Brian De Palma has never met a genre he can’t tackle. Throughout his 50-plus-year career in Hollywood, he has famously dabbled in action films (Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes), crime dramas (Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables), psychological thrillers (Raising Cain, Body Double), film noirs (Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale), and expletive-filled gangster movies (Scarface). But to this day, Carrie—his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel—remains one of his most impressive achievements. And not just because it still manages to scare the bejesus out of audiences, even if they know what’s coming next. Here are 15 things you might not have known about the Oscar-nominated horror film.
1. Carrie was Stephen King's first big-screen adaptation.
Carrie marked a number of firsts for the soon-to-be bestselling author: In addition to being his first published novel, it was also the first of his stories to be made into a film. In the more than 40 years since the book’s release, King’s work has formed the basis for more than 100 movies, television movies, series, and episodes.
2. Stephen King was paid $2500 for the film rights to Carrie.
While speaking at a book event in Fort Myers, Florida, in 2010, King recalled that he was paid just $2500 for the movie rights to Carrie—which may seem like a pittance, but he has no regrets. “I was fortunate to have that happen to my first book,” King said.
3. Stephen King thought Brian De Palma handled Carrie in a "more artistic" way than he had.
Five years after the film’s release, King praised De Palma’s adaptation, noting that:
"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.”
More than a quarter-century later, in a 2007 interview with Nightline, King seemed slightly less enthusiastic when he said that, "Carrie is a good movie. It hasn't aged as well as some of the other ones. But it's still pretty good."
4. Stephen King's name was misspelled in the Carrie trailer.
King was such a newcomer at the time of Carrie's release his first name was actually misspelled in the movie's trailer (it was written as Steven, not Stephen).
5. The stars of Carrie could have been the stars of Star Wars.
Brian De Palma ended up casting for Carrie at the same time his good friend George Lucas was doing the same for a little sci-fi film he was making called Star Wars. So the two made the rather unorthodox decision to hold joint auditions, which ended up becoming a bit confusing. De Palma liked Amy Irving for the lead in Carrie, but she was also considered for Princess Leia in Star Wars. William Katt also auditioned for Star Wars, alongside Kurt Russell.
6. Carrie stars Amy Irving and William Katt had dated in real life.
Before being cast as Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, Bates High School’s golden couple, Irving and Katt had actually dated. “It was like a year before we tested for Carrie," Irving explained. "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 back seat 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. We didn't end up having much together in the final print."
There was another personal connection within the film for Irving: her character’s mother in the film was played by her actual mom, Priscilla Pointer.
7. Brian De Palma didn't see Sissy Spacek as Carrie.
Though De Palma was a fan of Spacek’s work, he was convinced that he had already found his Carrie in another actress. His decision to let Spacek audition at all was mostly out of courtesy to her husband, Jack Fisk, the film’s art director. "He told me that if I wanted to, I could try out for the part of Carrie White,” Spacek recounted to Rolling Stone. "There was another girl that he was set on and unless he was really surprised, she was the one. I hung up and decided to go for it."
Spacek showed up at her audition in an old dress she hadn’t worn since grade school and with her hair slicked back with Vaseline. When she was done, she waited in the parking lot while her husband reviewed her audition with the rest of the production team. After Fisk came out to tell her that the part was hers, “We sped off before anybody could change his mind,” Spacek said.
8. Carrie was John Travolta's first movie.
Travolta’s star was on the rise because of his role in Welcome Back, Kotter, but Carrie marked his big-screen debut.
9. Piper Laurie thought Carrie was a satire.
Piper Laurie, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Carrie’s fanatical mother, was all but retired when she agreed to play Margaret White (her last feature had been The Hustler in 1961). But her interpretation of the script was quite different than De Palma’s intention—which she didn’t realize until filming began.
"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,” Laurie told HollywoodChicago.com in 2011. "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."
Nancy Allen, who played mean girl Chris Hargensen, also believed that she and Travolta were there as a sort of comic relief; it wasn’t until she saw the final cut that she realized they were actually the villains.
10. Sissy Spacek kept in character as Carrie by keeping to herself.
In order to fully embrace the alienation her character faces, Spacek spent most of the production isolated from the rest of the cast. In a 2013 interview with Vulture, co-star P.J. Soles recalled how 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."
11. Spissy Spacek was a high school homecoming queen.
Okay, so maybe “Prom Queen” holds more clout. But somewhere in Spacek’s teenage possessions is the glitzy headgear she sported when she was crowned homecoming queen at Quitman High School in Texas.
12. Sissy Spacek was adamant that her own hand appear in the final scene of Carrie.
Though De Palma wanted to get a stunt person for the final scene, where Sue Snell visits Carrie’s grave, Spacek insisted that it needed to be her hand that was shown, which required her to be buried in the ground. “I laughed about that,” Spacek told NPR. "I do all my own foot and hand work, and always have."
13. Sissy Spacek loved to witness moviegoers' reactions to Carrie's ending.
“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,” Spacek recalled. “People are all relaxed. The music is really beautiful and relaxing, and all of a sudden that comes up, and people just go crazy.”
14. Carrie contains nods to Psycho.
Though De Palma had hoped to convince Bernard Herrmann to score the film, the legendary composer—who was best known for his collaborations with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock—passed away in 1975, before Carrie went into production. But his influence is still felt throughout the film.
"When we originally put temporary music tracks on the film, we used a lot of Herrmann's music,” De Palma told Cinefantastique. "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!"
Carrie’s school, Bates High School, is yet another nod to Hitchock’s 1960 classic.
15. Stephen King would have loved to see Lindsay Lohan play Carrie.
When word first spread in 2011 that a remake of Carrie was in the works, King was surprised: “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.” But when it came to recasting the lead and choosing a new director, King had some ideas—specifically, “Lindsay Lohan as Carrie White… hmmm. It would certainly be fun to cast. I guess I could get behind it if they turned the project over to one of the Davids: Lynch or Cronenberg."