The Film: 3/5
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Carrie, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King novel and the film that established its director Brian DePalma and star Sissy Spacek as full-fledged industry players. It was a box office smash, garnered Oscar nominees for Spacek and co-star Piper Laurie, and introduced many phrases and images into the annals of popular culture, the most enduring being the vision of timeless beauty that is Spacek mutated into a telekinetic monster by a horrible prank. The film spawned its share of imitators, but it wasn't until more two decades had passed before MGM decided to authorize both an official theatrical sequel and a made-for-television remake that was designed to serve as the backdoor pilot for a potential weekly series. Both experiments brought about a biblical flood of failure tears and now they have been piled together on a 2-disc Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and their horror/sci-fi shingle Scream Factory.
First up is the TV remake, first aired on NBC on November 4, 2002 and released on home video not long after. David Carson, the English director who has worked extensively in television while finding time for the occasional feature (most notably, Star Trek: Generations, the inaugural big screen voyage for Picard and crew), takes over for DePalma, with future Pushing Daisies/Hannibal mastermind Bryan Fuller penning the teleplay that adheres more closely to the original King novel than DePalma was able to for narrative and budgetary reasons. Austin's own modern horror icon Angela Bettis (May) took on the title role, and the quiet intensity she brings to the part of Carrie White makes her performance one of the few areas of the remake that comes the closest to equaling or even topping the original. She actually looks more like Carrie White should than Spacek. Carson and Fuller structured their adaptation in the manner of the novel, with most of the story presented in flashback form as a local detective (David Keith) interviews Carrie's classmates and survivors of that very dark prom night as part of a postmortem investigation. The interjecting interrogation segments aside, this Carrie is mostly a beat-for-beat cover version of the 1976 original whose existence only occasionally feels necessary. Too often, Carson is willing to employ the use of badly-rendered CGI effects in order to adapt scenes that were not financially possible for DePalma's team to create back in the mid-70's. One scene in particular features a suburban meteor storm that looks like the opening of Michael Bay's Armageddon remade by the Asylum. Maybe DePalma was secretly happy that he couldn't make that beat from the novel into cinematic reality because all it does is disrupt the narrative flow and clog the screen with empty, embarrassingly out-of-place spectacle.
While DePalma brought a dreamlike quality to his adaptation that made the garish red lighting and operatic Pino Donaggio score used for the climatic prom massacre appear as if the gates had suddenly opened into the deepest recesses of Hell, Carson's TV-ready direction is flat and uninspired. Director of photography Victor Goss desperately attempts to replicate the hazy look of the original, but most of the shots look as if the production couldn't afford a decent camera mount. Next to Bettis, the highest marks for acting go to Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile) for bypassing the frothing hysteria of Piper Laurie to imbue her portrayal of Carrie's religious fanatic mother with a menacing gentleness. The rest of the cast runs the gamut from good to passable, with Rena Sofer (The Bold and the Beautiful) and Kandyse McClure (Hemlock Grove) delivering fine performances as the only two people in the world really in Carrie's corner. Emilie de Ravin (Once Upon a Time) and Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) bring real mean girl nastiness to their roles of Carrie's chief tormentors. The musical score by Laura Karpman (Black Nativity) is serviceable for the most part, but is at its best in the gentler dramatic scenes.
The Rage: Carrie 2 was birthed out of the post-Scream revival of violent horror films geared towards younger audiences. They were, pardon the pun, all the rage at the time. Original director Robert Mandel (F/X) was forced to quit the production with barely a week to go until filming began, leaving his replacement Katt Shea with far less prep time than even Peyton Reed had when he took over Ant-Man from Edgar Wright. Shea, a former actress whose best-known credit was as one of Norman Bates' gorgeous murder victims in Psycho III, graduated from Roger Corman's school of fast, cheap, and in control independent exploitation filmmaking to make such stylish, sleazy B-movie gems as Stripped to Kill (and its 1989 sequel), Streets (with Christina Applegate as a teenage hooker), and Dance of the Damned. Her 1992 psychological thriller Poison Ivy, featuring Drew Barrymore's coming out party as a mature actress, demonstrated Shea's ability to adapt her skills as a master of sensuous screen titillation to the demands of more challenging dramatic material. This would seemingly make her the ideal candidate to take the reigns for United Artists' belated follow-up to DePalma's masterpiece. Given enough time, she might have even insisted on an overhaul of Rafael Moreu's (Hackers) screenplay since its slavish fan service to the original Carrie often results in major continuity goofs and the painful reminder that, right now, you could be watching a much better film.
Yes, there are many flashbacks to the original Carrie and most of them are introduced by the very presence of Amy Irving, who returns as surviving character Sue Snell. Now employed as a guidance counselor at a different high school, Snell spends most of her screen time talking about Carrie, recounting the plot of the original, and even recalling scenes (such as the famous prom night bloodbath, and Mrs. White screeching, "They're all gonna laugh at you!") where she clearly wasn't present to witness what happened. Moments like those cause The Rage to give off some mighty uncomfortable Jaws: The Revenge vibes. The addition of Irving's character and the flashbacks to the original distract from the better story of Rachel (Emily Bergl), a high school outcast much like Carrie White but for different reasons. Whereas Carrie was a meek introvert with no friends, Rachel is a wisecracking Goth girl who prefers hanging out with her best friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) and other freaks and geeks at her rural institution of higher learning to running with the school's jock and teen princess elite.
The star football players, lead by the odious Mark (Dylan Bruno), have an ongoing game where they give each points for deflowering virginal female students. Lisa gives her virginity to meatheaded jock Eric (Zacherly Ty Bryan), but when she finds out that she was nothing more than another entry on his score card she hurls herself off of the school roof. Her shocking death causes Rachel to begin experiencing strange sensations where it seems like she can move objects with the power of her mind. When Snell notices this, she tries to educate Rachel on Carrie White and the horror she unleashed on her own school more than twenty years ago (which leads to one of Rachel's best lines: "Supposedly she set the fire as some sort of revenge-suicide thing, Elvis was her date and they escaped in a UFO."). She even takes Rachel on a brief tour of what remains of the high school she attended with Carrie. In his own review of The Rage, the late Roger Ebert pointed out how strange it was that the smoldering ruins of the school had been left standing after all these years. Why would the town leave them there? When the Twin Towers were destroyed, another tower was built in its place. It took almost a decade, but it happened eventually. When I see the ruins of a high school that was burned almost to the ground by a mousy teen's telekinetic assault, I see a morbid memorial to a bunch of French fried polyester devotees that should have been bulldozed to make way for a new school. Or a shopping center. Or a damn hyperspace bypass. Something, damn it!
Back to the story. Rachel, against her better judgment, falls in love with handsome and decent football player Jesse (Jason London). Of course, this infuriates Jesse's fellow pigskin punters and their MTV-friendly gal pals because Rachel isn't one of them and their romance upsets the natural order of things. While Eric is being shielded from legal retribution by the town's social and political infrastructure that considers a winning football team to be a higher priority than justice for sexual predators, he and his bonehead buddies are harassing Rachel at her home and planning a prank that will destroy her relationship with Jesse as well as whatever shred of self-esteem she has managed to cling to since childhood. All she wants to do is be a normal kid with loving parents, friends that accept her, and a boyfriend who will love her for the rest of her days. Sadly, Rachel is trapped with foster parents (including L.A. punk legend John Doe) who only keep her around for the $300 monthly stipend they receive from the state, a gaggle of burnouts who couldn't care less about anything unless they toke up first, and a real mother who is currently cooling her heels in the local insane asylum Arkham (?) because she is such a fevered religious nut she makes Carrie's mum look as hysterical in comparison as a coma patient. At least she gets a golden opportunity to unleash a little mental-powered mayhem during a party at Mark's house. A house that is made almost entirely of glass. Do the math.
Much like the original Carrie, The Rage truly becomes a horror film during this gory, over-the-top finale. DePalma may have been comfortable splashing around a little blood and fire and hitting P.J. Soles with the full force of a fire hose, but the house party massacre concocted by Shea and Moreu veers closer to Peter Jackson's Braindead territory in terms of wholesale splatter. We get a double skull spearing, plate glass decapitation, CDs used as flying blades, exploding eyeballs, and a castration accomplished through the use of a poorly-aimed harpoon gun. Shea's ace in the hole for these scenes was her cinematographer, the great Donald M. Morgan. Though known primarily for a laundry list of television films, Morgan also served as the director of photography on John Carpenter's Christine and Starman, as well as the sublime comic gem Used Cars. He shoots the graphic dispatches in The Rage's centerpiece of colorful carnage in a visually intoxicating explosion of Argento-esque reds, getting that blood a nice Taxi Driver shade of crimson.
An epic display of gory chaos aside, The Rage is still half a decent film. The visual and narrative connections to the original Carrie appear tacked on in an attempt by the studio to cash in on its sterling reputation as a critical and commercial horror classic. Without them, The Rage would have been a much stronger film, because when it is struggling to carve out an identity of its own amidst the multiple Carrie callbacks it almost succeeds. Emily Bergl is a charming actress who makes her character Rachel's vulnerability one of her greatest strengths, and she is convincing enough as a reluctant outcast to have us believing in Rachel's inner desire to be accepted by her peers. Irving is fine but given almost nothing to do but act as a living connective tissue to the superior original. Jason London had played a high school football star in Richard Linklater's freewheeling comedy classic Dazed & Confused, which was back in 1993. Playing a variation on that same character in a much different context almost a decade later couldn't possibly result in anything but the uncomfortable sight of a guy old enough to sell auto insurance for a living pawing a young woman who actually looks like a late-blooming teenager. His single love scene with Bergl's character is set up and executed in the style of a chaste montage you might find in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, complete with cheesy piano music accompaniment from composer Danny B. Harvey (Bettie Page: Dark Angel). All that's missing is a cutaway to curtains blowing in the wind.
Bruno and Bryan are adequate as the one-dimensional muscleheads, using the word "bro" more than Tony Montana said "fuck". In fact, The Rage hints at an interesting secondary storyline about how the town seems to turn a blind eye to the illegal indiscretions of their football players at the expense of the trusting young women whose bodies and souls they irreparably damage. During a pre-game training session, the school's hardass football coach (Steven Ford, Black Hawk Down) humiliates Mark by forcing him to strip below the waist and insulting his manhood in full view of his teammates. If the sexually demeaning, fraternity culture of high school jocks and the cruel adults who drive them to become walking hard-ons and violently aggressive winners on the playing field had been explored in greater depth, the parts of The Rage that actually worked might have coalesced into a memorable film and worthwhile companion to the original Carrie. Instead, it's little more than an obsequious pretender to the throne whose fleeting virtues have to battle to the death for the faintest recognition.
Both films have been transferred in 1080p high-definition by Shout! Factory and presented in their original aspect ratios. The Rage: Carrie 2 was filmed in 1.85:1 with Panavision cameras, while the 2002 remake was appropriately framed for its television exhibition in 1.33:1 full frame. Each transfer is a vast step up over previous DVD incarnations, but not by much. Grain is kept to a minimum, colors are strong and vibrant (especially in The Rage), and the fine textural integrity has been retained. English language audio tracks have been provided for both films in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo. The made-for-TV remake's sound mix doesn't gain anything significant by the addition of a 5.1 track since it was originally recorded and mixed in stereo, but if you choose to go with the surround you won't be disappointed. The dual tracks are fine and feature audible dialogue and strong volume levels for the ambient effects and Karpman's score. The Rage was released theatrically in both DTS and Dolby Spectral Recording, so the 5.1 mix is definitely the best way to go regardless of where you watch this Blu-ray. The full force of the film's soundtrack gets unleashed during the Grand Guignol finale. Distortion and overlap in the various elements of the sound mix are nowhere to be found. It's a corker. English subtitles have been provided for both films.
The remake gets a new commentary with director Carson and director of photography Goss and it makes a decent, moderately informative listen. The dominating topic of conversation appears to have been the pressures of making an unnecessary redo of a beloved horror classic and trying to live up to its legacy while creating one of their own. A trailer (2 minutes) is also include.
The Rage features a new commentary from director Shea to go with a commentary she had recorded with cinematographer Morgan for MGM's previous Region 1 DVD. The newer track offers an updated perspective on the production and Shea's thoughts on how it continues to be received by fans of Carrie and horror in general after all these years, but the older track features less dead air and Shea and Morgan's pleasant remembrances and conversational tone are much more enjoyable to listen during slow spots in the film. Also returning from the earlier DVD are a reel of alternate scenes (7 minutes) and an alternate ending featuring an unused CGI effect (1 minute). The original ending is presented with and without the digital trickery. Unfortunately, the good commentaries from Shea this excised footage comes with cannot be switched off at any time. Major points off for that slight. The theatrical trailer (2 minutes) closes things out.
Just like the R-rated remake directed by Kimberly Pierce that was released theatrically in 2013, a belated sequel to Carrie and a bland made-for-TV remake were far from necessary. They were made to exploit a property that was in danger of going stagnant to those who stood to profit from it the most, and nothing more. But each film has its share of virtues and flaws, though the latter often overpowers the former. They were made with competence by directors who didn't feel the need to show off and allowed the characters and the performances by the actors chosen to play them to propel the narrative. Yeah, maybe these films should never have been made. But the fact remains that they were, and for what they're worth Carrie 2 and Carrie '02 both make for better-than-average horror entertainment. So is that a recommendation? Read the scores, people!