Some years back I got an inkling to watch the 2002 TV version of CARRIE directed by David Carson (STAR TREK: GENERATIONS). I was thinking that of course it was gonna pale in comparison to DePalma’s version, but I liked Angela Bettis, who plays Carrie, in that movie MAY, and it might be cool to see another take on a classic story.
Then I put it on and the cheesy early 2000s TV aesthetic and laughable portrayal of high school turned me off so thoroughly I don’t think I even made it 10 minutes. Even Bettis seemed silly. I read that she was 27 at the time (2 years older than even Spacek was) but my math says 29. And we have to accept that she’s having her first period. If we even get to that scene, that is, which I didn’t the first time.
But now that I’ve read the book it’s interesting to watch different versions and compare and contrast the choices in adaptation, so I made it through and got what I wanted the first time. I even appreciated some aspects.
The biggest storytelling change from the book to DePalma’s version is that the book is told from the near future, in a world where everyone knows about the tragedy of Carrie White and the media is in a frenzy over the new phenomenon of telekinesis. Throughout the story King intersperses excerpts of magazine articles, academic papers, transcripts of “White Commission” testimony, and books (including one by Sue Snell). It creates a sense of dread because we hear pretty early on about a huge body count and the destruction of the entire town and we have to wait to see how it happens.
This version sort of takes that tact by framing the story with a police detective (David Keith, WHITE OF THE EYE) interviewing Sue (Kandyse McClure, MOTHER’S DAY, SEVENTH SON) and other survivors about what happened. So even some kid or Amish person seeing this with no knowledge of the story knows something bad happens involving this Carrie person.
This Sue is black, yet her hairstyle and pretty eyes do resemble Amy Irving in an odd way. Unfortunately she’s not nearly as effective of a character here, and is barely seen with Tommy to establish their chemistry as a couple. The script occasionally lapses into ill-advised quasi-Tarantino conversational detours and she gets stuck giving the cop a self-indulgent speech about her views on religion and why she prefers Dogs Playing Poker to The Last Supper. Boo.
On the plus side she gets to be a little more active in the end, since it follows the book in having Sue not at the prom, and coming into town to find Carrie afterwards.
There are plenty of scenes from the book that weren’t in DePalma’s version, which helps make it tolerable at least for my purposes here. Most notably there’s the childhood incident where Carrie’s mother freaks out over her seeing a teenage neighbor girl in a swimsuit, and then rocks fall from the sky and put holes through the roof. In this version, neighbors hear Carrie screaming inside and see furniture flying out windows. They approach as if to help, but the flying debris chases them away.
Another one is the scene where Chris Hargensen’s lawyer dad (Michael Kopsa, HOLLOW MAN II) meets with the principal and tries to get the P.E. teacher (called Miss Desjarden here, as in the book, and played by Rena Sofer [Melrose Place, The Bold and the Beautiful]) fired, but the principal stands up to him and shuts him down. It’s a satisfying scene because an asshole gets told off, but the DePalma version was maybe right to leave it out. If Sue, Tommy, the teacher and the principal are all in Carrie’s corner there’s less excuse for what she does.
(A bad chunk of dialogue Miss Desjarden has to say in conversation: “You ever see something you couldn’t explain? I’m not talking about a strange light in the sky, or Jesus’ face on a tortilla. I’m talking about something that’s not supposed to happen. Like, in reality.”)
What she does in this one is a little more involved. The body count is said to be 234 I believe. She goes into town, tears up some buildings, starts fires all over the place, knocks over powerlines, sends trucks flying in the air, impales things on picket fences, blows up a gas station. It’s a very fakey digital look, but kinda cool to see. In the scene where the little boy on the bicycle calls her “Creepy Carrie,” instead of just making him bite it she actually causes him to catch air and slam into a tree. This is also what she does to the car driven by Billy Nolan (played here as a lustily evil psychopath who tries to go straight up Jack Torrance when he kills the pig).
Bettis as Carrie is a mixed bag. In school she looks too angry and evil. With her mother she often seems like she’s re-enacting Spacek, though I like how apologetic she is even when standing up to her. There’s a nice moment when she’s telekinetically forcing her behind a door and warns “Watch your fingers!”
And it’s a bittersweet mix of asserting herself and self loathing when she says, “Jesus loves everybody, Mama. Even me.”
She’s best with Tommy (Tobias Mehler, WISHMASTER 3, BATTLE IN SEATTLE), where she’s sweet and vulnerable. I was worried when I first saw him – he seemed like a bland chump, and looked like Chris Pine with a receding hairline, which is a compliment for an adult but I don’t know about a high school kid. But when he’s with Carrie he’s pretty charming, and I like that they make the date a little more transparent. They discuss that Sue is his girlfriend, and that it could be good for Carrie to get out and do something like this. Although, of course, it turns out to be pretty bad for her, at least in my opinion. There have been better high school dances.
You know, this was after BLADE though. A quick-on-his-feet DJ could’ve saved the night by playing the song from that club scene and turning on the strobe light. The kids would’ve gotten really into it. Turn lemons into lemonade. Just an idea.
The actor who comes off best is Patricia Clarkson as Margaret White. Nobody could compete with Piper Laurie’s hysterical take, so Clarkson goes the other direction: quiet, calm, seemingly almost reasonable, though Carrie points out that she’s totally making up all those Bible quotes. And Katharine Isabelle hits the softball of playing the gleefully bitchy Tina, who at times seems more responsible for the cruelty than Chris, though she’s only a delighted onlooker and vote rigger for the pig blood incident. But, I mean, she enjoys it a little too much to be forgiven.
There are little twists and updates here and there, like they fill Carrie’s locker with tampons instead of throwing them at her. The most substantial change is to the ending. SPOILER of course. Instead of stabbing Carrie, Margaret drowns her in the bath tub. Carrie fights back by telepathically squeezing her heart. Even though it’s a cheesy digital animation the idea of it is so disturbing that it freaks me out a little just thinking about it now.
Anyway here’s the twist: Sue comes and finds her, is about to try CPR and suddenly Carrie is revived. Then we get that moment from the book that I mentioned in the CARRIE ’76 review where Carrie sort of reads Sue’s memories and feelings and knows that she wasn’t part of the prank (or “criminal assault” as Billy correctly describes it in both book and TV movie). And it’s funny that I also asked what Carrie could possibly do if she survived, because that’s what happens here. She wears a wig and Sue drives her out of town. She’s the one haunted by guilt instead of Sue.
Sure enough, a Fangoria article from the time verifies that it was intended as a backdoor pilot. Writer Brian Fuller (now known for another sacreligious horror movie TVification, Hannibal, but at that time had only done Star Treks Deep Space Nine and Voyager) told the magazine, “What’s interesting is that you let the character off the hook by killing her. She doesn’t have to deal with the guilt or the remorse or the responsibility if she’s dead. If she’s alive, all that stuff will be doing a tap dance on her head for her entire life. How she deals with that and how she deals with all of those emotions makes for a much more interesting series, as opposed to starting fresh and new, where nobody has that baggage. When characters have baggage right off the bat, they’re more interesting.”
This is absolutely for completists only, but as a study in adaptation I’m glad it exists now. They gave it a shot. Some things worked. At least they didn’t kill anybody.