Carrie: De Palma’s Original Adaptation Still Prom Queen

Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, also has the distinction of being the first cinematic adaptation of his work. In a decade defined by increasingly transgressive and, often, prestigious horror releases, Carrie stood out as one of the best. Critics loved it and audiences flocked to theaters to see it. Following its release, Carrie even garnered two Oscar nominations. Today, you’ll find Carrie on numerous ‘Best of Lists’ including Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Not surprisingly then, Hollywood has tried a few times to replicate the movie’s success. To date, we’ve had a belated, dreadful sequel and a bland made-for-television remake. But a 2013 remake looked significantly more promising. With a prestigious director and stellar cast, Stephen King fans had high hopes for another strong, if not more faithful, adaptation of his work.

Brian De Palma’s Carrie Adaptation a Prestige Horror Movie

From top to bottom, Brian De Palma’s 1976 Carrie adaptation is prestige horror. As a director, De Palma was still early in his film-making career. His prior directorial efforts – Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise – were eclectic efforts that would find cult status years later. Arguably, Carrie is the movie that established De Palma’s unique visual style and put him on the map. Though Carrie wears the 1970’s on its sleeve, De Palma’s bombastic style is what ultimately defines the movie. That is, De Palma’s unique use of angles, split screens, editing, and screen swipes gives the King adaptation a distinct style absent from most horror movies.

No CGI trickery or jump scare can unsettle like watching Laurie stalk her own daughter while making the sign of the cross with a butcher knife.

On the other side of the camera, Carrie features an outstanding cast. Both Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Piper Laurie (Margaret White) were nominated for Best Actress (Spacek) and Best Supporting Actress (Laurie), respectfully. Spacek fully invests in the character, humanizing Carrie, thus making her fate all the more tragic. But Piper Laurie is on a whole different level. Simply put, Laurie’s ‘Margaret White’ is one of the most terrifying horror movie characters of all time. No CGI trickery or jump scare can unsettle like watching Laurie stalk her own daughter while making the sign of the cross with a butcher knife. Aside from the movie’s lead actresses, Carrie included several up-and-coming actors that included Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, PJ Soles (Halloween), William Katt, and a certain John Travolta.

The Original Carrie Still a Scary Movie Experience

Carrie has aged well. Yes, it’s clearly a 70’s movie, from the disco to the fashion. But all the scares still work. Credit to De Palma, a Hitchcock enthusiast, who knew how to frame a suspenseful shot. There’s a reason our popular culture references Carrie’s prom scene so often. First, the build-up with Pino Donaggio’s perfect score and De Palma’s use of slow motion defines ‘edge-of-your-seat’. And then Carrie’s revenge is a brutal, stylistic, tour-de-force. In the movie’s final act, Carrie’s bewildered walk through her candle-lit house is unnerving.

Even after over 40 years, Carrie’s ending is among the best scares in genre.

Everything works based on sustained tension. De Palma also borrows classic Hitchcockian suspense by revealing Margaret White hiding behind the bathroom door, but keeps the focus off her, leaving the audience to wonder when she will re-appear. Even after over 40 years, Carrie’s ending is among the best scares in genre. And that Jesus statue in the closet is pretty unsettling. Overall, Carrie perfectly balances jolts with tension and atmospheric dread. Nothing about these things feels dated.

Carrie Remake is Good, But Good Isn’t Enough

Like the 1976 original adaptation, MGM Pictures and Screen Gems made a lot of good choices. Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Judy Greer are perfectly cast in their respective roles. And director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) is a skilled filmmaker. Yet in spite of having all the right pieces in place, the 2013 Carrie remake doesn’t work. No, it’s not outright terrible. The word ‘serviceable’ comes to mind. Everything about the remake feels hollow as compared to De Palma’s original adaptation. Carrie 2013 dutifully follows all the familiar plot points like a ‘connect-the-dots’ exercise. Much of the dialogue remains intact. None of it has the impact of the 1976 version. This is like a Wikipedia diluting of everything that made Carrie a horror classic.

Yet in spite of having all the right pieces in place, the 2013 Carrie remake doesn’t work.

In spite the remake’s good cast, the performances also feel subdued. Though Moretz is sympathetic as ‘Carrie’, it’s hard to buy into her being a social outcast. Moore is good, but she has the unenviable task of replicating Piper Laurie’s gonzo performance. And is arguably the remake’s problem. De Palma’s adaptation was a bombastic, stylish, and utterly unique movie that spawned a series of imitators. On the other hand, Pierce’s remake is technically competent but unremarkable. Even the CGI telekinesis more closely resembles the bad The Rage: Carrie 2 than the original movie. What’s most disappointing, however, is that the remake offers no new commentary or insight into King’s novel. Gender politics have changed remarkably since 1976, but the 2013 remake is content to just slavishly follow the original template.

The Original Carrie is Still Queen

As far as remakes go, the 2013 Carrie is by no means bad. Everything about it is perfectly fine, and it’s entirely watchable. And that’s part of the problem. Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation is a distinctly stylish movie that has engraved itself into popular culture. ‘Perfectly fine’ is no substitute for a genre-defining movie. If you watch the remake, you may like or dislike it, but you probably won’t remember much about it. Simply put, the 2013 Carrie is not the kind of movie you re-visit. In contrast, the original Carrie is a movie that makes a lot of Halloween playlists year after year.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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