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Review: ‘Carrie’

Remake Of DePalma Film Dead On Arrival

Above: Chloe Grace Moretz and Judy Greeer star in the remake of "Carrie."

The remakes keep rolling in. This month we get a new version of Brian DePalma’s “Carrie” (opened October 18 throughout San Diego).

I understand the reason why Hollywood remakes successful films; they hope success will breed success. But when you remake something that’s already good you are also inviting comparison. The remake boasts some talented participants. Director Kimberly Peirce made the exquisite “Boys Don’t Cry,” and actresses Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore have proven their talents on numerous occasions. So although I saw no reason to remake a perfectly good horror film, I was at least hopeful that this trio of strong women could find something new to bring to the story.

The opening scene was hopeful. The new “Carrie” starts with her birth. We find Margaret White (Julianne Moore) in a bloody bed, panicked, and asking God why He is doing this to her. She thinks she’s dying and seems unaware that the pain she is going through is merely childbirth and when baby Carrie pops out, her first instinct is to kill her. But she doesn’t. This is a promising way to begin. It sets up Carrie’s mother as religious, reclusive, and yes just a bit crazy. But then it was all downhill from there.

Brian DePalma’s 1976 “Carrie” starred Sissy Spacek as the painfully shy teenager whose fanatical mother (the unforgettable Piper Laurie) tries to keep her locked up -- sometimes literally – and ignorant of the outside world. But Carrie attends public high school and is mercilessly teased by the other kids after a humiliating incident in the girls’ gym (she thinks she’s dying when her period starts in the shower). Spacek was perfect as Carrie. She was awkward, plain, and decidedly an outsider. And when she feels victimized at the end (in the famous pig blood poured on her at the prom), she finally looses control and retaliates with her telekinetic powers, bringing the school down on everyone – whether they had been cruel to Carrie or not.

Credit: Sony

Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore as a dysfunctional daughter and mother in "Carrie."

In the remake, Moretz takes on the role but looks like a Vogue model. Sure she starts out with frizzy hair and hunched over but that quickly changes. Her hair smooths out, her make up improves, she straightens up, and she looks more like a cheerleader than an ostracized misfit. And that’s not the only problem with the new Carrie. She also realizes immediately that she has telekinesis and learns to control. That completely misses the point of the story. Carrie is a teenager confused by all that’s going on and control is the last thing she is able to exert over anything in her life. And Moretz’s Carrie makes conscious choices about whom she hurts rather than indiscriminatingly lashing out. DePalma’s “Carrie” was about being a troubled teenager. Peirce’s “Carrie” is like an offshoot of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

This new Carrie is also far too confident and self aware, standing up to her mom almost as soon as the film starts. None of these changes improve the story; in fact they simplify and Hollywoodize it. It is no longer the story of a sad troubled teen but rather a perverse badly made tale of female empowerment.

Peirce tapped in so well to young outsiders in “Boys Don’t Cry” but in “Carrie” she fails to develop any emotional appeal or empathy with her character. In fact it’s Peirce who feels like the outsider in her own film. The qualities that made “Boys Don’t Cry” and to a lesser degree “Stop Loss” good seem foreign here. For every nice moment – like Margaret’s self mutilation – there are a dozen crappy scenes like Carrie flying or levitating books or the dumb exposition at the end to explain what we just saw.

Based on a Stephen King story, Peirce’s “Carrie” has no scares and no sense of horror. It’s all ridiculous and over the top silliness. But what is scary is that these lame Hollywood remakes seem to be creating a generation of movie goers who are less demanding of the product being churned out.

“Carrie” (rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content) is a predictable remake. It takes all the familiar elements, recycles them without improvement or creativity. What's really infuriating, though, is that this uninspired remakes opens wide across the country but a genuinely good remake, "We Are What We Are" (a remake of the Mexican horror film about modern day cannibals) will not even open in San Diego. Now that's truly lame.

Companion viewing: “Carrie” (1976), “The Fury,” “Boys Don’t Cry”

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Avatar for user 'theRose'

theRose | October 22, 2013 at 3:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Sadly, this review reveals all the flaws I was worried about with the remake; I'll wait to watch and critique this on basic cable. Can you tell us more, though, about how Julianne Moore fared as Carrie's religious zealot of a mother? After her turn as Sarah Palin, I've really been looking forward to her continuing development as a matron of evil (Carrie's mom, President Coin . . .)

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | October 22, 2013 at 5:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Beth's right: Recent remakes are lame. The original "The Thing" was good. John Carpenter's remake was even better. The 2011 remake was sub-par because there was little room for improvement. I give a free pass to The Asylum on remakes because of their self-awareness. Otherwise, let good movies be.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | October 22, 2013 at 6:40 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Two basic points: 1) Sex education is necessary in schools for those who don't have supportive home environments, and 2) remember to be very, very, very kind to classmates you don't know that well, because they may have Satanic Power.

The scene in the girl's locker-room made both male and female audience-members sit up and pay attention whatever else it did (Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law assigning high school locker-rooms based upon one's own personal preference).

Brian de Palma was heralded as the new Hitchcock based in part on the comparison with girl's locker-room scene in "Carrie" with the scene of Janet Leigh's shower at the Bates' Hotel in "Psycho.".

Sissy Spacek, the actress who played the lead in the original version of Carrie, won an academy award for her role as a semi-illiterate country singer in Coal Miner's Daughter who married at 14 years of age. She studied with that country singer for a year as preparation for the biopic. It was a tour de force which she deliberately exploded in her follow-up with de Palma in his spoof of Stephen King novels (and all high-school Halloween recurring murder stories).

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | October 23, 2013 at 8:29 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

theRose - Julianne Moore was one of the few good things in the film. She nailed the role. But based on her performance, Margaret's daughter should have been a lot more messed up than Chloe Grace Moretz played her. The film really missed what the story at its most interesting is about.

DeLaRick- spot on about The Thing. Carpenter's remake worked because he had a reason to re-make it and a vision about how to remake it. In the 50s it was about fear of the "other" and in the 80s, during Reagan, it was about paranoia and fear of each other. The latest version had nothing new to say and no new vision of what the terror was. As I mentioned in the review, We Are What We Are is a remake done right.

thompsonrichard- the thing the remake misses, though, is that what's scary is when something is uncontrollable. In DePalma's film, Carrie kills her classmates and teachers indiscriminately, so it didn't matter whether they were mean to her or kind to her. That was the point in making it a film about a teenager. And DePalma was heralded as the heir-apparent to Hitchcock years earlier for Sisters and much more so for Obsession (his re0imagining in a way of Vertigo).

Thanks all for the great comments.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 23, 2013 at 11:57 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Although Spaacek is a much better actress than Moore will ever hope to be, even a young Spacek at the time, what's so difficult about playing a religious zealot, portrayed in both as a ONE-DIMENSIONAL character???

I was NEVER a fan of the original as even then I acknowledged that blood and more blood does not in and of itself make for a good horror movie. Gotta hand it to De Palma for the ending, though. It made me jump, back in '76!

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Avatar for user 'theRose'

theRose | October 24, 2013 at 5:21 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Missionaccomplished - Perhaps I've misunderstood your post, but the comparison between Spacek and Moore seems off to me. They didn't play the same role. Spacek played Carrie and Moore played Carrie's mother, Margaret. The role of Margaret was played by Piper Laurie in the original film.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | October 25, 2013 at 9:03 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I was secretly hoping that Spacek would have been tapped to play Margaret White in the remake. That would have been interesting. And yes Piper Laurie played the mom in the original and was brilliant and creepy.

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