Given that adolescence was a living hell for the vast majority of us, there's something thematically ingenious about a horror film set in an American high school-a 'house' as haunted by the ghosts of the tormented and suffering as any Gothic mansion. An observation which probably goes a long way toward explaining why Stephen King’s 1974 novel, Carrie, still holds such a pop-cultural fascination for us (its flop 1988 Broadway musical incarnation continues to be resurrected to this day), and why, in October of 2013, we’re to be treated to a third motion picture incarnation (four, if you count the TV-movie sequel).
Classic novels have been adapted to the screen many times without being labeled "remakes" of earlier versions (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Stoker’s Dracula). But Brian De Palma’s 1976 film was such a stylistically influential success, both commercially and critically, that it has, in many ways, eclipsed King’s rather prosaic novel to become the dominant cultural touchstone whenever anyone thinks of Carrie. Until someone can adapt Stephen King’s novel without borrowing visual and metaphorical tropes from De Palma’s film, every incarnation of Carrie is one that has to be compared with the "original".
Which brings us to the problem facing director Kimberly Pierce’s adaptation. Were one to base one’s opinions exclusively on the theatrical trailers thus far released, I’d say the 2013 Carrie wants to play it both ways: accept it as a completely fresh take on Stephen King’s novel, yet it seeks to court our familiarity with the original by staging sequences and framing shots in ways identical to De Palma’s film. Unavoidable in some cases (One high school high-school prom looks pretty much like another), ill-advised in others (the introduction of Smartphones to Carrie’s shower trauma doesn’t make it look less like outtakes from De Palma’s POV shots).
Because of its consistent thematic perspective, Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a close to a flawless horror film as I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t just tell a story; it has a distinct, metaphorical point of view (blood, menstruation / coming-of-age, fear of power / Inversion of the Cinderella Myth) and maintains it throughout.
There are many areas in which a Carrie reboot can distinguish itself on its own merits, but for me, the sequence to beat and any remake’s biggest hurdle, is also the sequence featured most aggressively in its promotion: The Prom. Since it is no longer a surprise to anyone, Carrie’s disastrous prom experience has now become the exclusive reason to see the film, and its sole raison d’être.
I’ve no doubt modern technology and CGI can render the carnage and destruction of Carrie’s prom more vividly than ever, but the film will be a true triumph it can capture even a small percentage of the emotional and narrative virtuosity Brian De Palma achieves in one of cinema’s most assured and effective sequences.
For a look back at Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic adaptation of Carrie, and a critical, in-depth analysis of its iconic prom sequence, visit my blog http://lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2012/12/carrie-1976.html.