The 2013 remake of Carrie is better than the 1976 original version.
I know this is a surprising opinion, especially coming from me.
I rarely think that a remake is better than the original. The inability of Hollywood screenwriters to come up with a new idea has meant that any and every revered film of the last 40 years is being remade or rebooted, and most of them are terrible. I firmly believe that the 70s was the greatest decade in American cinema. I typically think that we should leave these classic films alone, not re-shoot them with popular actors of the day and pour millions of dollars of bad CGI all over the screen. I’m also a big fan of Brian DePalma, and have seen his version at least 15 times.
However, the new version vastly improves on the story and virtually eliminates any cheese or dated tropes of films made in the 70s. Gone are the excessive slow-motion scenes of characters simply walking around. Also gone is the gratuitous (and again slow-motion) soft-porn of the opening scene in the girl’s shower. This always came off as unnecessary and salacious. The music cues that were exaggerated and at best cartoonish are gone. Best example: listen to the music in the original when the girls are doing pushups and laps on the field. Notice the complete absence of music here in the new version. Speaking of music, DePalma outright stole the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho several times. This is unforgivable. I honestly don’t really even miss the split-screen gimmick during the climax. That was innovative in 1976, but there are reasons why no director has utilized this method successfully since then.
Spoilers follow, but who hasn’t read or seen Carrie?
Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie did do admirable jobs in the original. But the religious nut-job of the mother played by Piper Laurie often approached camp and lost the ability to creep us out. Julianne Moore does a much better job as Margaret White in the remake. One addition that I thought was brilliant was making her character a cutter. Seeing scars on her arms and, in one very compelling scene, watching her cut herself with a sewing tool, was a welcome addition showing us the extent of her own psychological damage. Julianne Moore does more to terrify us by speaking quietly and calmly instead of screaming like a banshee. And don’t worry, the famous “And then he took me” speech is there, and done better.
The new version of Carrie recreates every important scene from the original but wisely cuts several extraneous scenes that don’t do anything to help the story along. Best example would be the scenes of dysfunctional couple John Travolta and Nancy Allen arguing, slapping each other, and solving their problems with a blow job. This was probably considered ‘character development’ but truly is just silly 70s improvisation that should have been cut in the first place.
One major change that I totally approve of is the decision not to kill the gym teacher that was always supportive and helpful to Carrie. She dies in the first film to shock us with Carrie’s uncontrolled and indiscriminate rage, but it always rang false that the one person who reached out to Carrie in kindness would die along with the actual tormentors.
Updating the story to fit modern times is often one of the biggest challenges of doing a remake. This version, of course, had to include the technology that everyone has on their cell phones now, the ability to video record anything anywhere. Of course, some teenage sociopath would take out their camera and film a nerdy girl being pelted with tampons in the shower as she freaks out not knowing why she is bleeding. This update is done very believably and makes it more real for today’s audiences.
Another addition is the scene that starts the film showing the Julianne Moore character giving birth to Carrie and not really knowing what is happening. She is then seen contemplating killing the newborn, even grabbing a pair of large scissors and holding them over the infant. I loved that foreshadowing. During the film’s famous final confrontation, one of the implements of death for the Mother is a large pair of scissors.
I appreciated a new scene showing the Mother actually leaving the house and working at a job. She is sewing at a dry-cleaning/restoration shop, and this is where we see her dig a stitching tool into her leg while dealing with an irritating customer. In the original film she doesn’t really have a job or a reason to leave the house except to walk around door to door proselytizing and occasionally getting a cash donation from neighbors who just want to politely get her out of their home.
The climax where Carrie loses it and unleashes her telekinetic powers on everyone at the prom is far better in the new version. I always felt that the 1976 version wasn’t quite enough. Some people die, but far too much time is spent showing students getting knocked around by a water hose and a couple of school administrators getting electrocuted by the microphone. In the new version Carrie doesn’t just stand motionless on stage, but holds her arms out in a truly creepy orchestra-conductor-of-death pose. She is controlling the forces of destruction more directly, and the visage of Carrie covered in pig’s blood with the wall of fire behind her killing her fellow students is chilling. One death by an electrical cable that ignites the dress of a girl, and her spinning around burning is particularly beautiful.
The death of the two worst characters (Billy Nolan and Kris Hargensen) in the original was always a bit of a missed opportunity as well. They see Carrie walking home after the prom massacre and try to run her over with his car. Carrie gives them the look of death and spins their car over, which of course explodes for no reason. But that dual-death was never particularly personal and was very anticlimactic. Problem fixed in the new version. Carrie indeed uses her powers to stop the car, but a grisly shot of Billy’s face hitting the steering wheel and Kris freaking out follows. Then Kris takes the wheel and tries to run over Carrie herself, but Carrie raises the car up in the air as the engine revs loudly, drawing out Kris’ final moments of helplessness. They get to lock eyes and share a confrontational understanding. A gory and valid testimonial for wearing your seat belt follows, and Carrie finishes her revenge on her nemesis with much more satisfying explosions.
Another improvement is the Mother’s death scene. The original scene is unfortunately marred by visible strings on the kitchen utensils, and Piper Laurie’s over-the-top sexual noises as she is impaled and dies. Watch the scene again, it’s unintentionally comical. OK, we understand that she has about 9 orgasms and dies in a poetic Jesus Christ pose. I get that her repressed sexuality and religious guilt over having a child may be expressed with her finally having orgasms as she is penetrated and goes to finally meet Christ. However, that symbolism is something better accomplished in book format. Some subtlety would have been nice.
All of the actors and actresses do a great job, and it’s nice to see a bunch of unknowns filling out the cast besides Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz. Chloe truly impressed me with her portrayal of Carrie. She looks nothing like Sissy Spacek, and this works in her favor as you don’t particularly think of the older film while watching the new one. Chloe does wonders with just her body language or her eyes, portraying the deeply insecure, timid, socially awkward, bullied teenage girl. Her face is radiant when she goes to the prom and is having possibly the first good time of her high school experience. We want her huge smile and happiness to continue forever, but we all know that soon she and the entire prom is going to hell.
My only very mild ‘complaint’ is that Chloe is, frankly, just a but too gorgeous to really be believed as the geeky nerdy introvert that everybody picks on. Even without makeup and wearing dowdy clothes, her eyes, lips, hair, and facial structure still make her stand out as a knockout in the rough. In reality, boys would be chasing her around like crazy. But I understand the difficulties of casting choices.
And the final welcome change is the very ending of the film. The original version wanted to get one last cheap jump-scare in. So when Sue visits Carrie’s house to leave flowers, Carrie’s hand bursts out of the ground and grabs Sue’s wrist, seemingly trying to pull her down into hell with her. Of course, this gimmick was just a dream/nightmare that Sue was having. That worked in the 70s, and spawned about a million rip-offs of that type of unexpected scare. The new version has a much more subtle ending.
As with most authors, their first book is often their best. Stephen King’s Carrie is indeed one of his best works, and now we finally have a film version that honors that.
A final note, there is even a subtle tip of the hat to The Shining in this film. Stephen King often references his other characters or events in his books, connecting his various worlds for those readers paying close enough attention. I was happy to see this done in this film. But I’ll let you find that for yourself.
Carrie is the best horror film of 2013, and the best remake of a horror film period. Go see it.