Yes, it’s Halloween again, so time for my annual Halloween article(s). This year, I’m looking at a certain teenager with a pretty unusual talent.
Stephen King is arguably one of the greatest horror/supernatural writers of any generation. Celebrating his seventy-third birthday just last month, he’s still going strong too with his latest novel due out next year. Of course, as famed as Stephen is for his more macabre scribblings, using either his real name or the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, he’s also penned many non-horror novels and stories too, such as The Green Mile, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and 11/22/63 to name a few. But I’m here to look at his very first published novel (fourth he wrote but first to be published), Carrie and it’s entire franchise.
Originally published in 1974, after several years as a struggling writer, the world was finally introduced to Stephen King via his novel, Carrie. Telling to story of troubled teenager, Carrie White and her strained relationship with her deeply religious mother, Margaret. I think we all know the plot of this one by now. Still, I’ll quickly go over it regardless. Just another quick one, SPILOERS ahead, even if you know the film, the novel still has some differences and surprises, though I will just summarise the plot and not reveal everything.
Carietta ‘Carrie’ White, aged sixteen, is a socially awkward, overweight and unpopular outcast in her school. She is often verbally bulled for her frumpy looks, acne, being fat and outdated clothing. One day, after gym class and while showering, Carrie has her first period. Due to her mother’s religious beliefs and very despotic nature, she never taught Carrie about menstruation. Completely unware of what is happening to her, she begins to panic, believing she is bleeding to death. This is when her bully classmates take the opportunity to ridicule the distraught Carrie as much as they can. Led by the popular girl, Chris Hargensen, the other girls begin to throw tampons as Carrie as she becomes increasingly more upset and confused over what is happening, her anger boils over and a lightbulb in the shower room explodes. Gym teacher, Rita Desjardin enters the shower room and breaks up the disruption. She cleans Carrie up, explains all about menstruation and takes her to the principle. After the principle continually get’s her name wrong, the upset Carrie lashes out and an ashtray on the desk flips onto the floor. Carrie is excused from school for the day and goes home.
On her way home, Carrie is harassed by a local kid riding a bike. Her rage returns and the kid falls off the bike, this is when she realises that she caused it to happen and begins to question her powers. When she gets home, Carrie quizzes her mother, Margaret on why she was never told about menstruation. Margaret’s (unnatural) religious beliefs make her think her daughter is filled with sin, she loses it, beats Carrie while spouting scripture and then locks her in a closest for six hours of praying.
The next day at school and Mrs Desjardin punishes the girls who bullied Carrie in the shower with a week of detention. If they disobey the detention, then they will be excluded from the up and coming school prom. Main bully-girl, Chris, defies Mrs Desjardin and so, is told she can’t go to the prom. Chris tries to get her influential father to reverse the punishment, which is unsuccessful. A now very angry Chris decides to plan revenge on Carrie. Meanwhile, one of the other bullies Sue Snell begins to genuinely feel sorry for Carrie, she asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross to take Carrie to the prom in a bid to help her begin to feel better about herself. After some distrust (and who can blame her?), Carrie agrees to the date.
Chris begins her plan for revenge by rigging the prom queen votes so Carrie wins, meaning she would be called up on stage. Another part of Chris’ revenge includes killing pigs and filling two buckets with their blood, with the help her boyfriend, Billy Nolan. Chris’ plan works, Carrie and Tommy are voted as prom queen and king, both being called up on to the stage. Tommy even begins to find Carrie attractive in her homemade prom dress. With the couple on stage, Chris, who is hiding, drops the two buckets of pigs blood on the couple, drenching them both. One of the buckets hits Tommy on the head and kills him. Carrie stands there in shock, covered in pigs blood as the crowd of watching teens begin to laugh at her. Humiliated, confused and ashamed, Carrie leaves the building as the torment continues.
Now outside of the school, Carrie decides to try her telekinetic powers. She seals everyone inside, using electricity, fire and just good old fashioned throwing people around to kill everyone. As Carrie’s rage builds, the bodies pile up. A fire spreads, leading to an explosion that destroys the school. Carrie makes her way back home, on the way she destroys gas stations, power lines and more. She also sends out a telepathic message which the townsfolk can hear, telling everyone that she is responsible for the carnage and deaths. Now back at home, Margaret believes her daughter has been possessed by the Devil himself and tries to kill Carrie. She is stabbed in the shoulder, our of anger, Carrie kills her mother by using her powers to stop her heart.
Bleeding heavily, Carrie leaves her house and sees bully-girl Chris and her boyfriend Billy, who ran away after the pigs blood thing, but before Carrie went telekinetic crazy and killed everyone. With Billy driving, he and Chris try to run Carrie over, but she takes control of the car and drives it into a wall, killing them both. Sue Snell, who heard Carrie’s previous telepathic message, finds Carrie bleeding to death from the previous stab wound. Carrie dies while crying out for her mother.
I think what is quite surprising about the book is how it is written and presented. It’s not a ‘normal’ book at all. Right from the opening few lines, you are told that Carrie has telekinetic powers, so it’s not a surprise (unlike the film for instance). Carrie herself does not realise until later, but you the reader are told right from the start. Plus, the book almost comes across as a documentary over a piece of usual novel-like storytelling. There are no chapters and it’s one long continual plot, but it is broken up with quotes and references from (fictional) newspaper/magazine articles and books covering the story of Margaret and Carrie White. There are investigations into the possibly of telekinetic powers from science books, interviews with people who knew Carrie and her mother, newspaper reports and the like. These a large section were one of the White’s old neighbours is interviewed about a strange occurrence that happened when Carrie was three years-old. These parts of the book all work to fill in backstory and flesh out the plot as you read. It’s kind of told as if the events in the book have already happened as you read them, an epistolary novel, one that feels more like a documentation than a story being told. For a first (published) novel, it’s a bold writing style, but it really works.
I saw the film long before I ever read the novel. I did first read the book a good twenty years ago, but lost my copy. So I bought a new one just for this article and re-read it. Despite watching and knowing the film very well indeed, and despite already reading the book years ago, there are still some great surprises here and plot elements I had forgotten about. Really enjoyed reading this again for this article and very much recommend it, even if you know the film as well as I do, the novel still has the power to surprise and shock with sub-plots dealing with teenage pregnancy and more. Plus, if you’ve never read a Stephen King novel before, then this is a great place to start. It’s unusual, documentary-like presentation may take a while to get used to, but it really is worth it in the end.
Carrie was never meant to be a franchise, but it eventually kind of became one. There was only one true sequel to the first film, but several different versions of the original.
Released in 1976 from director, Brian De Palma was the first ever Carrie film. I’m not really going to dwell on the plot as it’s pretty much the same as the novel, which I have already covered up there ^^^. There are a few changes here and there between the two versions. Pretty much all of the sub-plots from the novel are gone, the documentary style storytelling of the novel is also gone, and so too is any of the backstory about Carrie as a little girl, as the film offers more of a straight forward narrative. Oh and they spelled Stephen King’s name wrong in the trailer too.
For me, Sissy Spacek as Carrie, I think she is just perfect casting, her portrayal as the shy and scared teenager is utterly brilliant. She is very different from the book though, no longer overweight and covered in spots, but still bullied and ridiculed by the other girls. The way she goes from that introvert girl at the start, to learning about her unique talent to quite frankly, terrifying mass-murderess at the school prom is one of my all time favourite horror performances. That image of Carrie covered in pigs blood is one of the most iconic horror images ever.
Then there is Piper Laurie as Carrie’s over-controlling and deeply religious mother, Margaret. As much as I love Sissy Spacek in this flick (and I do), Piper Laurie is on a whole other level. She’s fucking crazy! The speech Margaret gives over how Carrie was conceived is both touching and terrifying. The way she abuses her daughter, for what she believes is the better, is heart-breaking… and then there is Margaret’s demise which is a wonderful resolve (different from the book), yet one Carrie regrets despite all the abuse. Both Sissy and Piper were nominated for Oscars (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively) for their roles in Carrie, neither won, but a multiple Oscar nonlimited horror film is a rarity, especially back in the seventies.
Of course, Carrie also introduced the world to some young actor called John Travolta, who played Billy Nolan, the boyfriend to one of my all time favourite cinematic bullies. Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen is just such an evil and spiteful little bitch. Her hatred toward Carrie is a major driving-force and the catalyst to the entire massacre at film’s climax. Plus I have to give a mention to Amy Irving as Sue Snell, one of the few survivors of the film and a character that actually ends up wanting to help Carrie despite starting out as one of the bullies.
Simply put, Carrie is one of the all time great horror films and still very effective now, forty-four years later. Between the movie and the book, I feel this is one of the very rare occasions where the film is better… and the novel is great.
Then just a short twenty-three years later, a sequel was made in 1999. The Rage: Carrie 2 sees Rachel Lang (Emily Bergl), a teenage girl living in a foster home after her mother suffers a schizophrenic episode, believing her daughter’s telekinetic powers are linked to the Satan himself. Rachel is a school outcast with only one real friend, Lisa. However, when Lisa commits suicide, Rachel soon learns why. Lisa was used for sex and then rejected by a popular school jock, Eric.
Taking the story to the police, Eric, who is eighteen years-old, could be arrested for statutory rape. Enter school guidance counsellor, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) from the original film who offers her support to help Rachel. Eric learns that it is Rachel behind the implications into Lisa’s death and turns up at her house to scare her into not talking to the police. Only it is Eric who gets scared when Rachel lets loose with her telekinetic powers. Meanwhile. Sue notices Rachel’s powers and begins an investigation of her own, one that drags up some personal history. Sue discovers that Rachel’s mother had an illicit affair with Ralph White, Carrie’s real father. Rachel is Carrie’s half-sister. Sue takes Rachel to the ruins of her old high school, the one Carrie destroyed in the first film, this is where Sue tells Rachel the story of Carrie and who they are related.
Long story short and Rachel is invited to a house party, under false pretences and things go very… well they go very Carrie when Rachel learns how she had been deceived. She unleashes her powers and goes on a killing spree.
I think the biggest problem with The Rage: Carrie 2 is that it’s just so very average. As a sequel to one of the finest horror films ever made, it doesn’t do anything worthy of note. It not only just re-treads the original film, pretty much beat for beat, it also falls into a typical nineties horror film category. There are no genuine surprises here and you can tell exactly where the film is going after the first ten minutes. If it wasn’t for the tenuous links to the original film, there would be no reason for this to be a sequel at all. It’s a very cheap re-hash of a classic piece of cinema and while I don’t really dislike The Rage: Carrie 2, I don’t particularly enjoy it either.
Emily Bergl gives a very one-note and uninspired performance as Rachel. She plays that ‘misunderstood’ teenage girl you’ve seen before, it’s just all very typical. Admittedly, it was nice to see Amy Irving back as Sue from the first film, but even that is just one of those pointless and tenuous links that really didn’t need to be there. The Rage: Carrie 2 is an utterly superfluous sequel. It’s not a bad film in of itself, just a pointless sequel that really does nothing interesting other than offer typical nineties horror-fare that’s a little bit like the original Carrie.
Then in 2002, the first remake or perhaps more apt would be re-adaption of Carrie was released. This one was a made for TV movie based more so on King’s novel than the original 1976 film. Again, It’s not really worth going into the plot as it’s pretty much the same as the original film and novel, with a few minor changes here and there. But is it any good?
No, not really. It all just feels very desperate and pointless. As superfluous as The Rage: Carrie 2 was, at least it was trying to add to the mythology of the story. This version doesn’t even do that. The whole thing feels very ‘cheap’ with poor effects work and a very poor adaption of King’s novel. In terms of it being closer to the book… yeah, I guess it kind of is.
This version does explore Carrie’s childhood and backstory, just like the novel did. The ending of this version is a bit more like the book, but also puts its own spin on it too. Sadly, it’s all just so very dull. The lack of budget as it’s a TV movie really shows, some of the effects are laughably bad, especially for the infamous stone shower scene from the novel. I’m not sure how a film from 2002 can look worse than one from 1976, but here it is.
Angela Bettis as Carrie is about the only enjoyable thing about the whole film. She’s hardly award worthy, but she’s a damn sight better than anyone else in the film. The worst crime this film commits is that it’s just not scary. It’s one of the least tense and frightening horror films ever made. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the sexual references and blood, you could show this version of Carrie to your kids. If this had a bigger budget and better talent both behind and in front of the camera, it could’ve been great. A really interesting adaption of King’s novel… but it’s just so flat.
Yes, there is yet another Carrie. This one is a full on, big budget remake, unlike the previous TV movie, so it should be good then right? Released in 2013, directed by Kimberly Peirce. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz at Carrie with Julianne Moore as her mother, Margaret.
For me, this is pretty bad. I watched this at the cinema and remember coming out thinking it was okay. I re-watched it for this article and thought it was terrible. Again, there’s little point in covering the plot as it really doesn’t differ all that much from the novel or the 1976 film adaption. This version claims to be based more on the novel and not the first flick, I’m not 100% sure about that. There are some plot points from the novel that make their way into this version, though they are tweaked for a more modern audience. But I just felt this was a bog-standard remake of the 76 film more so than anything else.
Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie just does not work for me at all. The character is supposed to be this frumpy, out of place and awkward girl due to her looks. Have you seen Moretz? She’s a stunning looking girl. Now, I’m not saying they couldn’t cast a pretty young woman in the role… cos they already did that with the original. Sissy Spacek was very pretty, especially back in the mid-seventies when Carrie was being filmed…
The thing is, they used a great wardrobe and make-up to make Spacek look more ‘Carrie’ in the film. That just does not come across in this remake. Aside from some outdated clothing, Chloë Grace Moretz looks just as pretty pre-school prom as Carrie as she does during the prom. There just seemed to be little to zero effort put in to make her look ‘out of place’, where as the original had that perfected. Then there’s the acting itself, again, going back to the original and Sissy Spacek nailed it (that’s why she was Oscar nominated). She felt awkward in her performance. I just never got that with Chloë Grace Moretz here. She does this one thing where she hunches her shoulders and looks down… that’s it. That’s the entire performance of Carrie until the prom massacre… and about that.
The grand finale of the film is its most famous scene and you’ve got to get it right. It’s the pay-off to all the bullying and abuse Carrie as suffered. While the effects work is good, it’s the acting that ruins that scene here. Moretz does this hand waving thing every time she uses her powers and it looks stupid. Go back and watch the original film, watch how Sissy Spacek conveys the rage and anger, the use of her powers just with the movement of her head, her eyes… that’s all she does, cos that’s all that was needed. Less dramatics, but a much more powerful performance. Here, Chloë Grace Moretz come across as a second rate magician at a seven year-old’s birthday party with all the hand gestures and arm waving. It just ruins the feeling of rage when you look like you’re trying to pass an audition on a shitty Simon Cowell talent show.
Then there’s Julianne Moore as Margaret. I love Moore, I think she’s a brilliant actress… I’ll even praise her performance in the Psycho remake. She should be amazing as the religious nut, Margret White, but she’s not. It’s just a very plain and subdued performance, almost phoned in. The few times she does snap and go crazy, it’s just all very ‘pantomime villain’. Piper Laurie in the original was sublime (again, Oscar nominated), she’s one of the great big screen villains, pure evil. Which considering she was playing a deeply religious character was wonderfully ironic. Where as Julianne Moore here is just very ‘meh’. But I don’t blame either actress for the missteps here, it’s a directing issue. I honestly feel that Kimberly Peirce was just clueless of how to work with the material and actors she had.
This remake is just plain bad, woeful.
And that’s about it for the movies. Overall, the 1976 original is still a fantastic piece of cinema and well worth watching today. One of the finest horror films ever made. The sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2 is very mundane and middle of the road. The 2002 TV movie is a wasted opportunity. Then the 2013 remake is just terrible. Read the novel, watch the 76 flick… maybe take a look at The Rage: Carrie 2 if you’re curious. But, that’s the best of the lot.
Okay, so there is one final thing worth looking at. A rather strange curiosity… a musical. Oh yeah, there was a Carrie musical. Originally performed in February on 1988 in Stratford-upon-Avon, it eventually made it’s way to Broadway later the same year. Now, the original 1988 performance is known as one of the worst stage shows ever. It even inspired a book, Ken Mandelbaum’s, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops from 1992.
However, though the show was a complete flop, it has been revived several times over the years, with the most recent performance being in 2019. There have been several recordings of various performances of the musical over the years. Here’s the original 1988 one, another from 2013, and this one filmed in 2019.
I’ve not actually watched any of the musicals, cos I’m kind if a bit Carrie fatigued now to be honest. But that’s about it, the entire Carrie franchise covered. I do have one more article for Halloween…