I normally don’t compare the original vs the remake of anything as I feel that each movie should stand on its own merits and not in how it compares to something else. Brian DePalma’s 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie is one of my favorite movies of all time – easily in my Top 10 (which is more of a phrase and not an actual list) which I’ve seen countless times. When DVD became a thing, the first movie I bought in this new format was Carrie. There was that awful sequel in 1999 and a forgettable made-for-tv version from 2002 and finally the most recent adaptation in 2013 from director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry). This past week I watched the DePalma film for probably the thousandth time and decided to give the newer version a chance. While I normally don’t like to compare two different versions it still is instinct to want to say that this 2013 adaptation of Carrie is not the 1976 movie I love so much.
IN DEFENSE THE NEW VERSION
Back in 2011 or so when the remake was announced with Chole Grace Moretz in the title role and Kimberly Pierce directing it there was the usual reaction from people of “Oh no! Another remake… no more originality…. this is stupid…. blah blah blah,” the usual pre-judgmental complaints when any remake is in development. I was quick to defend the idea, however, motivated by my respect for Moretz’ acting ability and my love of the source material. I was happy that there was a female director (and a good one at that) attached to the project as I felt this could bring a much needed feminine perspective to a story that’s about being a teenage girl – something neither Stephen King nor Brian De Palma know through experience. I was motivated and eager to see what I felt would be a new adaptation of King’s work from a fresh new voice.
I was too optimistic – the movie came out to mixed reviews and the general consensus I got from others was that this wasn’t a new adaptation, it was just a remake. It hit the same beats and made the exact same changes to the novel that the original film did. The only major difference being that the kids in the 2013 version now had cellphones and social media but that aspect of bullying is barely explored as the story is crippled by sticking to closely to a screenplay written in 1976. Carrie’s mom dies in a very specific way in the novel, but the way she did in De Palma’s movie made sense for THAT narrative and what De Palma was doing visually. She suffers that same fate, the same “not in the book” death, in the 2013 adaptation not because it fit with the visual narrative but simply because that’s how it happened in the 1976 version. The fact that it was simply a remake put me off watching it until recently and watching it with an open mind I was still disappointed that this was simply a remake, not a terrible remake but just a remake none-the-less. It goes through the motions and mimics everything the 1976 film did without realizing why those things worked for that specific movie.
I still standby what I said in 2011 about wanting a new adaptation from a fresh voice. I still respect the talent of Chloe Grace Moretz (who does do a good job in this movie), and Kimberly Pierce is still a competent director. Sure this 2013 film did not meet my expectations but in this case I had that bar set unreasonably high.
DRAMA AND HORROR
One of the biggest differences between the two films is the choice of genre. The 1976 version of Carrie is fondly remembered by many as a classic of the horror genre and the novel it was based on established Stephen King’s career as a horror novelist. However the 1976 film does not follow the typical style of a horror film – it flows very much like a human drama that happens to reach a horrific conclusion. Look at the opening sequences of that 1976 film as girls happily play around in a locker room and beautiful music plays leading into that humiliating shower sequence and that brief moment where Carrie uses her telekinetic power to make a light bulb pop. Most of the film focuses on the human and not the supernatural, which is what makes it so damn good. A lot of care is taken in making the entire prom so magical, so perfect, so beautiful that when it does turn suddenly sour it has such a sudden impact – going from this beautiful dream in to this sudden, terrible nightmare. It’s that shocking shift from drama to horror that makes it so memorable.
The 2013 film is undoubtedly a horror film and makes no pretense about it. From the gruesome opening to the blood-soaked font on the title card this is a horror film through and through. The entire soundtrack is the familiar and eerie notes one expects with a horror film. From the opening this movie tells you exactly what to expect and it delivers pretty much what it sets out to do. In being so dedicated to its genre, however, it misses out on a lot of great opportunities for human moments. There’s a few shots of a pretty prom, but we’re in such a rush to see the blood fall on Carrie and its consequences that we don’t really get to get in the enchanted mood of a high school prom that the characters feel. When Carrie does go on her rampage so much time and effort is spent making it as visually impressive (though with this CG “impressive” is debatable) as possible that there’s very little human element. With the 1976 film the rampage comes on very deliberately but is over so fast and Carrie’s emotional reaction to those events is made to be more significant that she never loses her humanity despite murdering most of her classmates. With this 2013 version there is so much focus on this rampage and making all of it a series of set pieces that Carrie loses all of her humanity. She gets some back in the end but that’s all thanks to Moretz ability to convey a character and not much an example of the director’s craft.
So the 2013 film Carrie is not really a remake of the 1976 film Carrie. This 2013 flick is a remake of the 2013 horror classic Carrie as it chooses to stick only with that genre and the elements of that genre that were present in the original. Those human moments, the way De Palama staged things like a typical high school prom or two teenagers just watching television, those times we get to see these characters as human beings are pretty much absent from the 2013 version where we get the expected presentation of a horror film where we get just victims and killer.