In 1974, a young, unknown author, who was teaching high school English at the time and living in a house trailer with his wife and small children, received a telegram. He received a telegram because he and his wife had decided previously they couldn't afford telephone service. The telegram read:
“'Carrie' officially a Doubleday book. $2,500 advance against royalties. Congrats, kid. The future lies ahead. Bill.”
The sender was William Thompson, Doubleday editor. The recipient was Stephen King. “Carrie” was King's sixth novel but the first to be published. The hardback edition initially sold 13,000 copies. New American Library paid $400,000 for the paperback rights. Half went to Doubleday, half to King. In its first year in paperback, “Carrie” sold more than a million copies.
In November of 1976, a relatively unknown young director of documentaries and occasional small feature films released his first “big” Hollywood movie. Made for approximately $1.8 million, the film version of “Carrie” went on to make $33.8 million at the box office. This was considered a huge return at the time. The movie also garnered a generally positive response from critics and Academy Award nominations for two of its stars, Piper Laurie, and the newly minted Sissy Spacek in the title role. The director's name was Brian De Palma. Several other young unknown actors, including Amy Irving, William Katt and John Travolta, appeared in the film. A 2008 survey revealed that “Carrie” was one of the most popular films watched by teens on Halloween. It retains a 92 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Flash-forward almost 40 years. Stephen King is a household name. His net worth is in excess of $400 million, according to Forbes. It would be hard to find anyone who hasn't either read a King story or seen a movie or television show based on his work. De Palma, of course, went on to direct such films as “The Fury,” “Body Double,” “Dressed to Kill,” “The Untouchables” and “Mission: Impossible.” Both Spacek and Travolta have enjoyed notable film careers.
And now, SHE's back.
This Friday, “Carrie” returns to theaters. Re-imagined and updated for the present day but still the story of the abusively repressed and bullied, budding, telekinetic heroine of King's breakthrough novel. Chloe Grace-Moretz (“Kick-Ass 1&2,” “Let Me In,” “Dark Shadows”) has the title role, and the outstanding Julianne Moore takes over for Piper Laurie as Carrie's religious zealot mother, the abusive Margaret White.
Kimberly Peirce, who directed “Boys Don't Cry,” the story of the murder of Nebraskan Teena Brandon, and “Stop Loss,” brings “Carrie” to the screen this time around. She has described it as a “superhero origin story” that goes terribly wrong. “Carrie discovers that she has superpowers, and those superpowers make life acceptable. I love that she doesn't have any control over it.”
Moretz has described this version as “…more like the book. It's darker and much more psychological. More 'Black Swan.'“
With rich source material, talented stars and an award-winning director, one might think “Carrie” a shoe-in for success, but the viewing public and critics have been somewhat fickle when it comes to remakes and “re-imaginings,” particularly of “classic” horror films. Reboots of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” as well as “Evil Dead,” have enjoyed reasonable box-office returns, for the most part. Critically, however, such remakes are rarely well-received, and, perhaps more importantly, they rarely attract a cult following that keeps them alive in the minds of fans long after their initial theatrical release.
As for the latest incarnation of “Carrie,” whether or not it is successful remains to be seen. But a few things are certain. This Cinderella story gone wrong remains a pop-culture touchstone. It also propelled more than one young talent to stardom. For those reasons alone, it's probably worth another look.
“Carrie” is rated R and has a running time of 100 minutes. It opens Friday.