Could anyone have guessed when Stephen King published his first novel Carrie in 1974 that it would spawn no fewer than four big screen adaptations? Brian De Palma’s 1976 version remains the first and best, but each subsequent filmmaker who comes at the material seeks to find something new and unexplored in King’s book. Of the two remakes and one sequel released in the last 16 years, only one movie has succeeded in being different enough to justify its own existence. It’s The Rage: Carrie 2, and it’s being packaged with the 2002 made-for-TV remake on a new double feature Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
By now you already know the story of Carrie White, a shy and awkward teenage girl raised by a religious zealot mother and possessing some major telekinetic abilities. When some kids at school decide play a big, bloody prank on her the prom, Carrie retaliates with all the psychic power she can muster. It’s going to be a school dance to remember.
The made-for-TV 2002 remake of Carrie follows this exact story; all that’s changed is the players. Stepping in as Carrie White is Angela Bettis, a rock star of the horror genre whose casting represents the single best decision made in this otherwise ill-conceived remake. For as obvious as her casting would seem, Bettis played a much better version of Carrie the same year in Lucky McKee’s brilliant May, in which she was a shy, awkward girl who took revenge on those she felt wronged her. Her performance as Carrie White is good — she’s a little savvier, a little less frightened doe than Sissy Spacek — but it will always exist in the shadow of her much better turn as May Canady. The rest of the cast is populated by familiar faces, including Patricia Clarkson as Carrie’s mother, Lost’s Emilie de Ravin as bully Chris Hargensen, Rena Sofer as Miss Desjarden, the P.E. teacher who looks out for Carrie and Katherine Isabelle as Tina, one of Chris Hargensen’s mean-spirited clique.
On the commentary track that’s been newly recorded for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release, director David Carson states that what drew him to remake something as iconic as Brian De Palma’s original 1976 adaptation of Carrie is because Bryan Fuller’s script was much closer to Stephen King’s novel. This is something almost every filmmaker claims when remaking a property — that he or she is going back to the source and adapting what the author truly intended. Having seen the 2002 Carrie, that is clearly nonsense. The only real differences are the addition of some post-prom interrogation scenes — designed to recreate some of the police report structure of King’s book — and the ultimate fate of Margaret White, which no longer involves flying silverware. Otherwise, Carson is essentially remaking De Palma’s movie, and badly at that.
Apparently, this 2002 version of Carrie was designed as a backdoor pilot to a weekly TV series (The Carrie Diaries?), which helps explain the disastrous alterations made to the end of the story as well as the distractingly bad style in which Carson decided to shoot the film. This is a made-for-TV effort that never lets you forget it. The entire film is shot in hand-held close-ups designed to give a feeling of “intimacy” but which just make the movie feel small, while the fuzzy, washed-out digital photography creates a Carrie that looks like a cheap mid-‘90s soap opera.
A much better remake of Carrie is included as the second feature on Scream Factory’s double feature Blu-ray. Unfortunately, it’s not technically a remake but a sequel: 1999’s The Rage: Carrie 2. Emily Bergl plays Rachel, a goth girl with telekinetic abilities similar to Carrie White’s. When tragedy strikes her best and only friend (Mena Suvari), Rachel is all alone to navigate the difficult waters of teenage life — until a handsome football player (Jason London) takes an interest in her. Meanwhile, the rest of the team has to protect its “reputation” against charges of rape, which lands Rachel in the sights of another cruel prank. I don’t need to tell you how it all turns out.
The basic beats of Carrie are all accounted for in Carrie 2, but updated for the late ‘90s. In fact, if you can get past the soundtrack and all the shell necklaces on display, there’s a lot that The Rage: Carrie 2 has to say about bullying and rape culture that’s absolutely relevant in 2015; it’s impossible to watch the scenes of “bro” posturing and sexual aggression and not think of a number of college campuses in the news right now. Making Rachel a more proactive character than Carrie White is a smart choice, as is making her a kind of goth chick. The special effects are bigger and, when it finally hits, the gore much more extreme. Had it been released as on open remake of Carrie and just called The Rage, it would probably be remembered even more fondly.
Instead, it ties itself into the ’76 film in a whole bunch of ways, including countless clips from the De Palma version and the return of Amy Irving’s Sue Snell, now working as a guidance counselor and spotting a lot of familiar signs in Rachel. Without the Sue Snell stuff and the flashbacks to the ’76 Carrie, The Rage would be a better movie. It’s not Amy Irving’s fault — she does what she can with the role — but the movie has to twist itself in knots to draw connections to De Palma’s movie, interrupting what would otherwise be a really solid re-telling of the story. And, if I’m being totally honest, Sue Snell deserves much better than what she gets here. It’s unforgivable.
Both adaptations of Carrie are split across two discs on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray set. The 2002 version is presented in 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen (despite the disc jacket labeling it as 1.33:1) and looks probably as good as it can, which is to say not very good. The photography is so bland and blurry that even and HD upgrade can’t save it. The Rage: Carrie 2 looks considerably better in high def; the colors pop and the detail is better. Both films comes with lossless 5.1 mixes and standard stereo tracks; the 5.1 mix is preferable, particularly on Carrie 2, which is generally more dynamic.
Director David Carson and cinematographer Victor Goss have recorded a chatty and informative commentary track for 2002’s Carrie that’s new to this release, accompanied by the original trailer. Carrie 2 gets a larger selection of supplements: in addition to director Katt Shea’s original DVD commentary, she has recorded a new second commentary with cinematographer Donald Morgan and moderator David DeCoteau (director of many, many films for Full Moon and Charles Band). The second track is busy and fun but prone to weird silences in which literally all the sound drops out. There’s also a trailer, some deleted scenes and an alternate ending the includes some very sketchy late-‘90s CGI. They were right to change it.
The Rage: Carrie 2 is an underrated horror film from a decade that was a little rough for horror, undone somewhat not because it’s connected to Carrie but because it’s not quite connected to Carrie in the right way. It’s got a lot of good ideas on how to do a remake while being it’s own thing, but tosses too much away in the service of being a sequel. At the same time, it’s a better movie than it usually gets credit for being and is worthy of a revisit. Consider the 2002 remake of Carrie an extended bonus feature that you’ll never watch again.
Carrie (2002) Score: 2/5, The Rage: Carrie 2 Score: 3/5
Disc Score: 3/5