The 1976 horror classic Carrie, about a troubled and lonely high-school girl who is mercilessly bullied to the point where she wreaks vengeance against her tormenters by using powers of telekinesis, was a breakout success that established novelist Stephen King, director Brian De Palma, and actors Sissy Spacek and John Travolta as forces to be reckoned with.
The film seems to have a special poignance because it’s one of the first in Hollywood history to spotlight the reality of high-school bullying, and it portrays the victim’s eventual violent outbreak as as a necessary and just act. The cruel intricacies of high-school social life have affected nearly everyone in some sort of negative manner, so audiences were able to empathize with Carrie’s plight, and they enthusiastically applauded when she finally stood up for herself with acts of breathtaking violence.
Here are 83 facts that provide a necessary framework for understanding the motivation behind the film’s making and what made it such a roaring success.
Stephen King’s Big Hollywood Break
1. King got the idea for Carrie while working for $1.60 an hour at an industrial laundry. Some of the characters were inspired by people he worked with.
2. The character of Carrie White was based on an amalgam of two girls that King had known during grade school and high school. Regarding one of them, King said: “She was a very peculiar girl who came from a very peculiar family. Her mother wasn’t a religious nut like the mother in Carrie; she was a game nut, a sweepstakes nut who subscribed to magazines for people who entered contests…the girl had one change of clothes for the entire school year, and all the other kids made fun of her.”
3. King also admits that some of the story may have been based on his own experiences in school, where other students had “teased [him] to death.”
4. King originally called his story Cavalier after the name of the hotel where Chris and Billy were hiding out while Carrie was hunting them down, as well as the “cavalier” attitudes that bullies have when tormenting their victims.
5. Not only was Carrie Stephen King’s first published novel, it was also his first story to be made into a film.
6. King considered Carrie to be an inferior work of his. He shelved it almost immediately upon completion to work on his second novel, Salem’s Lot.
7. In 2010, King told an audience in Fort Myers, FL, that he was paid only $2,500 for the film rights to Carrie. Despite the tiny amount, he said, “I was fortunate to have that happen to my first book.”
8. He was initially reluctant to send Carrie to a publisher because he didn’t think it was a marketable story. However, the raging success of “evil woman” movies such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby changed all that.
9. Over the years, King has not only said that De Palma did a fine job with Carrie, he has repeatedly said that the movie is better than his book: “De Palma’s approach to the material was lighter and more deft than my own—and a good deal more artistic … The book seems clear enough and truthful enough in terms of the characters and their actions, but it lacks the style of De Palma’s film. The book attempts to look at the ant farm of high school society dead on; De Palma’s examination of this ‘High School Confidential’ world is more oblique … and more cutting.”
10. King’s stories went on to form the basis of more than 100 movies, TV series, and episodes.
11. King was still so unknown at the time of the film’s release that producers misspelled his first name as “Steven” instead of “Stephen” in the film’s trailer.
Differences Between the Novel and the Movie/Hype
12. In the book, Carrie uses her psychic powers to burn down the entire town. This was judged to be far too costly to film.
13. The novel tells Carrie’s story in retrospect—it’s a compilation of interview transcripts with survivors of prom night, newspaper clippings, magazine excerpts, etc. But screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen jettisoned all this for a linear narrative approach.
14. In the movie, Carrie dies at home after murdering her mother. In the novel, she collapses and dies in a field by the road after blowing up a car containing Billy and Chris.
15. In the movie, Principal Morton gets killed at the prom after forgetting Carrie’s name. In the book, he survives the prom but resigns afterward.
16. In a 2004 interview, Stephen King recalls taking his wife to see the film on opening night. When the infamous hand-rising-from-the-grave scene was shown, the audience reaction told the Kings the film was going to be big.
17. Sissy Spacek said that she used to attend theaters in NYC when the film came out just to see the audience’s reaction to the graveyard scene: “When I was in New York, and Carrie came out, I would go to theaters just for the last five minutes of the film to watch everyone jump out of their chairs, People are all relaxed. The music is really beautiful and relaxing, and all of a sudden that (hand) comes up, and people just go crazy.”
18. Nancy Allen told an interviewer, “I can’t say that I knew this was going to be a classic, and we’d be talking about it forever. But the second I saw the dailies, I knew that it was a good movie.”
Sissy Spacek’s Iconic Breakout Role
19. Although Carrie White was selected as a cynical “prom queen” for the purposes of bullying and humiliation, in real life Sissy Spacek was crowned homecoming queen at Quitman High School in Texas in 1968.
20. Director Brian de Palma originally had his sights set on Amy Irving to play the role of Carrie White. Sissy Spacek was considered too pretty to play the mousy and maladjusted role. But Spacek’s husband, art director Jack Fisk, convinced De Palma to give her an audition.
21. Spacek, frustrated by the fact that De Palma clearly wanted another actress to play Carrie, sat down and read the entire novel Carrie in one evening. She didn’t get any sleep, didn’t brush her teeth, smeared Vaseline all over her hair, and appeared at the audition in a torn sailor’s dress her mother had made for her in seventh grade. After her audition, when her husband came out into the parking lot to assure her she got the role, Spacek said, “We sped off before anybody could change his mind.”
22. While getting into character for her role, Spacek summoned together the entire cast and told them she’d be avoiding them as much as possible to give credence to her role as an alienated misfit. According to P.J. Soles, on “the first or second day, Sissy came over to a group of us, maybe at lunch, I don’t remember, and said, ‘I love you guys, we’re going to have a great shoot, I’m very excited to be working on this. But I just want to let you guys know, I’m going to alienate myself from you. I want to feel that alienation. But I really like you and afterwards we’ll party and we’ll have a great time. But don’t take it personally. I just want to let you know I’m doing it on purpose because I want to get into the part.’ We all really respected her for that, and that made us even more eager and able to be as mean as we could to her, because we knew it was going to help her.”
23. While isolating herself from the rest of the cast, Spacek decorated her trailer with religious symbolism and studied Gustav Dore’s illustrated Bible, especially “the body language of people being stoned for their sins.”
24. Sissy Spacek would go on to do the voiceover work for the audiobook version of Carrie.
25. For the scene where Carrie realizes she’s bleeding in the school showers and getting her first period, Brian De Palma told her to act “like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck.” As a child, Spacek’s husband Jack Fisk had been run over by a car while standing in the street and admiring Christmas lights. “When I’m playing that scene,” Spacek said, “I am walking down the street looking at the Christmas lights. And when I see the blood in my hand is when he looks over and sees the car. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what was going on in my mind during the shower scene.”
26. The hand that you see rising from the grave to grab at Sue Snell’s leg in the final scene is actually Sissy Spacek’s hand. Although producers thought it’d be easier to film a stunt hand, Spacek insisted that “I do all my own foot and hand work and always have.”
27. When she took on the role of Carrie White, Sissy Spacek had no idea how iconic the role would become. When James Lipton interviewed her and asked her if she was surprised that Carrie was still considered a classic, she said, “I can’t believe anyone still knows who Carrie is!” Despite winning an Oscar for her role as country singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Spacek is still associated with the role of Carrie White more than any other.
28. Telekinesis is the ability to move inanimate objects with one’s mind. Carrie White is one of many characters in King’s oeuvre who have such mental powers—others are included in the books Firestarter, The Shining, and Doctor Sleep.
29. Carrie reads a book in the library called The Secret Science Behind Miracles. It’s a real book, written by Max Freedom Long in 1948. The definition of telekinesis that Carrie reads aloud is the one from the book.
30. Carrie was such a breakout success that it quickly inspired a rush of copycat films about troubled teens with telekinesis. These include Jennifer (1978), whose tagline was “Compared to this, Carrie was an angel” and which has been described as “Carrie with snakes”; The Initiation of Sarah (1978), a TV movie starring Kay Lenz as a bullied college student who uses telekinesis to wreak vengeance on her tormentors; Hello Mary Lou (1987); Evilspeak (1981); and Zapped! (1982) starring Scott Baio, which is a farcical take on the whole genre.
31. George Lucas and Brian De Palma were friends and decided to hold auditions for Star Wars and Carrie at the same time. William Katt (Tommy Ross in Carrie) auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker. Sissy Spacek auditioned for Princess Leia, as did Amy Irving. Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, auditioned for the role of Carrie. Fisher later shot down rumors that she refused the role because it would require nudity, claiming, “Not only do I love being nude, I would’ve been nude then.”
32. Actresses who were considered for the role of Carrie include Glenn Close, Melanie Griffith, Anjelica Huston, Jessica Lange, Jill Clayburgh, Margot Kidder, Bernadette Peters, Jane Seymour, Meryl Streep, Cybill Shepherd, Kathleen Turner, Sigourney Weaver, Debra Winger, Farrah Fawcett, and Linda Blair.
33. Although Carrie White was 17 in Stephen King’s novel, Sissy Spacek was 25 at the time of filming.
34. Actress Edie McClurg was 30 years old when she portrayed a high-school student in Carrie. She was two years older than Betty Buckley, who played her gym teacher.
35. Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles, both of whom played high schoolers, were 24 when Carrie was filmed.
36. Although John Travolta had a small part in 1975’s The Devil Rain, his initial celebrity came from portraying Vinnie Barbarino in the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter.
37. Travolta auditioned for the role of Billy Nolan while on a lunch break from filming Welcome Back, Kotter. He showed up dressed as Vinnie Barbarino.
38. Even though his role in Carrie was minor, Travolta received second billing behind Sissy Spacek on the movie poster.
39. In 1977, Travolta would be mentioned by name in Stephen King’s novel Rage, which he published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
40. Stephen King gave high praise to Travolta’s portrayal of Billy Nolan: “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.”
41. Actress Piper Laurie, who’d had a long and successful Hollywood career, had retired from the business after appearing in 1961’s The Hustler. When she first read the script to Carrie, the over-the-top hysterics of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, convinced her the film was a comedy.
42. Even after being assured that the film was not a comedy, Laurie kept laughing manically between takes: “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.”
43. Laurie’s portrayal of Margaret White revived her career and earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
44. According to Nancy Allen, she thought that her and John Travolta’s characters, bickering endlessly as they did, were simply there to provide comic relief. It wasn’t until she saw the film that she realized how evil their characters were.
Similarities to Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’
45. Carrie White attends Bates High, which is a reference to Norman Bates, the central character in 1960’s Psycho.
46. The slaughterhouse where the bullies kill the pig is named Bates Packing, another nod to Norman Bates.
47. Legendary Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, who had scored Psycho, was hired to score Carrie but died before production was finished.
48. De Palma would later tell an interviewer, “When we originally put temporary music tracks on the film, we used a lot of Herrmann’s music. In the end, we used a very famous Italian piece of music for the processional walk to the grave—Albinoni I think it was … The flexing sound is very Psycho. I put in a temporary track and for all the flexes I put in a Psycho violin. We couldn’t find the right sound, but anyway, it worked. Bernard came up with it, and Bernard, I’m glad we used it again!”
Shooting/Editing + Bloopers/Deleted Scenes
49. The infamous prom scene took over two weeks to film and required 35 takes.
50. The finale, featuring a split screen, took De Palma six weeks to edit.
51. In the scene where Miss Collins is insulting the girls in the gym, Brian De Palma stood behind Amy Irving and whispered cruel and insulting things into her ear in order to get an authentic look of shame on her face.
52. De Palma wanted an authentic reaction from Nancy Allen in the scene where Betty Buckley slaps her in the face. He kept reshooting the scene to the point where Buckley had slapped Allen about thirty times.
53. The horrified look on Betty Buckley’s face right before she gets killed is genuine—producers weren’t sure where the falling blackboard was going to stop before hitting Buckley, so she was legitimately terrified.
54. De Palma shot a TV-friendly alternate take of the locker room scene where the girls’ nudity is covered with towels.
55. In the scene where P.J. Soles’s character is sprayed with a fire hose, the water pressure from the hose actually burst her eardrum. She was in tremendous pain and lost her equilibrium. Soles also lost hearing in that ear for about six months until she finally healed.
56. In the scene where Carrie is doused in pig’s blood, De Palma deliberately staged it so it would resemble Gustave Moreau’s 1851 painting The Study of Lady MacBeth.
57. The scene where Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, was impaled by knives was filmed in reverse. The knives were attached with strings and pulled from Margaret’s body; in reverse, it gives the impression that the knives are plunging into her.
58. The final scene, where Sue Snell (Amy Irving) is walking toward Carrie’s grave, was filmed in reverse and then played backwards to achieve a surreal effect. You can tell it was shot in reverse by looking down the street and seeing cars driving backwards.
59. For the sake of continunity, Sissy Spacek slept in her bloody clothes for three days without showering while the prom scene was being filmed.
60. Amy Irving’s real-life mother portrayed her mother in the film. During Sue’s nightmare scene, her howls are so realistic that her startled mother called her “Amy” during the scene.
61. Miss Collins calls one girl “Katie” while reprimanding her, and the girl responds. But throughout the rest of the film, it’s established that the girl’s name is Helen.
62. In the scene where Carrie is dragging her murdered mother to the closet, you can see Margaret’s feet moving.
63. Miss Collins is shown tossing Sue out of the prom as the blood pours down on Carrie. She is shown standing near the fire doors, but in the next shot, she is abruptly back in the middle of the crowd.
64. Although the film is set in Ohio, the palm trees and mountains in the background make it clear that it was filmed in California.
65. A steamy sex scene between Amy Irving and William Katt in the backseat of his truck was deleted.
66. The scene where Nancy Allen gives oral sex to John Travolta in his car was cut by the censors in Ireland.
67. A scene where Carrie is abused by her mother after being caught talking to a girl in a bikini was likewise deleted.
Romance on the Set
68. Brian De Palma and Nancy Allen met on the set of Carrie and were married in 1979. She appeared in many of his films, including Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981). They divorced in 1984.
69. Amy Irving and William Katt had dated briefly before being cast in Carrie. According to Irving, “We were only together for a short time and then we became friends. Suddenly, we were tested for this film together. We tested with a scene that wasn’t in the film, one of our big scenes that was cut out. It was in the backseat of a car and it was very physical. We were lucky because we’d been through that; we were very comfortable with each other, it was easy.”
70. According to a 2010 interview with P.J. Soles, Brian De Palma often invited Steven Spielberg to the set because there were “a lot of cute girls down here.” She says that Spielberg propositioned most of the actresses, including her, but Amy Irving was the only one who accepted. Irving and Spielberg were married from 1985-1989 and had a son together.
Sequels and Remakes
71. After a short run in England, Carrie: The Musical debuted on Broadway in 1988, starring Betty Buckley (Miss Collins in the movie) as Margaret White. It shut down after only five performances and is considered by many to be the most titanic flop in Broadway history.
72. The Rage: Carrie 2 (1989) is a sequel about Carrie’s half-sister, who also possessed powers of telekinesis. Amy Irving as Sue Snell was the only cast member from the original to reprise her role, although she moved up to being a gym teacher rather than a student in the sequel.
73. A 2002 remake of Carrie was released on NBC as a TV movie.
74. NBC had also planned a Carrie TV series which cast Carrie as a fugitive from justice, but it was shelved after the ratings and critical response to the 2002 TV remake were negative.
75. A high-budget 2013 remake of Carrie starred Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore as Margaret White. It was a box-office success, raking in $85 million.
76. Steven King has disavowed all remakes and sequels except for the 1976 original. When he first heard in 2011 that a remake was being planned, his response was, “Why, when the original was so good? I mean, not Casablanca, or anything, but a really good horror-suspense film, much better than the book.”
77. Despite his fierce defense of the 1976 original, King did express interest in the idea that Lindsay Lohan would play Carrie in the 2013 remake.
78. The film was a huge success, taking in receipts of over $33 million in the US against a budget of only $1.8 million.
79. Martin Scorsese says he went to see Carrie in the theaters three times during its initial release.
80. Quentin Tarantino has repeatedly said that Carrie is one of his all-time favorite films.
81. Carrie’s full name is “Carietta,” which her mother calls her at one point early in the film.
82. In the early 1970s, “Carrie” was a popular name for baby girls. But after the film transformed a “Carrie” into someone who was unstable and prone to violence, the name’s popularity plummeted.
83. The iconic pig’s-blood scene has been parodied in films such as Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), Superstar (1999), and White Chicks (2004).