In this week’s paper I have a capsule review of Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about an unpopular high school girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. Peirce is best known for her debut film, Boys Don’t Cry, a solemn account of the life and tragic murder of Brandon Teena. Similar to Boys Don’t Cry, Peirce’s Carrie is a sympathetic portrait of a misunderstood societal outcast, a far cry from the feminist-fearing source material and the psychosexual satire of Brian de Palma’s famous adaptation. However, despite its more mature air, the film isn’t without its problems. As I note in my capsule, Peirce reinvents Carrie as an antibullying drama, incorporating elements of online bullying and female body shaming, but the serious (and modernized) tone she strives for mixes poorly with the supernatural material, which lends itself more to camp and stylistic eccentricity than straight-faced pathos.
What’s more, Peirce’s take on the climactic prom massacre, which finds the unfairly terrorized Carrie reaching her wits’ end and murdering her classmates, has an uncomfortably contradictory air given the film’s call for more empathy and less cruelty. Most likely, her hand was forced by the studio powers that be. I wish it weren’t so. It’s disheartening to think that a director as talented as Peirce would have to essentially smuggle these themes into her own film, so here’s hoping she earned enough dough to help fund a more personal project.
For this week’s top five, I decided to list my favorite Stephen King adaptions, of which there are more than 70 (!), including feature films and made-for-TV movies. I read a lot of Stephen King growing up, and while he’s certainly not among my favorite writers (even then, I found his prose simplistic at worst and gimmicky at best), there’s an undeniable entertainment factor in his work, which explains why so much of it has been made into movies. You can catch my five favorite King adaptations after the jump.
5. The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1988) Cronenberg seems to have a good time with this thriller about a man who awakens from a coma and learns he has psychic abilities, though it’s certainly not among his most essential works. The film’s style of horror differs from his usual stuff—there’s no vaginal imagery or deformed, murderous children, for instance—but the pathological nature of the story is vintage Cronenberg, whose portraits of male obsessives (Max Renn in Videodrome, Seth Brundle in The Fly) provide psychological dynamics of his “body horror.”
4. The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007) Darabont turns a hokey, Lovecraftesque monster movie into a surprisingly cogent Bush-era allegory. A group of people are forced into a convenient store when a dense mist carrying ghoulish baddies descends upon their small town, and their varying reactions to the crisis mirror the zealotry of post-9/11 America. It’s not the most subtle film—some of the characters are so broadly drawn that they border on caricature—but it’s rather ambitious, particularly in the way it analogizes internal anxieties with external threats.
3. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) Campy and irreverent, this bizarre soap opera of sexual anxiety and religious fervor represents a high watermark for De Palma, who unfurls everything in his bag of tricks—split screens, slow motion, and the like. A style as derisive and hypercinematic as De Palma’s doesn’t exactly gel with King’s earnestness, but the chaos that arises as a result of their merger is fascinating. The film virtually runs away with itself during the famous prom scene, where the aesthetic aggressiveness directly corresponds with the titular character’s blood-soaked tirade.
2. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983) King has a thing for anthropomorphizing automobiles as avatars of dread, evident in his only directorial effort, the ridiculous Maximum Overdrive, and books like From a Buick 8 and Christine, which Carpenter envisions in his adaptation as a story of industrialist obsession, aided by his trademark framing and color palette. As with Cronenberg and Dead Zone, this is Carpenter at his most straightforward, but the results are nevertheless enticing.
1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) An obvious choice, but the correct one. As is well-known, Kubrick revised a significant portion of the story, removing all the obvious supernatural signifiers in King’s text and replacing them with abstract symbols, but he also kept a fair bit of it intact and brought some of its latent themes to the fore. He retains the book’s depiction of addiction and familial dysfunction, but injects his trademark nihilism into the story, revealing the malevolence that lurks behind King’s candied text.