I am a fan of both Stephen Kings novels as well as Chloe Moretz’s movies, so having read the 1974 novel, I went to see Carrie 2013 and then later found Carrie 1976 on Netflix, and it was interesting to see the slight changes.
The 2013 film leans more on drama, makes you identify more with Carrie, and fleshes out the supporting cast more; the 1976 seemed more an observation of a potentially dangerous individual, and used a lot of flashy, annoying film techniques (musical cues, tinted scenes, kaleidoscope effects). My thoughts are still unordered and some spoilers follow.
The shower scene was the obstacle that had King throw away his original draft and almost give up on his incipient career; structurally I found it occurred too early, and in the movies I didn’t know who the characters were so it gave up some effect. In fact I assumed Chris was the pretty blonde girl – who turned out to be Sue. The bullying in the 1976 film was more physical and to me more visceral – the girls bumping Carrie as they walked past – while as a 21th century film the 2013 version includes obligatory Youtube clips.
The 2013 film clearly depicts Carrie’s mother as mentally disturbed with grisly self-harm scenes, and drops more clues to Carrie’s powers and her homeschool past. The new film also delves deeper into the supporting characters – you see Chris trying to turn everyone against the teacher, calling for help from her father, and making enemies with Sue. Tommy has much more personality and he’s a good guy, reluctant at first and then standing up for Carrie; his mirror Billy is less of an idiot browbeaten by an abusive Chris (1976 was John Travolta a long time ago) and instead a shaven-headed sociopath. The principal is squeamish rather than careless (Carrie freaks at him mentioning her mother rather than calling him Cassie), but the silly comedy of 1976 is mostly gone.
Moretz plays a more sympathetic Carrie than Spacek’s not-quite-right wild-child; I found myself identifying with her desire to be normal, her curiousity about her powers, and her mixed love for her mother, moreso than Spacek’s unbalanced portrayal. The flipside is that I found it more difficult to believe her going on the killer rampage: Spacek remembers the teacher promising that she can trust her, the prank and the laughter is betrayal, and she methodically kills her way through the audience; instead Moretz runs to find Tommy dead, triggering her (over-theatrical) massacre. It’s strange to externalise such grief with almost-indiscriminate homicide – and the selectiveness of Moretz preserving her teacher (whom I don’t think prevents Sue from stopping the prank this time) makes it even tougher to understand. But perhaps that’s just poor explanation of Carrie’s internal state – the 2013 movie goes into flashy horror-movie kills – Chris in particular receives a pretty gruesome end, nothing like the original instant death. Unlike 1976, Sue meets Carrie at the end of the night, a slight improvement on the narrative.
However favourite scenes remained the same in both movies: when the teacher comforts Carrie crying about having been invited to the prom, and when Carrie and Tommy are dancing and she asks him poignantly “Why am I here?” – these cut to the very heart of Carrie’s theme: an outcast tempted and betrayed by popularity.