Today we want to issue some facts and anecdotes on the jewel of our retrospective section within the 2018 leitmotiv, #DePalmaVsDePAlma, the film Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma).
King’s first book to inspire a film
Carrie was the first book by the master of horror, Stephen King, to be taken to the silver screen.
An actress to play Carrie
Linda Blair (The Exorcist) refused to play the role because she did not want to be classed as a horror film only actress, and Farrah Fawcett did the same because her schedule was full with the shooting of Charlie’s Angels (1976). Actresses like Jill Clayburgh, Pamela Sue Martin, Amy Irving (who eventually played Sue) and even Melanie Griffith were taken into account. Finally Sissy Spacek and Betsy Slade, De Palma’s favourite option, were the two nominees. Eventually, Sissy Spacek got the role.
Sissy Spacek’s casting
The young actress wanted to play the role, and her husband, Jack Fisk, pulled off and audition. She went dressed to kill in a little sailor’s dress, which her mum had made when she was a girl, modified for the occasion. Her hair was smeared in Vaseline which dripped all over her face: all her talent was ready to shine.
According to never confirmed rumours, directors and long time friends Brian De Palma and George Lucas, called a joint casting for Carrie and Star Wars (1977). Gossips say that Sissy Spaceck was chosen to play Princess Leia, whereas Carrie Fisher was expected to play Carrie. However, Fisher didn’t want to appear naked on screen while Spacek was willing to play Carrie’s role, so both directors swapped actresses. Carrie Fisher has always denied this, although it is a fact that Amy Irving (who played Sue in Carrie) was in the audition for Leia and it is also true that William Katt (who played Tommy in Carry) was auditioning for Luke.
Meetings at the plateau
Brian De Palma offered a friend of his to be at the shooting: “There’s lots of girls”. His friend, a kind and lively young man, accepted the offering and walked around the set apparently failing to flirt with all the actresses. At the end of the day, Amy Irving accepted to go out with him; she eventually became his wife. The then not very notorious colleague’s name was Steven Spielberg.
The Hitchcock connection
Brian De Palma builds his first film making with a mind filling obsession: Alfred Hitchcock. Carrie does not avoid such connections. Every time that the young woman uses her telekinetic powers, we can perfectly recognise four violin notes that take us to Psycho (1960). As a matter of fact, Carrie’s school is called Bates High, a tribute to the distressing Norman Bates and the Bates Motel.
The real Carrie
Stephen King created the character of Carrie after two real girls. He met the first one as a school mate, the other one was one of his students while he worked as an English teacher. Both girls were raised in religious families, both of them were deeply shy, and, sadly, both of them died before their thirties.
Margaret White is one of the most distressing characters in the film. Stephen King built the character after a woman he met at the laundry.
Grown up teenagers
Although they were playing teenagers, all the actors in the film were in their twenties with a means of 25-year-olds. Betty Buckley is the funniest example because she plays Miss Collins, the teacher, who in fact is just two or three years older than her presumed pupils.
Margaret White (Piper Laurie) was sure that they were shooting a parody of the genre of horror and she was aware that she was taking her character to the limits of farce. On the other hand, in her innocence, Nacy Allen was thinking that John Travolta and herself were playing two jokingly idiots. All the cast were surprised when they saw the final result at the premiere of the film.
It is generally accepted that the fairy evocative slow dance scene with Tommy and Carrie is, technically speaking, one of the most brilliant moments in the film. In order to attain the essential effect, De Palma put the protagonists in a revolving platform and placed the camera over Dolly, who moved round in the opposite direction.
For two complete weeks, Spacek spent the day smeared with a cosmetic blood like substance that covered her body throughout the shooting of the ballroom scene. The problem was that the heat of the lights used to dry the skin sticking mixture, which forced to spray her with water all the time. The make-up process was so slow and tedious that Spacek, whose trailer was next to the set, preferred to sleep, eat and rest all plastered in blood rather than suffering a new make-up session.
Norma’s character dies after the impact of a fire hose. The high pressure of the water that we can see on the scene had such an effect on her ears that the actress, P. J. Soles, felt dizzy and unbalanced for six more months.
Stephen King’s Carrie
There are some differences between Stephen King’s and Brian De Palma’s versions of the character of Carrie. In the book, Carrie is a fatherless plump girl who dies in Sue’s arms. Both girls have a telepathic connection.
As usual in many shootings, Betty Buckley gives Nancy Allen a real smack in the face in order to fill the scene with a real feel. However, De Pama wanted to shoot the same take more than thirty times, which definitely is not so usual. Allen, though, must have pardoned the director because three years later, the actress married De Palma.
De Palma initially shot a scene set during Carrie’s childhood: after seeing her talking to a stranger who was sunbathing, her mum punishes the girl. A furious Carrie brings forth a rain of stones over the house. The problem was that the scene image was not clear enough and it looked like there had been a hailstone storm. The original screenplay expected Carrie to bury the house under a rock tempest at the end of the film. When De Palma turned down the first scene, he had to change that end in order to have a more impressive ending.
In the end sequence, Sissy Spacek refused to use a stunt to take her place and she insisted to be buried instead. De Palma was not convinced but the actress insisted with Jack Fisk’s support, arts director and Spacek’s husband. The scene was finally shot with insurance companies at the verge of a heart attack.
Carrie was the first time that composer Pino Donaggio would write a soundtrack for Brian De Palma. After that, he did it again six more times, becoming De Palma’s biggest collaborator.
Initially the film started with Carrie as a girl (played by Sissy Spacek as well) standing next to a fence; a camera effect was expected to show a smaller Spacek. This scene was finally removed from the definitive editing.
Miss Collins becomes mother
Betty Buckley, who plays Miss Collins in the film, played Carrie’s mum in the Broadway musical version.
In order to create a distressing atmosphere, Brian De Palma shot the end dream scene backwards; that is to say, Sue (Amy Irving) was actually walking backwards along the pavement. Besides, it was shot at night, using special lighting in order to get a particular effect. The director had got his inspiration from the end scene from John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972).
Carrie was forbidden and later censored in Finland. It was initially X rated in the UK.
De Palma and the cast
John Travolta is the only male actor of this film that has worked again with Brian de Palma (in 2004). In contrast, only actresses Nacy Allen and Amy Irving have worked with him again.
Sue Sneel and her mother in the film are actually mother and daughter in real life. Priscilla Pointer is Amy Irving’s mother.
Meeting your ex
Amy Irving co-worked with William Katt in Carrie; he played her boyfriend in the film. One year before, in real life, they had been going out before the casting of Carrie.