Carrie, the 1976 horror classic by director Brian De Palma (Scarface, Dressed To Kill, The Untouchables), is now on Netflix.
Based off the debut novel of horror maestro Stephen King, Carrie is a coming-of-age story gone horribly wrong. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, a young, abused teenager with telekinetic powers, who is picked on by nearly everyone at her school.
Her powers are awoken by a series of humiliating events, and when the psychological torture goes too far, Carrie takes revenge on her classmates in the worst possible way. The subsequent "prom scene" is one of the most iconic scenes in movie history—tasteless, horrifying, and vicariously thrilling, all at the same time.
That the film has lost none of its emotional power in the four decades since its debut is impressive; its themes and cruel high school setting will always resonate. That the filmmakers produced such a fine film on a $1.8 million budget is even more impressive; it's true that necessity is the mother of invention.
Spoilers ahead: here are 10 trivia facts you might not know about Carrie. Her classmates may have laughed at her, but absolutely no one is laughing now.
1. The filmmakers changed several details from King's original book.
King's novel tells Carrie's story in retrospect. It's comprised of multiple "found footage" documents: interview transcripts with the survivors of prom night, newspaper clippings, magazine excerpts, letters, and more. The screenwriter, Lawrence D. Cohen, abandoned this in favor of a more linear, narrative approach.
Additionally, De Palma upped the violence and horror in some areas, while minimizing it in others. In the novel, Carrie kills her mother Margaret by stopping her heart. De Palma thought this wouldn't translate well to screen, so he came up with the idea of having Carrie impale Margaret with cutlery. Also in the novel, Carrie destroys the entire town; De Palma limited the destruction to the high school, because the budget wouldn't allow for anything more.
2. Star Wars and Carrie held joint auditions.
George Lucas and Brian De Palma held a joint audition to find actors for both Star Wars and Carrie. And this led to some fascinating "What if…?" scenarios. William Katt, who plays Tommy Ross (Carrie's prom date) also auditioned for Luke Skywalker. Sissy Spacek, who plays Carrie, auditioned for Princess Leia; so did Amy Irving, who plays Sue Snell in De Palma's film. And Carrie Fisher, who Lucas chose to play Princess Leia, auditioned to play Carrie.
There was a longstanding rumor that Fisher was rejected from Carrie because she refused to work nude. Fisher herself shot this down in an interview with Premiere: "Not only do I love being nude, I would’ve been nude then. Maybe. But anyway, it’s total bullshit."
3. This was John Travolta's first major film role.
At the time of his casting as Billy Nolan, the bad boyfriend of bully Chris Hargensen, John Travolta was an up-and-coming Hollywood star. After Carrie, Travolta went on to star in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, which put him on the Hollywood A-List.
Stephen King approved of Travolta's performance, saying in an interview with Cinefantastique, "Sissy Spacek was excellent, but right behind her—in a smaller part than it should have been was John Travolta. He played the part of Billy Nolan the way I wish I’d written it, half-funny and half-crazy."
4. Several cast members thought the movie was a comedy.
Originally, Piper Laurie, who played Carrie's mother Margaret, thought that the movie was a dark comedy based on the script. But De Palma disabused her of the notion.
"Once De Palma revealed that he didn’t want a satirical approach and said, 'You’re going to get a laugh if you do that,' I realized that he didn’t want laughs, at least not in our conscious performing," said Laurie in an interview with Hollywood Chicago. "I just fully embraced the reality of what I was playing. I must say that I enjoyed having the childlike freedom to play act and be the evil witch. It was very freeing and fun to do."
In a similar way, Nancy Allen, who plays lead bully Chris Hargensen, thought that she and Travolta were the comic relief. It was only later that she realized how evil she came across.
5. Sissy Spacek went to great lengths to get into character.
To win the lead role, Spacek put vaseline in her hair, wore an old dress from middle school, and didn't brush her teeth before going to the audition. The makeup staff tried to fix her, because they didn't realize it was deliberate.
During the filming of the movie, Spacek deliberately isolated herself from the rest of the cast to inject a little realness into Carrie's relationship with the other characters. And it all paid off: Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the film.
6. The water hose injured P.J. Soles during the prom scene.
Carrie was also a star-making turn for P.J. Soles (Halloween, Private Benjamin), who plays Norma, the bully in the red baseball cap. During the prom scene, Carrie kills Norma with a fire hose, and although a stuntwoman handled most of the work, Soles performed the closeup work. During the take, the pressurized water hit her directly in the ear and busted her eardrum.
Following the incident, the crew carried her to her dressing room; she was screaming in pain and had lost her equilibrium. Fortunately, Soles made a full recovery, and De Palma decided to leave the fateful shot in the movie.
7. A deleted scene gave us more background on Carrie's childhood.
A deleted scene shows Carrie as a young girl, being abused and disciplined by her mother after being caught talking to a girl in a bikini. This triggers the first manifestation of her powers: a meteor shower that falls from the sky and lands on her house.
This is why at the very end of the movie, you see stones coming through the roof in the interior shots. De Palma originally intended to shoot a meteor shower for the exterior shots, as well. But when the machine that was to be used for the meteor shower didn't work, De Palma decided to just burn the house down and be done with it.
8. De Palma used lots of reverse filming throughout the movie.
De Palma shot in reverse a couple of times to create his desired effect. For the scene where Carrie impales Margaret with knives, De Palma strung the knives on a thread, and pulled them out from Margaret's body. He then ran the shot in reverse to make it look like the knives were flying towards her.
At the end of the film, when Sue is walking towards Carrie's grave, De Palma actually filmed the scene with Sue walking backwards, away from the grave. He then ran the shot in reverse to make her walk forwards, in order to give the scene a dream-like quality. If you look in the background of the scene, you can see the passing cars driving in reverse, which gives away the illusion.
9. The Broadway musical based on the movie was a notorious flop.
In 1988, Carrie: The Musical debuted on Broadway, starring Betty Buckley (who played gym teacher Miss Collins in the movie) as Margaret White. The show closed after 16 previews and 5 performances, making it one of the most infamous flops in theater history. Still, the musical lives on as a cult classic, and is still performed by theater troupes across the country.
10. The movie has a sequel and multiple remakes.
The Rage: Carrie 2 is a sequel about Carrie's half sister, who also had telekinetic powers. The movie follows a similar plotline as the first film, only instead of pig blood, the humiliation comes from a pre-recorded sex tape. Additionally, Sue Snell (reprised by Amy Irving) has become the school's gym teacher in the years since the original incident.
There was also a 2002 made-for-television remake of the original, and a higher budget 2013 remake starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Margaret. The latter was a box office success and made $85 million, proving that even today, the story holds tremendous power over people.