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1976: Sissy Spacek As Carrie Ignites Stephen King's Reign Of Horror

Editor Picks | September 4, 2018

Left: Carrie (Sissy Spacek) loses control at the senior prom. Right: John Travolta as Billy Nolan. Source: IMDB

In 1976, Carrie made Sissy Spacek a star and kicked off the Stephen King era in horror movies. Carrie, the story of a misfit with telekinetic powers who goes berserk at her high school prom, was the first of King's writings to be made into a movie. The Shining, Creepshow, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine, Children Of The Corn, Cat's Eye and Firestarter would hit theaters over the decade that followed. 

Carrie was one of a handful of movies that changed the horror genre, giving audiences contemporary characters who were more relatable than the central European vampires or mad scientists who'd established the genre.

The movie went over in a huge way with audiences and rightfully so. Both Spacek, who portrayed the title role of Carrie, and Piper Laurie, who portrayed her abusive mother, were nominated for Academy Awards, showing that a genre film could include excellent acting.

'Carrie' Boosted Several Young Actors' Careers

John Travolta and Nancy Allen in 'Carrie.' Source: IMDB

Carrie is so strongly identified with Sissy Spacek that it's easy to forget that the cast had several other young actors who went on to achieve fame. William Katt, who later starred on The Greatest American Hero, played Tommy, a popular jerk who takes Carrie to the prom, then turns out to be a good guy -- too late, unfortunately. John Travolta, who was already known for Welcome Back, Kotter and about to become mega-famous for Saturday Night Fever, played Billy, who sets up the humiliating prank that sends Carrie over the edge. The clique of popular girls who torment Carrie includes Chris, played by Nancy Allen, Norma, played by P.J. Soles, and Sue, played by Amy Irving. Irving's character (like William Katt's) turns out to be sympathetic to Carrie, but it's too little, too late.

Carrie also put its director, Brian De Palma, at the top of the list in the horror and thriller genres. His greater stature in Hollywood enabled him to take on and succeed with several unforgettable films of the '80s, including Dressed To Kill, Scarface, Body Double, The Untouchables, and Casualties Of War.

'Carrie' Played On Our Youthful Fears And Insecurities

Timid Carrie speaks to Tommy, her dreamboat date for the prom. Source: IMDB

It was somewhat unsettling to actually be able to identify with the plot of the film. But the genius of the plot is that the supernatural elements are constructed on top of all-too-familiar teenage anxieties. Did the people in the audience have deadly powers of telekinesis? No. But could they all recall insecurity, bullying and confusion about puberty? Absolutely.

Carrie, the girl, was 16 years old, shy, a little odd and by no means popular with the other students at her high school. Carrie's mother, who is crazily religious, keeps her in the dark about an impending phenomenon -- puberty. When Carrie gets her first period in the locker room shower at the beginning of the movie, she becomes the target of relentless bullying by a group of mean girls. In an emotionally fragile state due to the mistreatment she experiences at school as well as at home, Carrie discovers she has telekinesis, which she then uses to her advantage.

Worst Prom Ever

This bullying led to a vicious prank, leaving Carrie covered in blood from a pig on the stage of her high school prom. When Carrie stood on that stage and the bucket of pig’s blood came violently splashing down on her, it was one of the most shocking moments ever seen in a horror film. For the rest of the prom scene, Carrie remains covered in blood, a chilling look that became the poster and the enduring image of the film. This act led to Carrie using her supernatural abilities to carryout a massacre that no prom had ever known before.  

Mommy Issues

Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek. Source: IMDB

After everything goes wrong at the prom, and Carrie’s disturbed mother stabs her, causing Carrie to defend herself with her powers, eventually leaving them both dead inside the crumbled remains of their house.

In the end, the lone survivor of the prom massacre is shown laying flowers at the site of Carrie’s demolished house when all of the sudden, a bloody arm reaches up through the debris and grabs her. The shock of being grabbed startled her awake from what was a nightmare that would haunt her for the rest of her life. It was positively chilling.

'Carrie' Trivia

Source: IMDB

Carrie was the first of Stephen King’s published novels to have been made into a feature film. Since then, over 100 others have been produced.

Melanie Griffith auditioned for the role of Carrie.

Sissy Spacek had no intention of auditioning for the film. Her husband, Jack Fisk, finally convinced her that she should. After he had talked her into it, he then had to persuade the producer to allow her to audition.

In order to be available for her audition, Sissy Spacek had to cancel the filming of a television commercial she was scheduled shoot. In an attempt to get into character, she showed up at the audition for Carrie, with Vaseline in her hair, a dirty face and wearing a sailor’s dress, handmade by her mother when she was in the 7th grade. They liked what they saw and she got the part.

Betsy Slade was the producers' first choice for the title role of Carrie.

Stephen King was just 26 years old when he was approached about selling the movie rights. He was paid only $2,500.

The production budget was $1.8 million, which was considered to be somewhat low for this type of film. Certain scenes had to be eliminated due to lack of funds.

Spacek's Esteemed Career

Sissy Spacek's Best Actress Oscar nomination for Carrie was an omen of things to come. Though she didn't win (she lost to Faye Dunaway in Network), she made the shortlist again in 1981, for Coal Miner's Daughter, and took home the statuette for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in that film. She's been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress four more times since, the most recent being for 2002's In The Bedroom.

Tags: 1976 | Career-Defining Moments | Carrie | Sissy Spacek | The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.