‘Carrie’ Cuts Too Close to Real-Life School Violence

Carrie Review

Latest adaptation of Stephen King story is questionable in today's climate

Before the name Carrie became synonymous with Manolo Blahniks (in “Sex and the City”) and national security (in “Homeland”), there was the telekinetic high school girl who had a meltdown at her prom. When Stephen King published his 1974 novel “Carrie,” the idea that a teenager could commit a mass murder at school had all the makings of fictional horror, which is why the 1976 movie directed by Brian De Palma became a classic in the genre.

But that was a different time. It’s hard to revisit “Carrie” now without seeing parallels to recent grisly school killings. The idea that a quiet outcast can snap and kill all her classmates isn’t an unpleasant fantasy. It’s ripped straight from the headlines. Bullying is a grade school security concern, and the terror after Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook unraveled in real-time on cable TV.

Kimberly Peirce’s remake, which opens this weekend, touches on a number of hot button topics without responsibly exploring them. This update is much gorier than the original, and it feels like an after-school special from the creators of “Saw.”

Peirce anchors all the details of her film with the same realism that made her directorial debut “Boys Don’t Cry” an indie hit in 1999. But in “Carrie’s” case, the more real the story feels, the more disturbing it becomes. The mean girls who pick on our heroine post an online video of her in the gym shower; it brings to mind the tragic bullying stories that end in suicide. When Carrie is invited to prom, she clutches her date with the painful longing of a gay teenager who has never experienced public intimacy. Her mom (played by Julianne Moore) is a religious nut who cuts herself and keeps an arsenal of butcher knives.

De Palma’s “Carrie” was paced like a horror thriller, and the school seemed to exist in an alternate universe. Sissy Spacek was an adult when she portrayed the part, but she still seemed age-appropriate. The new “Carrie” casts 16-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays the character like she’s escaped from an asylum. I don’t mean that as a hyperbole — her Carrie comes across as mentally ill. The interpretation might hew closer to King’s text, but it also adds unintended echoes to Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer. When Carrie sulks and quivers, unable to connect with anybody — even herself — it’s frightening but not in an entertaining way.

And then it’s time for prom. In the original film, the school dance was orchestrated with some restraint—De Palma wisely cut away from most of the carnage, using split screen and colored lighting to mask the gore. The audience knew that kids were suffering, but the terror came from not seeing all the grisliest details. The remake’s finale takes a different approach, which is not unexpected given the nuclear arms race for more violence in films.

It’s been almost a year since Hollywood actors came together to make a public-service announcement about gun violence after Sandy Hook. That hasn’t curbed the violence in movies like “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” “Spring Breakers” and “Machete Kills.” Many will argue, like Quentin Tarantino told NPR, that there’s no correlation between fictional violence and real violence. (And I should clarify there are no guns in “Carrie,” but that’s hardly the point.) Box office considerations aside, the bar for stories about kids dying violently should be higher now. I’m not sure what high school students will take away from the new “Carrie” if they haven’t seen the original.

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  1. GKN says:

    I can see you didn’t bother watching the film linked below on Kubrick, Greg. You might’ve wised up, and it’s certainly not very ‘investigative’ on your part, so I will withhold my comments on who’s talking ’empty crap’ here. The article in fact makes some excellent points and perfectly mirrors what a great many thinking people think.

    • Adrian Anna says:

      Oh stop! You’re just being the obnoxious morality police. Just because America has gone to hell with all the political correctness doesn’t mean we’ll ever allow you to ruin our genre. Go watch some Disney and bake cookies. I’m tired of your only purpose in life being one-upmanship.

      • Adrian Anna says:

        No prob GKN. You know why? Because I’m not loon like you and I don’t live my life in fear, forcing my opinions on others. Get a job.

      • GKN says:

        Fine, Adrian. When one of the kooks aping that ultra violence gets one of your kids, or someone you care about, we’ll see how you feel. Since thinking isn’t your thing.

  2. Greg Crennan says:

    This is a “nothing”‘article. This isn’t journalism. No one commenting, or the author has any real world experience on the core issues. This is empty crap. Something a high school lit club student would write because liberal daddy says guns and violence is hollywood’s fault.

  3. GKN says:

    I invite anyone who still believes there’s no connection between real life violence and what nutters see in films to watch the last 10 mns or so of this little film on Clockwork Orange. It’s a rare example of famous filmmakers admitting just HOW obvious that is – so much so that Kubrick pulled the film for decades:

    http://www.mentorless.com/2013/09/25/doing-it-the-kubrick-way-clockwork-orange-making-of/

    Yes, of course it doesn’t affect most of us that way. The folks are mostly posting the right take-away re Carrie…. but there are an awful lot of rudderless folks out who just ape what they see. I’m guessing this is also why King regretted writing Carrie – alone of all his books, if that’s so.

    • HHGeek says:

      Maybe if Kubrick had made a film which included the final chapter of the book – where Alex has grown up and reflects back on his earlier behaviour – the impact might have been different.

    • Bob says:

      Both your statements: Kubrick pulling A Clockwork Orange and that King regretted writing Carrie, are not true.

      See my earlier comment about our films being released all over the world.

  4. Variety My Ass says:

    This is an utterly baseless article. Just because you have a bad taste in your mouth from the false flag events that have stained your perception of a good story, does not mean that everyone does or indeed should subscribe to that ideology. Wake up.

  5. Ava says:

    Are you kidding me?? Were there any recent school tragedies that involved people using telekinetic powers? It’s based on a classic horror novel people. A fantasy story.

  6. AJ says:

    I’m seventeen. In 6th grade, I read Carrie, and have reread it several times since. I’ve seen both the original and the remake, and I intend to see this version too. Never in my life have I considered killing another person.

    Violence happens daily. People blame it on video games (which I love to play), violent movies, Stephen King books, porn, rock music, gay marriage, and a plethora of other excuses. What we should be focusing on is increasing mental health awareness, putting an end to bullying, and treating other people with love and respect.

  7. Mr. Black says:

    Good lord, this is like people who slammed Fight Club because 9/11 happened a couple years later. You know what I took away from the Carrie films? Find that kid that sits alone at lunch, sit next to them every day and chat.

  8. Tina says:

    I think you are making connections that are not there, watching a horror movie even one about something that involves relativity plausible circumstances, does not lead to a person no matter the age to violence themselves. Instead of naming the fantasy world of horror and gore as your perpetrator of the evils that the sick and mislead do, maybe you you should look at the parents, the faculties,and the failures of the mental heath institutions the housed and “cared” for these real life killers. articles like this are a result of not wanting to admit that we as parents, as teachers, as doctors, can inadvertently, rather thou abuse or neglect, can raise a killer. Take responsibility and stop blaming artistic expression no matter its morbidity.

  9. meeter3 says:

    what an idiotic “review”

  10. Jules says:

    You lost me at, “clutches her date like a gay teenager”….you’re looking for something to complain about.

  11. Von Ether says:

    I think you might be missing the point of the horror genre. Done right, it’s supposed to hit hot buttons and make you uncomfortable

  12. Adrian Anna says:

    The only reason you’re focusing on incidents like Columbine while watching Carrie is because you want to. I had no problem keeping the two separate. Please find something more productive to do and stop making trouble where it doesn’t exist.

  13. David says:

    Between the 1974 release of the book Carrie, and the 1976 release of the movie there were 8 school shootings in the US:

    January 17, 1974: Chicago, Illinois, Elementary school principal Rudolph Jezek, Jr., 52, was shot to death in his office by Steven Guy, 14, a former student said to be angry at being transferred from the school to a social adjustment center.[142]
    March 22, 1974: Brownstown, Indiana, Jessie Blevins, 48, athletic director at Brownstown Central High School, was shot to death in the school parking lot by a 17-year-old student.[143]
    December 30, 1974: Olean, New York, Regents scholar Anthony Barbaro, 17, armed with a rifle and shotgun, kills three adults and wounds 11 others at his high school, which was closed for the Christmas holiday. Barbaro was reportedly a loner who kept a diary describing several “battle plans” for his attack on the school.[144][145]
    February 18, 1975: Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York, Marist College student Shelley Lynn Sperling was shot and killed by a scorned suitor in the Marist College cafeteria.[146]
    September 11, 1975: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S. Grant High School student Randy Truitt was shot and killed by James Briggs at the school, leaving several others injured.[147]
    February 12, 1976: Detroit, Michigan, Intruders shot five Murray-Wright High School students after an apparent dispute over one of the intruders girlfriends.[148]
    June 12, 1976: California State University, Custodian Edward Charles Allaway, 37, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the library on the California State University, Fullerton campus killing 7, and wounding 2.[citation needed]
    November 10, 1976: Detroit, Michigan, Second grade teacher Bettye McCaster, 45, was shot to death in front of her 29 students at Burt Elementary School, by her estranged husband, Al Lewis.[149]

    source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1970s

  14. Bill Scott says:

    We can hope the take away is, don’t pick on socially awkward kids.
    No one thought the original Carrie was real. It was just a nightmare.

  15. 24/7 says:

    Steven King never made a sequel. He should have teamed up Fire Starter, and Carrie. They could have been in that Azz Kickers 2 movie where Chloe got her start as, Hit-Gurl….

    But Steven King hasn’t come out interesting lately. He’s been watching too much E! news! 24/7 http://www.eonline.com/

  16. John Miller says:

    Not to nitpick, but wouldn’t “isn’t an unpleasant fantasy” = “is a pleasant fantasy?” The two negatives cancel out each other. I come across this kind of thing when I edit my own writing.

    • Robyn C. says:

      I don’t think it would cancel out because it is more of a comparison than a single statement. If all the writer said was “this movie isn’t an unpleasant fantasy” the negatives would cancel. However it is saying that the movie is not an unpleasant fantasy but is actually ripped straight from headlines. Maybe the punctuation of the two sentences could have been better? “…isn’t an unpleasant fantasy; it’s ripped straight from the headlines!”

      Thoughts?

  17. Bob says:

    These same violent American films are show all over the world. How is it that they incite violence only in America?

  18. Michael in NYC says:

    I was waiting for this absurd point of view to come out and here it is. Christ, this story/book/movie/play has been in the zeitgeist since 1972 and this argument is now being made. It’s lacks context and is so tired. People have way, WAY too much time on their hands.

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