Saturday, May 24, 2014

Carrie (1974) / Joyland (2013)

I read Carrie during the return car trip from summer vacation last year. Or, I thought I did. Pretending to spring-clean, I was shelving stray books earlier this week and realized this one was still marked some ten, twelve pages from the actual end. The epilogue untouched.

That same trip, I also took King's latest up to that moment, Joyland, figuring it would be interesting to see the contrast between the two. Joyland, an endearing coming-of-age story draped with a supernaturally-dusted mystery at a seasonal amusement park (seriously, just imagine Stephen King scripting a Scooby-Doo episode for adults, and you've got it), is one of his best novels -- understated but engrossing, emotionally charged, just a whiff of fantasy/horror to provide friction. Whatever faults a more serious reviewer might feel the need to dig for, I'll tell you that book was a perfect companion for those early morning hours before the Florida sun chased away the high mist and set the beach sand alight.

I'd never read Carrie, never seen the Brian DePalma adaptation. But turning the pages, soaking up the easy pulp-noir tone King employed for that story, I realized aside from enjoying the way King unspooled the yarn, I wasn't processing anything new. I knew the story, inside and out, every beat of the plot, every turn, every character, from the opening tampon-throwing bedlam in the locker room to the climactic bucket o'blood at the prom. It was great fun, but if you're a fan of the horror genre, you're familiar with Carrie, enough said. Not hard to see why I put the book down without realizing I hadn't finished.

True, I haven't seen DePalma's Carrie (1976) in full, but years ago I did catch the closing moments on an episode of Monstervision. So by standing interrupted this week in our sunlit parlor and reading the last ten pages while the cat circled my ankles, my one surprise came from learning that the book and the film employ slightly different endings. King's own is a riff on the typical "The END ... or is it???" sci-fi stinger; DePalma's capper is more along the lines of "It was all a dream ... OR WAS IT???" and effective enough to jolt audiences of the 1970s out of their seats and become legend in the bargain.

What about audiences of 2013? Last year's remake seems to have fallen on a deaf culture, at first glance. More likely the attempt to deliver "a more faithful adaptation" of King's novel is to blame. One becomes unnerved by way of sudden and/or unfamiliar shock; familiarity and horror can't mix, so why? We live in a moment when parents can nearly set their watches to school shootings and roadside billboards alert us, with no-irony-intended bullet points, to ACTIVE SHOOTER PROTOCOL. Seriously? Skip the faith: a more truthful adaptation would have found the modern metaphor, mined all that anxiety, not buried it in a nostalgia exercise. Chalk it up to opportunity wasted, and we'll all hope for an edgy, pertinent reinvention of, say, Psycho... oh, right.

Well, Carrie, I guess if nothing else, we'll always have Joyland...