Anyone who attended high school in the mid-1970s thought twice about their prom experience after seeing Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” and this overlong retelling of Stephen King’s tale taps into the horrific way teens can treat ugly ducklings, loners and geeks — for about 10 minutes. After the demeaning gym shower scene in which Carrie’s classmates taunt her, NBC telepic shifts into a special effects bonanza, starting with some cheesy fireballs falling from the sky and concluding with Carrie’s telekinetic walk through town in which the world is turned upside-down.
Angela Bettis does an admirable job as Carrie, a high school senior and outcast who lives alone with her overly religious mother Margaret (Patricia Clarkson). Margaret’s answer to everything is “Go to your closet and pray,” and as Carrie awakens to a different world than the one her mother lives in, she slowly rebels against her backward thinking. At first, it’s slow and drawn out; at the midpoint, at least she’s making the furniture fly around the room, but anyone familiar with the original will, by that point, be antsy for the prom scene.
Knowing that the audience for this telepic is familiar with the Sissy Spacek starrer from 1976, pic is told in flashback from two weeks after the prom in which most of the senior class is killed when the gym mysteriously floods and burns down. Detective John Mulcahey (David Keith) interrogates survivors about whether there was a conspiracy to humiliate Carrie. The prime witness-suspect is Sue Snell, played smartly by Kandyse McClure, who appears about six years too old for this role; in the end, she’s about the only friend Carrie ever had, willing to not only sacrifice a prom date but also get her out of town postmayhem.
King’s story is played out on a single level — revenge of the downtrodden — and each of Carrie’s classmates plays the role of evil personified, especially Chris Hargensen (Emilie de Ravin) who is dating the only student with a more warped mind, Billy Nolan (Jesse Cadotte). P.E. teacher Miss Desjarden (Rena Sofer) stands in the middle of the battle ground, offering encouraging words to Carrie and threatening the students who harm her. Sofer’s portrayal is invested with sexual undertones while the rest of the telepic takes prurient side routes whenever it seems plausible — girls locker room scenes, postcoital bedroom scenes, etc. None of it adds to the horror.
David Carson’s direction is generally on the mark and there are moments when he generates considerable tension among the combatants. But too much of “Carrie” feels padded, that we’re watching an extra 45 seconds or a minute in certain scenes just to get them to fill out the time until the commercial break or allow in more f/x. (The former is far-too apparent toward the climax, which is more a fizzle than a big bang.) Then again, the open ending leaves room for a sequel — “Carrie: Florida State Firestarter,” anyone?