There’s no reason an old horror movie can’t claw its way out of the grave with a great remake. David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” topped the films that inspired them. Such thrilling reincarnations are possible, but rare.
The second go-round for “Carrie” doesn’t intoxicate you with the strange brew of sleaze, satire, sensuality and shock that made Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation a high-style pulp classic. It’s like going to prom with somebody you like, not somebody you love.
The material of Stephen King’s high school horror novel has perennial appeal. If anything, its story of a scorned telekinetic girl striking back against her cruel classmate is even more resonant now.
With Chloe Grace Moretz as the abused wallflower Carrie White, Julianne Moore as her unhinged fundamentalist mama, and Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) in the director’s chair, there’s talent to spare. Yet the fever-pitch grotesquerie of the original eludes them.
“Carrie” redux often replicates the De Palma version, sometimes with verbatim quotes of shots and lines of dialogue. It’s not a beat-for-beat copy, however.
Peirce’s film is a more feminine take on the material. It’s intensely attuned to the gossipy hive mind of bitchy girls’ cliques, and the way women’s self-loathing can turn to self-mutilation. It serves up baroque images of female sexuality, and adds a prologue about Margaret’s pregnancy that demonstrates Carrie was cursed from her first breath.
Moaning in agony in her bedroom, Margaret delivers the child, the spawn of a “sinful” tryst, in a spasm of shame and disgust. For a long, horrific moment she considers killing the newborn before her maternal instincts kick in. Overprotective yet monstrous, Moore’s Bible-thumping religious zealot makes Nurse Ratched look like a Candy Striper.
When repressed Carrie enters late-blooming puberty, her first menstrual blood staining the floor of her high school shower, the cool girls cruelly humiliate her, flinging tampons. Through some psychosexual link Carrie’s supernatural power, well, flows, like a surge of PMS wrath, shattering water coolers and breaking mirrors. The resentful girls orchestrate a vicious retaliation. Dousing Carrie with a bucket of blood at the prom is vicious, but doing it at the moment a rigged election crowns her queen, exalting her with feelings of euphoria and popularity — that’s sadistic genius.
Peirce’s staging of the attack and Carrie’s vengeful psychic outburst lacks the anxiety-provoking slow motion and sinuous split-screen suspense of the original. And this time her apocalyptic rage is tempered. She lashes out in large part out of grief that her prom date is killed by the falling bucket, and when she goes on the attack she does not slaughter foes and friends alike. By keeping the focus on punishing her predators, the scene undercuts the full horror of Carrie’s murderous, uncontrollable backlash.
Moretz, a confident actress, doesn’t project the vulnerability that made Sissy Spacek at once sympathetic and pathetic. We feel sorry for Moretz, but it’s hard to see why she’s singled out as an object of torment by her peers. Spacek was geekier, more awkward, with a wounded stare, the sort of ugly duckling that teenage swans would understandably attack. No matter how she hunches her shoulders and drops her eyes, Moretz doesn’t have that invisible “Kick Me” sign on her back. When her Carrie snaps, she’s less an innocent turned monster than an X-Men character having a really bad day.