The ‘Carrie’ you’ve probably never seen.
Carrie, a timeless tale of a young girl exacting revenge on her bullies, based on Stephen King’s first published novel, has become one of the most recognizable horror icons in cinema. The striking image of a girl drenched in blood has stayed with people over the years. While the original film starring Sissy Spacek as the titular character is undoubtedly a classic, the lesser known 2002 TV movie written by Bryan Fuller and directed by David Carson is a much more faithful adaptation of King’s original novel. Where Carrie 1976 (and the 2013 remake) make it a much more streamlined and focused film, the 2002 film chooses to adapt aspects of the novel that were cut or changed in the theatrical films. Thus was born the most faithful adaptation of King’s novel, even if the movie itself is a mixed bag.
The movie starts with Carrie’s (Angela Bettis) birth in her home. But Fuller goes in a different direction for his adaptation directly after this opening scene. The opening credits show what look like meteors — something (mostly) cut from the theatrical films — that Carrie summons as a child, though they were stones in the book. This is present again in the actual plot when Carrie is sent inside the house by an enraged Margaret (Patricia Clarkson). Rightfully upset with the mistreatment from her mother, Carrie’s telekinesis manifests through this, sending their dinner table crashing through the window. This is followed by the rain of stones that partially damage their house. It is nice to see an adaptation attempt keeping this in the story, if not tonally very different from the regular storyline, through very dated CGI. The stones are never really explained; they’re just known to be connected to Carrie and her powers. Interestingly, they are used in the destruction of her house in both the 1976 (they were officially cut from the film, but are visible in some shots) and 2013 film. The stones do not add much to the overarching plot, especially when Carrie does not destroy her home and instead leaves, living in the end of this adaptation.
A More Literary Structure
Where the main changes come in this adaptation, compared to the others, are through the story structure. The two theatrical Carrie adaptations (the 2013 version being nearly beat-by-beat to the original) take the core story of Carrie from the book and essentially use only that. The book however, is not told from Carrie’s perspective, and is instead told through newspaper clippings, articles, and interview excerpts of the events leading up to and of the iconic prom night. Unlike the two theatrical releases, Bryan Fuller’s TV adaptation chooses to adapt this literary choice as best they can in a visual format. The opening of the film brings us directly to Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure), the character best known for trying to help Carrie after realizing her mistakes on bullying her, in an interrogation room. The movie continues the trend of this throughout the runtime, as other survivors are brought in to be questioned by Detective John Mulchaey (David Keith).
The movie is told through flashbacks to show the events of what happened the week leading up to and the night of the prom, very similar to the book. Though this made for a faithful adaptation of the novel’s structure, it causes major pacing issues for the film. Feeling both rushed and bogged down in places, it seems almost that this should have been fully restructured into a miniseries rather than a two-hour film trying to do way too much within its runtime.
The Town’s Destruction Is Finally Seen
This adaptation by Fuller also allows the audience a glimpse from another unseen portion of the book: Carrie’s destruction of the town. After the prom carnage, Carrie leaves everyone inside the gym and turns her rage to the town surrounding it. She opens fire hydrants to thwart any rescue for those stuck inside the prom, blows up gas stations and destroys buildings, killing many people in doing so. This includes her causing her tormentors Chris (Emilie de Ravin) and Billy (Jesse Cadotte) to crash as they try to run her over, which is the only scene that made it into the theatrical films from this sequence. This sequence is nice to see adapted at least once, on a much lower budget than it should have been, but they achieved what they could to get the point across. Carrie’s destruction of the town that failed her makes sense, especially as she begins the walk home to her mother, knowing that she was unfortunately right about that night.
This leads up onto the final confrontation with her mother, and Carrie killing her in self-defense. These last few sequences have never been adapted faithfully, and still technically haven’t as they are out of order in all films (Margaret’s death occurs before Chris and Billy’s in the book), but this is the most faithful. Where Carrie is stabbed in the book by her mother, here, Margaret attempts to drown her as she is washing the pigs’ blood off of her. Carrie then kills her mother in self-defense, this time faithfully to the novel, by stopping her mother’s heart with her powers. Whereas in the original movie, Carrie sends flying kitchen utensils to essentially crucify her mother, a much more dramatic and striking image for audiences to remember. That is where the faithfulness of this adaptation ends, as in a not-so-shocking twist (this was to be a television series after all) Sue follows her home and saves Carrie’s life, helping her leave the town and start anew, which is a surprising place of hope to end the movie, whereas the original story ends in tragedy.
A Flawed Film, But Still a Faithful Adaptation
Carrie 2002 is a flawed film. Many parts do not feel cohesive in the storytelling; it drags and feels rushed at the same time. But it is also perhaps a great treat for book fans wishing that many of their favorite scenes from the novel were adapted in the other films, at least those willing to look past the film’s failings. Carrie 2002 is far from the best of the three, but the story of Carrie is timeless, and the film is still entertaining for fans. This film also boasts the longest runtime for the prom night massacre so far (at about seven minutes!), which provides a great watch on how Carrie’s revenge is achieved.
Carrie 2002 may not be the best film, but it is the most faithful to Stephen King’s original novel, and should be given a watch at least once. But let this stand to show that adaptations being faithful to the books does not always make for the best film. A different medium requires different storytelling.