Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The “Carrie” Remake: Horror Plus Time Doesn’t Always Equal Hollywood Magic

Where horror movies are concerned, what goes around certainly comes around. Witness the success of the updated Halloween at this week’s box office. And Dario Argento’s 1977 balletic creepfest, Suspiria, has just returned, now helmed by Luca Guadagnino of Call Me By Your Name fame. I haven’t seen these yet, but I did recently catch up with the 2013 remake of a horror classic, Brian De Palma’s 1976 screen adaptation of Carrie.

Carrie, of course, was the first Stephen King novel to make it to the screen, and it remains one of the few adaptations of his writing to win his praise. a wonderful little anthology called Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, published last year by the Great Books Foundation, reprints King’s seminal 1981 essay, “Why We Crave Horror Movies.” King’s essay, which covers flicks ranging from Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, speaks admiringly about how De Palma’s approach to the story of Carrie’s frightful coming of age “is lighter and more deft than my own—and a great deal more artistic.” What’s key for King is that “when the horror movies wear their various sociopolitical hats—the B picture as tabloid editorial—they often serve as an extraordinarily accurate barometer of those things that trouble the night thoughts of a whole society.” When he wrote Carrie back in 1973, he was musing not only about a lonely young girl but also about  “how women find their own channels of power and what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.” His lurid tale of Carrie coming into her own was “in its more adult implications, an uneasy masculine shrinking from a future of female equality.” To King, this subtle undercurrent in his own work was brought dramatically forward in De Palma’s screen version, which captured (at a time when the Women’s Movement was picking up steam) a culture’s need to grapple with changing gender dynamics.

I’m not sure whether, when I first saw Sissy Spacek take bloody revenge on her high school world in Carrie, I picked up on the underlying layer of meaning that King describes. I do know, though, that this is one flick that can chill to the marrow anyone who’s ever felt out of place at a high school dance. Or comes from a wacky family background or otherwise doesn’t belong among the cool kids but would love to be welcomed in. The film version of Carrie (anchored by the riveting performances of Spacek and Piper Laurie as her religious-crackpot mother) is so indelible that I can’t imagine why anyone would feel the need to remake it. So of course they did.

The 2013 reboot of Carrie is directed by Kimberley Peirce, who had made a notable debut with the gender-bending Boys Don’t Cry in 1999. It’s well cast, with the talented young Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore playing her mother from Hell. There are a few stabs at modernizing the story, with Carrie’s traumatic locker-room humiliation videotaped on her classmates’ cellphones and spread through the teen world via social media. Otherwise, I don’t see many significant changes from the De Palma version. I can’t help feeling that Sissy Spacek seemed eerier, more genuinely possessed, than Moretz, whose more conventional prettiness also makes her less physically distinctive than her predecessor in the role. And nothing can rival the perversity of the original ending, with Mrs. White’s almost orgiastic acceptance of her suffering, some bizarrely inverted near-Christian iconography, and yes! that final scare. Yikes!

And of course Happy Haunting this Halloween!

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