Stephen King’s orig­i­nal string of mid ‘70s-to-mid ‘80s hor­ror nov­els have main­tained such pop­u­lar­i­ty that some have been adapt­ed more than once. His debut nov­el Carrie is a per­fect exam­ple — this tale of teen telekine­sis has been adapt­ed three times, two of them for the big screen in 1976 and 2013. Between its two big screen appear­ances, Carrie was revived as a minis­eries-style event for tele­vi­sion in 2002. The results use their tele­vi­sion-allot­ted length in ways that both help and hurt its approach to the source mate­ri­al.

Carrie02-posThe plot of the tele­vi­sion ver­sion leans hard on the novel’s melo­dra­ma aspects. A new fram­ing device depicts sur­vivors of a small town cat­a­stro­phe being inter­viewed by cop Mulchaey (David Keith), who is try­ing to piece togeth­er what might have caused the­se events. As he inter­views sur­vivors, his sus­pi­cion falls on Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure), a teen who at first pranked then lat­er befriend­ed Carrie White (Angela Bettis). Carrie is the school out­cast, a mis­fit who lives with her reli­gious zealot mom, Margaret (Patricia Clarkson).

Mulchaey sus­pects that Snell teamed up with the school’s res­i­dent mean girl Chris Hargensen (Emilie De Raven) to pull a nasty prank on Carrie but the accounts of Snell and her fel­low sur­vivors paint a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. It seems that Chris had it in for Carrie but Sue tried to help Carrie’s self-esteem by lin­ing up a prom date for her using her own beau, Tommy Ross (Tobias Mehler). Neither knows that Carrie has a bur­geon­ing pow­er of telekine­sis — and when she’s pushed too far, those pow­ers have the abil­i­ty to do more dam­age than any­one can con­ceive of.

The 2002 ver­sion of Carrie is both helped and hurt by the sprawl of its two hour-plus run­ning time. On the good side, this allows it to work in some good mate­ri­al from the nov­el that the 1976 film couldn’t accom­mo­date, like a mem­o­rable flash­back to Carrie’s child­hood that gives an ear­ly indi­ca­tion of her abil­i­ties and the expand­ed ver­sion of Carrie’s town-wide ram­page that the first film ver­sion had to avoid for bud­getary rea­sons. However, the expand­ed length also bleeds a lot of the ten­sion out of the story’s buildup, espe­cial­ly with the fram­ing device fre­quent­ly inter­rupt­ing and try­ing to build sus­pense for a sto­ry that all the King fans who might watch this already know. There’s also a dopey coda designed to leave room for a week­ly t.v. show.

Carrie02-01The 2002 Carrie also suf­fers in com­par­ison to its cin­e­mat­ic pre­de­ces­sor because of its t.v. lim­i­ta­tions. It has to pull its punch­es in the story’s more dis­turbing moments, par­tic­u­lar­ly the trau­mat­ic lock­er-room open­ing. The visu­al effects allow the film to have a greater scope when depict­ing the cli­mac­tic car­nage but the CGI is hit and miss — and the t.v. ver­sion also has the ten­den­cy to over­state cer­tain moments because it can use visu­al effects (instead of knock­ing a teas­ing kid of his bike, Carrie makes him fly sev­er­al feet through the air and crash into a tree!).

Most impor­tant­ly, the t.v. ver­sion looks a bit “plain Jane” in terms of style when com­pared to the pop-goth­ic style of the DePalma film. Director David Carson does his best to bring style to the film on a t.v. sched­ule and bud­get but his efforts come up short com­pared to DePalma’s kinet­ic flair, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the hand­ful of sce­nes that the t.v. ver­sion does a replay ver­sion of. For proof, look no fur­ther than the prom set­piece: though tart­ed up with au-courant CGI effects, its stag­ing lacks the punch and slick orcheCarrie02-02stra­tion of the 1976 ver­sion.

On the pos­i­tive side, the 2002 Carrie does have a few nice attrib­ut­es. Bettis deliv­ers a superb per­for­mance in the title role, bring­ing a con­vinc­ing awk­ward­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that real­ly sells the sto­ry, and Clarkson does well by under­play­ing her mean mom role to cre­ate a sub­tle sense of men­ace. A lot of the sup­port­ing teen cast is bland, par­tic­u­lar­ly the inter­change­able male actors, but McClure and De Raven acquit them­selves well enough and Keith gives a like­able, com­mit­ted per­for­mance as the cop.

It’s also worth not­ing that the script by Bryan Fuller, who would lat­er cre­ate Hannibal, writes some effec­tive dia­logue, par­tic­u­lar­ly when he is able to step away from the famil­iar plot. Highlights include a con­fronta­tion between the prin­ci­pal and an angry par­ent and a great moment where Carrie tells Sue she knows Sue just feels pity for her but appre­ci­ates her kind­ness nonethe­less. If he’d been able to col­or out­side the lines like this more often, this ver­sion of Carrie would have been bet­ter. Nonetheless, the skill he shows with rein­vent­ing famil­iar mate­ri­al in the­se moments hints at his future suc­cess with Hannibal.

Ultimately, this tele­vi­sion ver­sion of Carrie is a mixed bag but it offers enough inter­est­ing moments and strong lead per­for­mances to make it worth a look for King com­pletists who can keep their expec­ta­tions in check.