The International Writers Magazine
:DVD Review

Lucy Bailey

arrie’, directed by Brian De Palma, is the supernatural story of how one girl takes revenge on the town that ostracised her. Based on the 1974 novel by Stephen King, and starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, (who both earned Oscar nominations for their roles) there is also an appearance from a much younger John Travolta, in one of the worst cases of mis-casting I have ever seen.

The storyline is fairly simple; Carrie, a sixteen year old girl, lives with her mother who is obsessively religious. As a result the rest of the town does not accept her, or Carrie, as one of them. While Carrie’s mother is fine with this, thinking the rest of the town to be sinners anyway, Carrie, to quote the film, just wants to be ‘a normal girl’. However, she is no ‘normal’ girl. Carrie possesses the gift of telekinesis, and this gift is brought to life whenever she is angry or upset, which, due to the constant bullying of her mother and the loathsome mocking of her peers. She eventually uses this to take her ultimate revenge on those that belittled her.

As I mentioned earlier, this film is loosely based on the original novel by Stephen King. I say loosely in a purely subjective manner, as, in my opinion, apart from the general plot, there are very few similarities between the film and the book and although ‘Carrie’ is watchable, it does not know what it’s trying to be. There’s not enough blood to attract fans of violence and there aren’t enough scares to attract horror fans. On top of this, there are parts of the film that attempt comedy, possibly trying to emulate the horror/comedy success of ‘Jaws’, but this also fails miserably. When the film is looked at in comparison to the novel, there is an awful lot which could have been improved. This may possibly have made the difference between a mediocre film and an outstanding one.

There are a couple of areas in which De Palma made ugly mistakes, the first being casting; none of the actors (bar Piper Laurie) seem to truly bring the original characters to life, and the second being lack of detail.The film doesn’t seem to make sense.

The process of adapting a novel into a movie cannot be easy, and there are two things that can go wrong: the film goes on for far too long, losing the audience’s interest (think ‘Lord of the Rings’), or there is just not enough detail to make the film plausible. For Carrie, the latter is definitely the case. At one hour and thirty-four minutes, it is relatively short and I feel that De Palma has not utilized this time efficiently.

One of the biggest problems which I have with this film is the casting and the use of characterisation. Spacek, as Carrie, puts in a remarkable performance but she really isn’t right as that character. Originally cast to play Chris Hargenson, the student who humiliates Carrie at the prom, Spacek would have been much better suited to this role, as she is simply too pretty to be convincing as frumpy Carrie.

In order for the story to work, the audience has to not just empathize with, but pity, Carrie. We are meant to feel repulsed by her, in the same way the town is, but we are also meant to sympathise with her and understand the years of torture which drive her to her final revenge. Unfortunately, it seems De Palma has decided to concentrate solely on encouraging the audience to sympathise with Carrie, mainly through a number of over acted ‘touching’ scenes with the gym teacher, Miss Collins, played by Betty Buckley. However, this technique seems to have backfired, as by the end of the film, my sympathy was firmly with the rest of the town, not with Carrie. This was due to the fact that we don’t see enough of Carrie’s background; we don’t get the whole story.

It is Chris Hargenson, played by Nancy Allen who covers Carrie in pig’s blood at the senior prom, thus creating the catalyst which drives Carrie to avenge herself. Chris, along with her rebel boyfriend, Billy Nolan (Travolta), meet a grisly end at the hands of Carrie, but the whole thing seems rushed. We never get more than a 2D representation of the characters, it is almost as if De Palma has come along and said ‘right, you’re the nasty character, act nasty’, and this is all very well, but in order to feel anything towards a character we need some indication that they are, after all, a vulnerable human underneath.

Overall, I feel that this film has not reached its full potential. It has tried to remain faithful to the original novel, but it has left out too many important details for the story to make sense. Although there are some touching scenes between Carrie and her prom date, Tommy Ross (played by William Katt), there are also some truly awful scenes, when the film hints at aspects of comedy but fails to carry it off, leaving the audience to think ‘was I meant to find that funny?’ I found this laughable, but, unfortunately, in completely the wrong way.

I think that with ‘Carrie’ you either have to read the book or watch the film, as without drawing comparisons against each other, both are enjoyable. But, like so many big screen adaptations of novels, the original story is generally superior, and this film just does not do it justice. My advice: If you really want a good Stephen King adaptation, try ‘The Shining’.

© Lucy Bailey Nov 2005
Lucy is a Creative Arts student at the University of Portsmouth

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