It’s been 40 years since we took Carrie to the prom

Carrie was the film that successfully took a sacred American tradition – senior prom – and turned it into a murderous bloodbath. Kristian Fletcher looks back on what makes it the ultimate cult horror classic.

Carrie tells the sad tale of a bullied schoolgirl who discovers the gift for telekinesis and unleashes a wave of terror on her classmates at the prom. At home, Carrie White is tormented by her religiously-fanatic mother who believes her daughter is a curse and will pay for her sins.

“If only they knew she had the power” screamed the posters for this new horror adaptation, released in 1976. The trailer mis-spelt the name of the original author – Stephen King – but it was to be the first time one of his books would be adapted into a movie. King was just 26 at the time and paid only $2,500 for the film rights.

After a run of obscure cult movies in the early Seventies (such as Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise), the De Palma-directed Carrie marked the start of mainstream success for the director.

The film helped boost the careers of a series of newcomers including Nancy Allen (who would later marry De Palma), William Katt (Greatest American Hero) and John Travolta (one year prior to hitting the big-time with Saturday Night Fever). There’s even a young Edie McClurg in her film debut (best remembered as the principal’s secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

John Travolta in Carrie
John Travolta and Nancy Allen in Carrie (1976)

Carrie 1976 movie poster

Actress of the 50s and 60s – Piper Laurie – exited retirement to relaunch her screen career as the mother Margaret White. Wondering why people giggle at Laurie’s interpretation of Carrie’s mother? Piper thought the character was so over-the-top, this had to be a black comedy. Her performance even scored her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Melanie Griffiths, Linda Blair and Farrah Fawcett were among the handful of actresses who auditioned for the role of Carrie. Sissy Spacek was the wife of Jack Fisk, De Palma’s art director, and blew them away at the audition. She scored the role – one which gave her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (she lost out that year to Faye Dunaway in Network).

Shot over 50 days, the majority of Carrie was filmed on location at Palisades Charter High School, California. The infamous prom scene is the centrepiece for the climax of the film and took over two weeks to shoot. The secret to the blood? Karo syrup and food colouring. For continuity purposes, Spacek even slept in her bloody clothes between takes!

If you’ve never seen Carrie – I envy you. Nothing can beat that first viewing and the devastation caused by the prom massacre. De Palma makes you side with a collection of these characters so their ultimate demises are heartfelt. Time Out magazine’s two word review – ‘lyrical shocker’ – seems to fit the film perfectly.

Not bad for a film which cost almost $2 million to make but grossed more than $33 million at the box office!

Remade twice – and adapted into an Off-Broadway musical – Carrie remains a popular cult horror flick, and the ultimate high school revenge movie.

“If you have a taste for terror, you have a date with Carrie.”

Carrie 40th Anniversary screening on Friday 5 February at New Farm Cinemas, Brisbane.

the author

Kristian Fletcher

Kristian Fletcher is a Brisbane cult movie exhibitor. For full details about his upcoming events, visit kristianfletcher.com

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