapted it: Carrie (1976)
I may have to rethink my self-proclaimed moniker of “adaptation purist” after seeing Carrie. It follows the book very closely. In fact, it is one of the more faithful adaptations I’ve seen in a long while. However, as you can tell from my review of the book, the story has some issues that prevent it from translating to film all that smoothly. It’s a quick read but that is due to some slight gaps in the narrative.
Those gaps are present in Brian De Palma’s movie as well. The ancillary characters are pretty one-dimensional and about 70% of Carrie’s development in the book is lost in translation. Piper Laurie’s performance as Margaret White is by far the standout of the movie. Not to take away from Sissy Spacek, however. Carrie may not have had the development she did in the book, but Spacek delivered a good enough performance with what she was given. The scenes with Carrie and her mother were the best in the movie.
The script just felt like it was lacking quite a bit. Every scene seemed to advance the story too quickly. With no time to spare on character development, I felt pretty numb to the climax. In the book, I was more invested in Carrie. I also had the aftermath of the prom prank built up for me.
Even though King showed his cards too early in the book, there was still that sense of dread throughout the pages. The movie lacks that sense of foreboding. At the least I would have enjoyed some scenes of Carrie exercising her telekinetic muscles but instead we got some scenes of her researching in the library. That trade off only succeeds in swapping out ominous tone for scenes of adolescent curiosity. It’s a thoughtless crime of pacing.
The prom sequence itself was good. Sissy Spacek sold me on Carrie’s euphoric dream of acceptance in the best possible way. I was genuinely impressed. However, the actual climax of the movie left a lot to be desired. The book featured Carrie devastating the town and leaving chaos and destruction in her wake. The movie has her setting the gym on fire, destroying a car and committing matricide. I wasn’t wholly disappointed though, only because the movie didn’t properly set me up to expect anything as satisfying as the book’s conclusion. It made me thankful the movie was about to end, though. I will say that much.
Had I not read the book before seeing the movie, I would have really enjoyed the way Carrie dispatched with her mother. On a few levels, I actually did enjoy it. But since the movie stuck so close to the source material without adjusting the narrative for film, I felt like the attempt at a more violent end for Margaret was simply “too little, too late” on De Palma & company’s part.
My other major complaint with the movie is in its homages to Psycho. Psycho is a beloved film, a true classic of the genre. Thus I take issue with anything that tries to piggyback off of Hitchcock’s brilliance. I hated House at the End of the Street for this reason and declared my hatred of American Horror Story when they used Psycho’s iconic music in the second episode. Carrie is the latest (well, chronologically it’s the earliest) entry in my mental “Keep your hands off Psycho” list.
De Palma’s homages to Psycho are occasionally satisfying. Changing the town from Chamberlain to Bates is a nice nod to the horror icon Norman Bates. But it’s the use of quick, harsh strings in the movie’s score that pushed it out of bounds for me. When Carrie uses her powers, that familiar violin tone from Psycho’s legendary score is played. This is unforgivable to me. I may be nitpicking, but it feels like they were using familiar sounds to replicate Hitchcock’s tone. Lazy.
Still, people love this movie. Why? I’m at a loss for why this movie is so revered. It has a 98-minute runtime that proves to be its downfall for me as no time was spent on character development aside from the two leads.
The movie ends with a scare that has since been done to death. It made me jump in surprise, but it was cheap and served only to punctuate the lack of any genuine scares throughout the rest of the movie.
My only hope is that the 2002 TV movie and the Chloe Grace Moretz remake can tell this story in a satisfying way.
How They Remade It: Carrie (2002)
Next up is the TV-movie version of Carrie that aired on NBC in November 2002. It was penned by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, Hannibal) and directed by David Carson (Star Trek Generations). The runtime is considerably longer than De Palma’s version, clocking in at 132 minutes and features Angela Bettis in the titular role.
This may be slightly blasphemous to some, but this made-for-TV remake exceeds the original in nearly every way. Granted, that’s not a hard sell for someone who disliked the original as much as I did. But I did go into this version with very low expectations. This movie had an uphill climb from the start.
This version of Carrie starts with the interrogation of Sue Snell following the events of prom night. I’ll come back to that momentarily. For now I’ll say that I was very excited about this storytelling device. In a way, it honored the spirit of the epistolary storytelling of the book. It’s what I wanted to see.
From there, the movie is fairly faithful to the book (at least until the end). It’s actually pretty impressive how much the movie is (mostly) respectful of both De Palma’s movie and King’s book. Bryan Fuller pays tribute to iconic scenes from both the previous movie and the book while also leaving his own mark on the story.
The most notable adjustment to the story comes in the shower scene. The original movie was faithful to the book in that it featured Carrie shocked at the sight of the blood while her classmates throw tampons at her. It was cruel and horrific. In the TV movie, however, the classmates only yell “period” at her.
Later, Carrie’s locker has “PLUG IT UP” painted on it. She opens it and inside is a locker full of tampons. I felt like this was an improvement as it was a much more publicly humiliating and psychologically damaging prank.
I was glad to see more things from the book included in this version, namely the tanning neighbor flashback where Carrie, as a little girl, has a conversation with a teen neighbor about her breasts. It was a welcomed scene that helped develop Carrie and Margaret better than De Palma’s movie did.
The end of the scene included the “rocks raining on the White’s bungalow” sequence from the book. It wasn’t quite what I pictured when I read the novel. The TV movie’s depiction is more like meteorites whereas I was picturing a rain of pebbles. It was still effective and the special effects were surprisingly decent, especially for a TV movie.
The movie cuts back and forth between the lead up to the prom and the police investigation afterward. The scenes with Sue Snell and the detective are interesting. There are moments of dialogue that are surprisingly clever, enough so that I want to seek out more of Bryan Fuller’s work.
But eventually the flashback structure wore out its welcome. More often than not, I found myself questioning why all the kids the police were interrogating seemed so happy and chipper. The scenes take place two weeks after a disaster in a small town that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people, mostly teenagers. Yet, the teens being interrogated are marveling at donuts and engaging the police in (albeit fairly clever) religious debates. They should have been mourning. It would have added to the atmosphere.
The class president, in particular, is way over the top. She’s peppy and excited about the donuts while talking about the circumstances surrounding her classmates’ deaths. The movie would be better off without those scenes. Unfortunately, a successful Carrie adaptation needs them.
Emilie De Ravin (of Lost fame) plays Chris, the bully who sets in motion the prank that leads to the tragedy at the prom. She trades in her native Australian accent for an admirable American one here. Even though some of her dialogue is a little over the top, it’s forgivable as her role brings out the high school politics and hierarchy of the story in a very engaging manner. The character is very manipulative and cruel to the point of being diabolical.
Angela Bettis isn’t as good as Sissy Spacek in the prom scenes, but the narrative choices put a new spin on it. There’s a sequence where Carrie imagines her dance with Tommy that is cruel in that it prolongs Carrie’s happiness and makes the prank hurt even more.
The prank is pulled off well in the movie, with special mention due for the sound effects. But the destruction of the gym is a bit disappointing. In the book, Carrie leaves the gym and watches the destruction from behind locked doors. Here, she stands catatonic as the destruction surrounds her. The awful special effects in the town destruction scenes get a pass from me considering there was none of it in De Palma’s movie.
The ending of the movie is where this iteration completely goes off the rails. I won’t spoil it, but it baffles me how a movie that stayed so faithful to the source material could disrespect it in such an egregious way. Googling confirms that the drastic change at the end (which is indicative of a gross misinterpretation of the Carrie White character) is due to the network having plans to spin off a TV series from the movie.
The TV series never happened. And so we are left with a mostly good adaptation of King’s work that falls apart at the end.
How They Remade It Again: Carrie (2013)
You know, after all of these movies I’m ok with never seeing another “girl discovers she’s having her first period” scene.
The latest interpretation of Stephen King’s work hits most of the marks needed to be a great adaptation. Unlike the previous incarnations of the story, Kimberly Peirce’s version begins with Margaret White (Julianne Moore) giving birth to Carrie. She pleads with God, not for answers or for guidance, but for peace in her perceived moment of death.
This sets the stage for a retelling that is befitting of King’s work. The story unfolds as it does in De Palma’s version, but everything about it is an improvement over the 1976 movie. Characters are more fleshed out and the story unravels with far better pacing and acting.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays a slightly less weird and more socially awkward Carrie. It probably shouldn’t play quite as well as it does, in fact, there are moments in her performance where I only saw a socially awkward teenager instead of an emotionally scarred victim.
That is really the only issue I have with the movie. Everything else is a product of a filmmaker clearly out to improve on the original they are remaking. Sue Snell and Tommy Ross are two characters whose motives and intentions are made clearer than before. Gabriella Wilde plays up Sue’s remorse for the prank really well, to the point that she overshadows Ansel Elgort’s performance as the genuine and kind prom date of our titular character.
The characters of Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and Billy Nolan (Alex Russell) are also better in this version. They aren’t over the top or cheesy. Instead, their actions have meaning behind them and their maliciousness is not without cause.
Julianne Moore’s performance as Margaret White is fantastic. She’s almost underused despite commanding a decent amount of screen time. Throughout the movie we see Margaret engage in self-flagellation. This is new to this version of the story and even though it’s relatively simple, it adds so much more to it.
The climax of the movie is also satisfying. The prank itself has an added, more modern, element that really punctuates the audacity and cruelty of the teens pulling it off. In the ensuing destruction, we see things in a much harsher and more graphic light that really rounds out the character of Carrie and her transformation.
I was impressed with the movie, overall. It’s the best version of Stephen King’s story yet with acting and pacing that is a step above its previous counterparts. The special effects and modernization of the story really help bring the original story to life in a way previously unseen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got.