In 2002, NBC decided to bring a beloved story about bullying back from the dead. The producers dolled it up with a bunch of pretty cast members, gave it a more modern storyline, and still managed to make it the laughing-stock of the miniseries world. Carrie was that special, one of a number of Stephen King stories that got a lengthy TV treatment but lost the compelling parts that made it a success to begin with. Unfortunately, the 2002 Carrie doesn’t manage to capture the religious insanity of the 1976 original directed by Brian De Palma, nor does it grab the viewer with moments of emotional embarrassment. Instead, it offers a very plain experience that is not only unnecessary, but overly long as well.
Carrie clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 12 minutes, extended for the miniseries format; since producers wanted this TV movie to act as a pilot for the series, they took liberties with the source material, extending it with a lot of filler nonsense to open up avenues for continuing the plot. This is obviously not the best way to approach a film – opting to elongate things just because the format deems it necessary is not going to make for a good movie, and Carrie often suffers for that.
Bryan Fuller wrote the script for this miniseries, and that’s pretty surprising considering his involvement in some prestigious television series after this, including Pushing Daisies and the current Hannibal. Carrie is nowhere near his best work – in fact, it’s quite poor in comparison – and it reads like a teen’s abridged version of King’s original novel. It’s uncertain whether this was just the doing of producers behind the scenes or if Fuller was still trying to find his style, but the script problems plague Carrie so much that it’s hard to overlook what could have been with a better screenplay and direction.
The first poor addition to the film is a completely unnecessary detective storyline where multiple witnesses to the events on the night of the prom are interviewed by Detective John Mulcahey (David Keith), who throws out accusations like a candy-tosser at a parade. These moments frame the events surrounding Carrie’s prom, supposedly told from the perspective of Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure) – a girl who once bullied Carrie, then befriended her – but the point of view often switches to things Sue would not have knowledge of, especially when the film focuses on Carrie’s home life.
For viewers watching Carrie with no knowledge of the original – and in 2002, that would have been a lot of the teenage crowd who had vague knowledge of King’s book but probably hadn’t read it – the film exposes a lot of its later twists during these interviews. At one point, Mulcahey questions how calm Sue is, and she replies that the funerals have already finished; it’s meant to be a little smiling nod to those who know what’s coming, but at the same time it’s so painfully obvious that it really takes away from the tension of the coming prom.
Carrie does this at every turn, though, putting little effort or inventiveness into its approach. Angela Bettis is fine as Carrie – awkward, unflattering, plain – but ultimately not that interesting to watch. But it’s Patricia Clarkson’s turn as Carrie’s mother Margaret White that is the biggest letdown. The religious insanity of the woman is vaguely adapted for this miniseries, but Fuller leaves out a lot of the mania that makes Margaret such an imposing figure in Carrie’s life. Carrie spends a lot of time showing how awful Carrie’s school life is, but it doesn’t hammer home the fact that it’s no better at her house either. Clarkson’s acting is too tamed, too toned-down for this adaptation, and it affects the entire storyline – yeah, her school life sucks, but Carrie’s home life is a big reason for her telekinetic powers and her rage, and that’s lost here either because of poor writing or because NBC wanted to avoid potentially offending religious viewers.
The climax of Carrie, the bloody and genocidal prom night, runs way, way too long, dissipating any of the suspense in the process. Poor special effects and acting are just one of the many problems with this scene, but the worst has to be the goofy musical score in the background. A terrible event where Carrie gets her due revenge has now been made into a cartoonish scene that reminds more of the Itchy and Scratchy show from The Simpsons than real life death and destruction. Anyone knowing Carrie‘s general storyline recognizes that the prom night scene is the reason to tune in, but Carrie does it so poorly that it defeats the purpose of slogging through the rest of the two hours.
Strange enough, Carrie is plagued by so many problems even though it’s got a great cast of budding actors and actresses of the time. Katharine Isabelle, fresh off her role as Ginger in Ginger Snaps, gets a terrible part as the mean girl Tina, mostly given direction to snicker, laugh, and make snarling faces at Carrie. The same is true of Emilie de Ravin, playing head bitch Chris a few years before her roles in The Hills Have Eyes and Lost.
In nearly every respect, this miniseries of Carrie is an inferior adaptation of both the 1976 film and King’s novel. It leaves out a lot of the most important aspects of the story – religious mania, vicious teenage bullying, the link between sexual awakening and internal power – for a straightforward and overlong film created for mindless viewing, much the same as NBC’s recent Rosemary’s Baby miniseries. It’s hard to believe that the same Bryan Fuller who wrote Carrie moved on to write some amazing series, but it just goes to show that people can move on from some embarrassing things.
The Rage: Carrie 2
Before the Carrie TV remake was even a vestige, there was a sort-of-related sequel released in 1999 called The Rage: Carrie 2. Despite the title, there’s no character named Carrie in this film from director Katt Shea (Poison Ivy, Stripped to Kill), only a couple references to the original 1976 film complete with a few flashback scenes using some footage. Instead, The Rage: Carrie 2 attempts to update the plot for the late ’90s with ska, grunge rock, references to Marilyn Manson and Garbage, hacky sack, skateboarding, baggy clothes, Zachery Ty Bryan, VHS tapes, and my personal favorite, a special thanks in the credits to “Nothing and Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Manson and Nothing.” Oh yeah, there’s also an entirely new plot with another outsider girl with telekinetic powers killing some teenagers.
For the most part, Rafael Moreau’s script sticks pretty closely to the premise of Carrie – there’s a girl bullied at school because she’s different from everyone else, and she’s got a sucky family back home that don’t support her – but he branches off in a few different ways to make this stand out as more than just a remake. Rachel (Emily Bergl) isn’t as cowed or shy as Carrie was; instead, she’s struggling to cope with the loss of her best friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) after she kills herself at school by jumping off of a building. Rachel doesn’t want the attention of all the cool kids at school, instead intent to go her own way. It’s only when she falls in love with handsome (and nice!) jock Jesse (Jason London) that she finds trouble with the popular girls.
Shea’s depiction of high school life is pretty accurate here, updated for a new batch of school-age kids attempting to navigate the dangerous waters of teenagerhood. Her focus on Rachel is progressive: she’s not the type of girl that yearns for friends, to fit in, to sit with at the important tables, and The Rage doesn’t force her into these situations. She speaks out about the way things are supposed to be, telling Jesse he should be with Tracy (Charlotte Ayanna) instead, but the movie resists the urge to sit within the stereotypical realm.
The Rage makes its Romeo & Juliet influence known fairly quickly, showing Jesse to be a romantic during a classroom question that brings up Shakespeare’s play specifically. Rachel and Jesse aren’t meant to be together because of their social status, but they make strides to make it work anyway. It puts Jesse at odds with his peers on the football team, and Rachel’s targeted by Tracy and her friends as well as the football team. The Rage follows these teenage exploits far more than it shows Rachel’s telekinesis, which is one of the glaring flaws of the film, but ultimately these are important moments that lead to the inevitable genocide during the conclusion.
There’s a sickening reality to the jocks’ sex games, played up well by Zachery Ty Bryan as Eric and Dylan Bruno as Mark. Their game is to sleep with as many girls as possible for points, keeping a diary of tallies and competing to see who can get the most points for each mark. It’s not a stretch to believe, and this game is the direct cause of Lisa’s suicide and Rachel’s bullying; it’s also the reason Eric and Mark videotape Jesse and Rachel having sex that resonates currently with revenge porn websites.
But The Rage: Carrie 2 often neglects its main character’s telekinetic powers, rarely making use of them except in a few scenes where she rattles doors and windows. Another subplot, about Rachel’s teacher Sue Snell attempting to track down Rachel’s real mother in an insane asylum before Rachel can do real damage, is wasted once the conclusion takes place, sacrificing both of those women before they get a chance to do anything. The only positive note that comes from this the use of Sue Snell as a character, meant to be the same woman who made fun of and then befriended Carrie in the original film.
If the viewer can hold out through the teenage angst, though, Shea gives us a very satisfying conclusion at the end of The Rage; she takes the original prom night sequence and ups the ante. The special effects work in the ’90s allows the film to get a lot more violent, and Shea delivers with lots of cutting glass shards, flying pointy objects, and multiple impalements. It’s nice to see Rachel get her revenge, but at the same time Shea is quick to point out that no one wins in this tragedy. Jesse is forced to go to college alone, missing his lover and dreaming of her coming back from the dead before she shatters into pieces on his floor.
While The Rage: Carrie 2 is certainly not as polished as its predecessor, it’s still a fairly good re-imagining of Carrie with a functional plot and good characterization. Shea’s film never really caught on, and part of that probably stems from attempting to work this into a sequel rather than a stand-alone film, but looking back, it does a particularly good job of showing the changes in teenage bullying and emotional abuse. Maybe that’s nostalgia and a love of seeing Zachery Ty Bryan again in something other than Home Improvement, but it’s an appreciation all the same.
Carrie doesn’t really get any special features besides audio commentary from director David Carson, but that’s probably more than I would have hoped for; I’m sure most people aren’t eager to relive this TV movie. However, the Carson commentary is the only reason I’d return to the film, so it does add replay value. It also comes with artwork on the back side underneath the disc. Audio comes in 5.1 DTS, incorrectly listed on the packaging. Also, our friend Shawn Savage over at HorrorSexy did a comparison of his DVD version of Carrie and this version and found that Scream Factory’s version is most likely in a 16:9 ratio, opposed to a 4:3 ratio in other releases. It clearly does offer more visual information than the 4:3 version.
The Rage: Carrie 2 has a couple of more special features. It offers audio commentary with director Katt Shea, director of photography Donald Morgan, with moderation by David DeCouteau as its primary special, and another audio commentary from Katt Shea that has been included on previous release. There’s an alternate deleted ending with audio commentary from Shea, along with visual effects sequencing, as well as a trio of deleted scenes also with Shea’s commentary; watching the deleted scenes, it’s not really a surprise they got cut. Lastly, there’s a theatrical trailer. Subtitles are also included and are very good.
Ultimately, if you’re a Carrie fan you should check out this two-disc set; it’s a good collection, especially if you’re looking to own The Rage: Carrie 2 on Blu-Ray. The TV miniseries Carrie I can live without, but that’s probably why Scream included them together in the first place.