Carrie, the first published novel of Stephen King, turned 40 this year. I’ve only recently actually read it, so, like most my age, the iconic version of “Carrie” will always be the 1976 Brian De Palma film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie(both were nominated for Oscars for their performances). And, outside of being a bestselling novel and a hit movie, “Carrie” has been a musical on Broadway and off-Broadway, plus it’s had a 2013 motion picture remake and a 1999 sequel. I’ve experienced them all. But the focus of today’s Flashback to “Carrie”, is the 2002 television film update that originally aired on NBC in the United States. This version stars Angela Bettis as our favorite blood-soaked prom queen, Ms. Carrietta White.
It shouldn’t be necessary for me to rehash the storyline, right? I mean after four decades, you must have had some sort of exposure to “Carrie” on either the page, screen or stage. So, instead, my recent revisit to this 132-minute television revision will prompt a review that focuses on what the 2002 version got right—and what it botched. Fair enough? The first thing it succeeded with was the casting of Ms. Bettis as the title character. She’s easily the oldest actress to portray high school senior Carrie White…nearly thirty when the movie was first aired. But her mousey, tremulous depiction has a lot going for it, and is distinctly different from what Ms. Spacek produced 26 years prior. Angela manages to make it her own.
However, Patricia Clarkson, an actress that I am quite fond of, doesn’t seem quite the right fit as Margaret White, Carrie’s religious fanatic mother. It’s hard to totally fault the actress: the part seems underwritten and mostly pushed to the sidelines for this telemovie. There’s no real connective tissue to Mrs. White this time, and therefore zero heart-wrenching mother/daughter interplay come the infamous finale. I’d blame Bryan Fuller’s screenplay(a credit he shares with original author Mr. King), along with the original intention for this remake of “Carrie” to be the set-up for a hoped-for television series. In fact, it was supposed to be a two-part miniseries pilot, but was eventually whittled down into T.V. movie length.
The high school stuff feels correct, despite falling into the trap of dropping in obvious “of-the-time” references(for instance, comments about using the internet), something I recall all the versions of “Carrie” being guilty of. An African-American actress(Kandyse McClure)as Sue Snell…yeah, I like that choice. A tougher, prettier, more savvy gym teacher, Ms. Desjardin(as played by Rena Sofer)? It offsets the tone a bit, so I’m listing that in the negative column. But the decision of having Tommy Ross(a fine Tobias Mehler), clueing in Carrie to some of his reasoning in taking her to the big dance, is inspired. Hooray, for that script doctoring. I like the very pretty Emilie De Ravin as the ill-fated Chris Hargensen, but the 1976 John Travolta incarnation will always be my Billy Nolan(sorry, Jesse Cadotte!). And David Keith is effective as Detective Mulcahey, an original novel device, nixed for the ’76 film.
The prom scene is pretty good, but that bucket of blood pouring down as if it’s a bathtub full…is laughable. The death scenes are adequate, considering the venue is network television, but the computerized special effects are pretty darn cheesy. Updating the music was a no-brainer. Plus, giving Carrie partial amnesia works wonders. David Carson, a veteran television director, does a fine job helming this experiment—I admire his tweaking of tone and implication of nuance. Could this have been successful as a weekly series? I believe it would have run out of steam rather quickly. There might just be more milking of the “Carrie” story in years to come, but I’m pretty certain 22 times a year would’ve been way too much. Still, there are as many pluses as minuses in “Carrie” 2002, so I find it only appropriate to allow it to eke out a passing mark.