“Carrie” 20 Years Later – The Adaptation You Forgot Existed

Not only was “Carrie” Stephen King’s first published novel, but it was also the first movie adaptation made of his work, and in the late 70’s, it’s very much what turned him into a household name for horror.

So in the age of remakes, it was no surprise to see another adaptation of Carrie made in 2013 (along with several other King properties being adapted again like “Pet Semetary”, “It”, and “The Stand”).

But there’s a commonly overlooked and forgotten adaptation of King’s inaugural work, and it came from the same mind behind the critically acclaimed and unfortunately canceled Hannibal series, Bryan Fuller.

The 2002 TV movie Carrie wasn’t received very well and it definitely has a lot of issues.  But upon its 20th anniversary, it’s still worth taking a look at and acknowledging what it did right and what it tried to do.

Novel Accuracy
This version of Carrie is by far the most accurate to Stephen King’s novel.  It includes certain elements like the police interviewing witnesses afterwards, as well as the incident of the rocks raining down on Carrie’s house when she was a child, and even includes the same incredibly haunting manner by which Carrie kills her mother by stopping her heart as in the novel.  It also features Carrie destroying half the town in addition to the school, something that the other adaptations don’t really showcase.

Carrie 1
David Keith gives an admittedly odd performance as a detective who seems way too chill about a massacre having just occurred in his precinct.


All of these extra scenes do extend the runtime (which we’ll get to), but they help to paint a more complete picture of Carrie’s character, something that this adaptation arguably does the best with.  Sissy Spacek gave an amazing performance in the 1976 DePalma film and we’re not taking anything away from her.

That being said, Angela Bettis captures Carrie’s awkwardness better than either Spacek or Moretz in the 2013 film.  We also get a Billy Nolan who’s much more of a psychopath and even freaks out Chris Hargensen at times.  And it does make things all the more tense and uncomfortable, humanizing Chris as she at times doubts the nasty prank they’re doing.

Carrie 2
She may have been the oldest actress to play Carrie at 28, but she perfectly encapsulates Carrie’s otherness and not fitting in.


Between its long runtime and police procedural approach to the interviews, this was the only adaptation of the novel that felt like an exact translation of the text to screen, for both better and worse.  Known for his incredibly long manuscripts, “Carrie” is actually one of the shortest Stephen King novels and a 2 hour 15 minute runtime just drags, and is an example of why some things work in books but not in film.

However, it still deserves credit for its unyielding determination to be faithful to the book, even down to the moment when Sue Snell connects with Carrie telepathically and bears witness to all the horror that she’s experienced.  Ironically, the main deviation from the source novel is that in this version, Carrie White survives at the end, whereas every other adaptation kills her off.

TV Budget
While many critics and fans did praise Angela Bettis (and rightfully so), this adaptation is very much dragged down by its early 2000s TV movie budget.  The CGI is Playstation 1 graphics bad and the whole thing is shot with this washed out looking filter that feels very dated now.  Despite being made 20+ years previously, the DePalma version just looks a lot better visually and is better directed.

But to be fair, with a higher CGI budget and longer shooting schedule, this version could have been a lot better, because there’s certainly a sense of creativity and style that it attempted to do, but just didn’t have the budget for.

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Even the title card looks very Clip Art


It’s a shame because this adaptation really did try to tell a larger story and maintain accuracy to the book, but it’s mostly remembered for having laughably bad CGI rocks and a cheap TV movie look that ages it even more than the 1976 version.

Attempted Legacy
Ultimately, the goal with this adaptation was to have to spin off into a TV series which featured Carrie and Sue living in Florida and teaching other people how to use their telekinetic abilities.  But unfortunately due to the poor reception, this series would never be.  But it’s a fascinating concept, and it’s part of the reason why this version deviated from the novel and had Carrie live.

In all the other adaptations, Carrie seems to have much more control over her powers and therefore the infamous prom scene feels more like deliberate murder on her part.  Angela Bettis’ version of the character seemed more overtaken by it, and thus it partially absolves her from some of the responsibility for it.

Carrie 4
In a way, it makes her humiliation all the more tragic. Even in the moment she kills everyone, it’s not a deliberate choice motivated by rage.


Bettis herself was hopeful about doing the series, but after the TV movie was largely panned, she went on to disown the movie entirely, as did several others involved.  But in the long history of Stephen King adaptations, this version of Carrie deserves to at least be recognized as the much longer, much more book accurate version, similar to that of the 1997 TV movie of The Shining.  Neither are perfect (or arguably even good), but they’re part of the story.

Have you seen the 2002 version of Carrie?  Do you think a TV series would have worked?  Let us know in the comments!

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