Horror

‘The Rage: Carrie 2’ Twenty Five Years Later – A Feminist Retelling of a Horror Classic

If there’s ever been a classic horror film that doesn’t need a sequel, it’s Carrie. Stephen King’s debut novel was masterfully adapted into a 1976 film by Brian De Palma and quickly became a runaway hit. In fact it’s likely because of the film’s success that the prolific author so quickly became a household name. Published in 1974, the semi-epistolary novel follows Carrie White, a high school senior who’s spent her life taking abuse from her ultra-religious mother and savage classmates. Finally pushed too far, Carrie unleashes her telekinetic power with a fiery vengeance that lays waste to the cruel and kind alike. De Palma faithfully adapted King’s original novel to create a terrifying exploration of long-term abuse and self-defense gone terribly wrong. The image of Carrie (Sissy Spacek) covered in blood as she walks through a burning prom has become an indelible image in our collective consciousness and a prime example of Good For Her horror. 

In the nearly fifty years since Carrie’s publication, King has become a prolific author with more than 70 books–and counting–to his name, but he’s never revisited his first tragic hero. De Palma’s film ends with a grotesque reminder that “Carrie White burns in hell,” but King concludes his novel with an ominous warning. A young Appalachian mother writes to her sister about her daughter’s strange habit of moving the toys in her crib just by looking at them, a hint that Carrie may not be the only one with this deadly gift. Twenty-five years later, director Katt Shea picked up the thread of this coda with the 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2. King’s telekinetic heroine may be a distant memory for the next generation of Bates High School students, but the power she once used to kill her fellow classmates is about to erupt from another bullied girl.

Horror Queers Carrie 2

Rachel (Emily Bergl) is a high school outcast living with a neglectful foster family while her mother receives residential treatment for schizophrenia. Her only friends in the world are a fellow loser named Lisa (Mena Suvari) and Walter, her beloved basset hound. When Lisa dies by suicide after horrific treatment from a popular jock named Eric (Zachery Ty Bryan), Rachel works with Ms. Snell (Amy Irving), the school’s guidance counselor, to find the reason for her tragic choice. A former classmate of Carrie White’s, Sue Snell recognizes telekinetic abilities in Rachel and worries that history might be destined to repeat itself. While grieving for her friend, Rachel sets her sights on revenge while reluctantly falling for a popular football player named Jesse (Jason London). But the jock’s callous friends won’t tolerate this divergence from social norms and vow to make Rachel their next target. 

Perhaps it was inevitable that the decade that gave us teen meta slashers would also see a return to the most iconic high school horror film of all time. Fresh from directing the Drew Barrymore shocker Poison Ivy, Katt Shea (hurriedly replacing Afterschool Special veteran Robert Mandel) seemed like the perfect voice to bring the story to life. Nods to Wes Craven’s Scream, one-hour photo booths, Structure sweaters, and painful ska music playing on the quad immediately position this film as a late-90s time capsule. Jason London, then best known for his turn as Randall “Pink” Floyd in period classic Dazed and Confused, once again plays a conflicted football player, bridging the gap between 1976 and late 90s high school life. 

The Rage: Carrie 2 released just five weeks before the Columbine High School massacre, a shocking tragedy that forever changed our understanding of high school violence. In the immediate aftermath of this horrific event, false rumors began to swirl about murderous outcasts targeting their popular bullies. The shooters’ true motive turned out to be much more random and broad, but it’s possible Shea’s film was still lurking in the zeitgeist as damaging narratives were taking shape. The similarly themed Idle Hands released just ten days after the notorious school shooting to dismal box office returns. This understandably poor showing combined with Shea’s fiery teen massacre to essentially end the late 90s cycle of teen horror films. 

In addition to this devastating tragedy, The Rage: Carrie 2 represents the best and the worst of the decade. The teen angst is palpable and it’s refreshing to see issues like sexual harassment, statutory rape, and toxic masculinity treated with the seriousness they deserve. But homophobic language and a clumsy treatment of mental illness balance out the good and remind us how far we’ve come since this decade of bubblegum progressiveness. The film also has the effect of a feature length music video with bizarre black and white sequences appearing out of nowhere. Perhaps meant to be an edgy display of Rachel’s awesome powers, these segments feel like amateur experimentation and detract from what is otherwise a solidly composed film. Shea is also a bit too beholden to De Palma’s film and shoe-horns in a connection with Rachel’s mother (played by a pre-Succession J. Smith-Cameron). These tacked-on references feel awkward and forced, distracting us from Rachel’s relationships with Jesse and Sue.

The sequel also features a classic King villain reminiscent of Henry Bowers and Ace Merrill. Jesse’s best friend Mark (Dylan Bruno) has devised a point system he uses to chart his friends’ sexual conquests. Lisa was an early victim of this dehumanizing hobby and jumped off the school’s roof when she realized she was just another girl on Eric’s list. Though Mark is a villain through and through, Shea includes a scene in which an aggressive football coach orders him to strip in front of the team. This public shaming does not excuse any of his abhorrent behavior, but Shea implies a cycle of abuse and victimization dating back generations. Along with mean girl cheerleader Tracy (Charlotte Ayanna), Mark leads the bullying charge and inadvertently sparks Rachel’s deadly rage like Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) did two decades before.

Unlike King’s original novel, a genuine love story takes center stage in this modern interpretation. Jesse becomes an updated version of both Sue and her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) who once sacrificed their own romantic evening to give Carrie the date of her dreams. Like Sue before him, this popular athlete also becomes disillusioned with his friends’ malevolent pranks, but has difficulty breaking away from a firmly established social hierarchy. Though eventually revealed to be Carrie’s half-sister, Rachel begins the film with more agency. She may have come from a troubled past, but unlike her unfortunate predecessor, Rachel’s life is not filled with abject misery. While Carrie is the story of an ugly duckling longing for acceptance, its sequel follows a confident but guarded girl struggling to trust anyone with her heart.

Shea’s film also marks the return of Amy Irving as Sue Snell. When last we saw the grieving senior she was clutching her mother in the aftermath of a brutal nightmare. Sue mentions spending time in the same mental health institution as Carrie’s mother, letting us know that the years since prom night have not been kind. A friend asks if her dedication to Rachel masks a need to save a girl that died twenty years ago and flashbacks to De Palma’s film reveal a woman still tormented with guilt. Sue takes Rachel to the burned out husk of the original school as a warning of what could happen if Rachel doesn’t seek help. Though Sue clearly fears Rachel’s power, she never blames Carrie for the tragedy. As both a counselor and a witness, she knows that Carrie was first a victim of extreme bullying and only lashed out with violence when she was pushed over the edge. Unfortunately, Sue gets sidetracked by a silly plot involving Carrie’s mother and is summarily discarded with a grisly and gratuitous death, an egregious waste of one of King’s most fascinating characters.

Though the film uses scenes from De Palma’s movie, the story is heavily indebted to King’s original novel. In addition to blatant Easter eggs–Jesse attends King’s University and Rachel chats with a nerd named Arnie (Eddie Kaye Thomas)–many sequences directly parallel moments from the book. Jesse has a revealing conversation about popularity moments after having sex in a car, mirroring a young Sue’s own ruminations over her part in the locker room prank. Like his literary counterpart, Jesse also questions his place in the social hierarchy and the self-loathing that accompanies being part of the popular crowd. Another scene feels like an echo of the tense standoff between Chris Hargensen’s father and Vice-Principal Morton. Unfortunately the modern version of this battle for accountability ends in disappointment. Facing charges of statutory rape, Eric and his father threaten to expose a number of the town’s prominent sons and succeed in getting all charges dismissed. The teen’s smirk when he realizes he’s going to get away scot-free makes us want to light our own worlds on fire. 

This scene ends with the District Attorney prioritizing Eric’s bright future over the safety of the town’s young women–a disturbing precursor to the 2016 People v. Turner case and similar instances of campus sexual assault. It’s also an early example of revenge porn as Mark and his friends make a surreptitious sex tape they use to humiliate Rachel. In another unfortunate parallel, the dehumanizing game that sends Lisa to her death was inspired by a real incident from 1993. A group of athletes from Lakewood, CA, dubbed the “Spur Posse,” logged similar points for sexual conquests and terrorized their classmates and neighbors with harassment and assault. While De Palma’s bullies are extremely cruel, Shea updates the story to show the many ways women are victimized by a patriarchal society. 

Though readily available on streaming platforms, The Rage: Carrie 2 has essentially been forgotten. Likely swallowed by standout genre entries of the era and an unprecedented tragedy in Colorado, it now exists as a lesser-known bookend to the 90s teen horror cycle. But the story doesn’t just stand on its own, it becomes more and more relevant as the years go by. Though dated on its surface and known for its glorious Death by CD kill, Shea’s film explores the ways young women suffer in an abusive system and the toxic masculinity that warps the minds of high school boys–problems we’re still facing twenty-five years later. Much more than a silly sequel to a legendary film, The Rage: Carrie 2 is a feminist retelling of one of the greatest revenge stories of all time.  

Originally Published Here.

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