Color, 1999, 104 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Katt Shea
Starring Emily Bergl, Jason London, Dylan Bruno, J. Smith-Cameron, Amy Irving, Zachery Ty Bryan, Charlotte Lopez, John Doe
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Pillaging horror classics started to become a strange cottage industry in the late '90s, ranging from baffling remakes (Psycho, The Haunting) to horror sequel reappearances all over the place in the wake of Scream. So the next logical step would be... a sequel to Carrie? Well, that may not be exactly what the world needed, but that's what viewers got. The lukewarm box office reception (and icy critical response) ensured another sequel wasn't coming around the corner, but on its own terms, the overachieving film offers some decent thrills and surprisingly effective performances along the way. We did get a couple of remakes of the original Carrie in its wake, too, and compared to the studio-tainted train wreck with Chloë Grace Moretz released in 2013, this one looks even better in retrospect.
Rachel Lang (Bergl), a standard goth girl who finds herself isolated from the popular kids at school, has a secret. Like the infamous Carrie White, she can move objects with her mind, but luckily self-control has kept this little talent well hidden. Her mother wound up in an asylum after finding this out, so Rachel's extreme denial keeps her shuttered away, kept under the thumb of her foster parents. When her best friend, Lisa (American Beauty's Suvari), commits suicide after being used by a heartless jock in a sexual "points" contest, Rachel realizes the truth about her cold-hearted predatory surroundings and decides to do something about it. She strikes up an unlikely romance with Jesse (Dazed and Confused's London), who tells his football buddies to back off and leave Rachel alone. Unfortunately, Jesse's jilted girlfriend, Tracy (Lopez), cooks up a scheme with the diabolical jocks to teach Rachel a lesson. Of course, they never counted on Rachel's secret power.
A strange mixture of the powerful and the mundane, The Rage starts off uneasily with a tired retread of the usual high school cliches (all but one of the jocks are evil, cool girls are the devil incarnate, outsiders are all trendy and really better than everyone else, etc., etc.). Fortunately the film pulls itself up thanks to the unexpected romantic element, which could have been developed even further. Bergl and London are both excellent in their roles and alone make this worth seeing; without this much-needed core of human warmth in the center of the film, the rest would simply collapse into a trivial heap. Poison Ivy director Shea (a Roger Corman alumnus who picked up shooting after Robert Mandel left) exhibits her usual traits as a director, with haunting, surprising scenes emerging from the seemingly mundane. She handles all of the actors very well and pulls off the gory climax with enough panache to make one wonder how on earth it managed to get an R rating. The interesting last minute shock is also skillfully delivered, and the use of black and white footage to represent Rachel's telekinetic moments is used with taste and restraint. While The Rage could have functioned perfectly well on its own terms, the script unfortunately trivializes itself by trying to deliberately link back to the first film. Flashbacks (both visual and aural) abound, and thanks to the laughably superfluous use of Amy Irving as Sue Snell (the original's lone survivor, now a high school counselor), the plot even tosses in an unnecessary twist linking Rachel directly to Carrie. These debits aside, the film is worth a look and has held up well over time, even with its awkward '90s pop culture references ("Shirley Manson, she rocks!").
Not surprisingly, MGM's DVD release from 1999 was a strong showcase for the film at the time with a delicately rendered anamorphic transfer and a spacious 5.1 sound mix. The plentiful extras include an audio commentary by Shea and a handful of deleted scenes, also introduced by the director. Most of these scenes are basically filler, though at least one does explain Rachel's current relationship with her mother. An alternate last scene is also included and was thankfully jettisoned from the final cut. Strangely, the theatrical trailer is conspicuously absent.
The Rage first appeared on Blu-ray in 2015 from Scream Factory as a double feature with the made-for-TV Carrie remake from 2002 starring Angela Bettis (which had its own new audio commentary with director David Carson), and in 2019, 88 Films brought the title to U.K. Blu-ray including a limited slipcase edition for the first pressing. The two releases mirror each other in terms of technical specs (solid and appropriately dark, rusty-hued HD master from MGM, DTS-HD MA 5.1 and stereo mixes, English SDH subtitles) and extras, porting over everything from the DVD (Shea commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes) while adding the theatrical trailer and, most notably, an updated new commentary with Shea and director of photography Donald Morgan in conversation with David DeCoteau. All in good spirits, they have fun revisiting the film on what was its 15th anniversary as they chat about the production process with Shea coming in to help on the troubled production and the two of them steering the ship in the right direction. Anyone familiar with Shea's other top-notch commentaries knows how good she is at them, and this one is no exception.
Updated review on April 3, 2019.