When Sissy Spacek was preparing for her character, she isolated herself from the rest of the ensemble, decorated her dressing room with heavy religious iconography and studied Gustave Doré's illustrated Bible. She studied "the body language of people being stoned for their sins," starting or ending every scene in one of those positions.
Nancy Allen claims that she never realized that her character was going to be so evil until she saw the finished film, she thought that she and John Travolta were playing such self-centered, bickering morons that they were there for comic relief. Piper Laurie also thought that the character of Margaret White was so over the top that the film had to be a comedy.
The dizzying camera shot during the prom scene was achieved by placing William Katt and Sissy Spacek on a platform that was spinning in one direction, while the camera was being dollied in the opposite direction.
According to Piper Laurie, she honestly thought her character was too over the top fanatical to be taken seriously. Brian De Palma had to take her to the side and personally tell her it was a horror film and not a "black comedy" as she thought it was. Even so, she would constantly burst out into laughter between takes because not only was her characterization and wardrobe laughable in her eyes, but the dialogue itself was humorous for her. To this day, she still refers to and maintains the movie as "a black comedy".
Sissy Spacek asked Brian De Palma how he wanted her to react when Carrie first realizes that she is bleeding in the showers at the start and De Palma told her "It's like you've been hit by a truck." Spacek talked to her husband Jack Fisk (art director), who as a child had been run over by a car when he was standing in the streets looking at Christmas lights a neighbor had put up, and used his description of the experience as a basis for the scene.
Originally, Brian De Palma had used the split screen effect extensively during the prom scene. Disappointed with the results, he re-edited most of the scenes into full frame shots leaving only the few split screen moments that he felt worked.
For her screen test, Sissy Spacek rubbed Vaseline into her hair and didn't bother to wash her face. She also wore a sailor dress (which her mother had made for her when she was in the seventh grade) with the hem cut off.
Stephen King was reluctant to send Carrie to a publisher because it sounded (to him) the least marketable of all his manuscripts at the time. But horror was a hot commodity what with successes like The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) so the novel became a sleeper success. To this day, King doesn't know what would have happened to his marriage to Tabitha King and sanity if Carrie had been rejected.
To become Carrie, Sissy Spacek would intentionally avoid socializing with the other actors on and off set. She would stay in her trailer, or hide in the corner, or behind the set. Also, before this happened, she warned the other actors that although she loved them, she would be avoiding them so she could stay in character. She told them that they would have so much fun together after the movie was finished.
Sissy Spacek wasn't considered for the role of Carrie until her husband, art director Jack Fisk, convinced director Brian De Palma to allow her to audition. Until that, De Palma was wedded to the idea of Amy Irving playing Carrie; when Spacek got the part instead, De Palma gave Irving the smaller role of Sue.
In a 2010 interview with "The A.V. Club", P.J. Soles said that Steven Spielberg often came to the set at Brian De Palma's invitation because DePalma told him that there were "a lot of cute girls down here." Soles said that Spielberg asked out most of the women on the set, Soles included, and Amy Irving was the only one who accepted. Irving and Spielberg were married from 1985-1989 and had one son together.
Piper Laurie had retired from the movie business after The Hustler (1961) when the script for Carrie (1976) came her way. She initially didn't understand the script at all, thinking it rather clichéd, until her husband pointed out that de Palma usually took a comedic approach to his work. When she reread the screenplay with that viewpoint, the part of Margaret White made a lot more sense to Laurie.
Adding to the mother's psychotic character is the fact that none of the Bible passages in the film are real. For example, she quotes Genesis chapter 3 to say that sexuality is evil. That chapter is actually the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. The Bible doesn't say anything the mother says it does.
George Lucas and Brian De Palma held a joint audition for Carrie and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). There is a long-standing rumor that originally, Sissy Spacek was cast as Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher as Carrie, but when Fisher refused to appear in nude scenes and Spacek was willing to do them, they switched parts. However, Fisher refuted this story in a Premiere magazine article called "The Force Wasn't With Them," about actors who auditioned unsuccessfully for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). That article quoted Fisher as saying, "Not only do I love being nude, I would've been nude then... But anyway, it's total bullshit [that Fisher refused to play Carrie]."
Bernard Herrmann, who had been nominated for an Oscar for the music to De Palma's previous film Obsession (1976), was slated to compose this score but passed away the December before the film was completed. Hermann's four note violin theme from Psycho (1960) is used over and over in this film.
Linda Blair auditioned for the role of Carrie but turned it down fearing being typecast. Jill Clayburgh also auditioned for the title role, but was passed over. Farrah Fawcett also auditioned for the part, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts from Charlie's Angels (1976).
To create the scene where Margaret White is stabbed by flying knives, it was filmed in reverse and began with her pinned to the wall, then strings pulled out the knives and the final film was run backwards.
According to the audio commentary on the DVD, Carrie is a composite of two girls Stephen King knew, though only one of them was a classmate of his. Prior to the publication of Carrie, his first published novel, King had been an English teacher. The second girl who inspired Carrie was one of his students.
The now iconic reverse shot final scene was also filmed at night, using artificial lighting to create the desired effect. The whole scene was intended as a homage to the final scene in Deliverance (1972).
According to the DVD extras, Betsy Slade was Brian De Palma's early choice for the role of Carrie White based on the strength of her appearance as a teenage girl seeking an abortion in the film Our Time (1974). Sissy Spacek's screen test was so persuasive, however, she ultimately won the role.
The film's original trailer, now available on the DVD, shows an alternate take of Carrie in the shower stall from the beginning and the original voice of the little boy taunting Carrie from his bicycle (overdubbed by Betty Buckley in the finished film).
The book Carrie reads in the library, "The Secret Science Behind Miracles", is in fact a real book, written by Max Freedom Long in 1948, with the ISBN being 0875160476. The telekinesis definition from the book that Carrie reads is actually in the real book.
Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen went on to collaborate with composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford and create "Carrie: The Musical", which debuted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Terry Hands and choreographed by Debbie Allen in Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom in 1988. Later that same year, the production was transferred to Broadway, where Betty Buckley (Miss Collins from the film) replaced Barbara Cook as Margaret White. The Broadway run only lasted five performances, and it is considered by many to be the most spectacular flop in Broadway history. However, Linzi Hateley, who played the title role in her Broadway debut, won a Theatre World Award for her performance. The song "When There's No One" from the show is included on Buckley's Sterling records release "Children Will Listen". No official cast album exists, although several unofficial recordings have been made.
Betty Buckley had originally auditioned for a part in 'Brian de Palma''s Phantom of the Paradise (1974). She didn't get the part but de Palma kept using her for looping purposes on that film and his subsequent movie, _Obsession_, before ultimately beefing up the part of the gym teacher for her for Carrie (1976).
Brian De Palma wanted a screeching music cue for the mirror breaking. It was after making that decision when he realized Psycho (1960) had already used the exact music he was looking for, but he went with it anyways.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
For when the fire hose kills P.J. Soles's character, the water pressure actually burst her eardrums. Soles is not actually unconscious when her head rolls to the side from the force of the fire hose, but she is in terrible pain and has lost her ability to maintain equilibrium (which is governed by the ear). Brian De Palma decided to keep the shot in. Soles had no hearing in that ear for about six months afterward, though the eardrum did eventually heal.
In the last scene of the film, Amy Irving's outburst so terrified her mother Priscilla Pointer, that she screamed out "Amy" instead of "Sue." She had never seen her daughter that hysterical and called out her real name in concern. However, the loud ending music covered the mistake.
While filming the bloody prom sequence, Sissy Spacek's trailer was parked behind the set. After being covered in fake blood, for continuity purposes, Spacek refused to wash the effect off. She elected instead to sleep in her bloody clothes for three days of filming.
Brian de Palma' told Sissy Spacek that it was completely unnecessary for her hand to shoot out from Carrie's grave but Spacek persisted. Consequently she found herself put in a coffin and stuck underground. De Palma had her husband, production designer Jack Fisk, put her in the box as he didn't want the responsibility.
In the second-to-last scene (where Amy Irving lays flowers on Carrie's grave) to make it more "eerie", the shot was filmed backwards - then run in reverse in slo-mo - to give it a surreal effect. This is evidenced by a background automobile traversing the perpendicular intersection backwards, which the viewer can clearly observe as driving in reverse.
When Carrie flips Billy's car, the interior shot shows them spinning along with it. This effect was not achieved by actually rotating the actors in a car but by simply spinning the film frame in post production.
The script called for a model of the White home to be crushed by a hail of boulders at the end, to tie in with a scene which was cut from the beginning of the movie showing pebbles showering down on the house after Carrie has a fight with her mother. The filmmakers spent an evening trying unsuccessfully to pull off the effect, and as dawn approached, they abandoned the boulders and decided to burn it down. They liked what they saw so it stayed in the film, although internal scenes remain showing rocks coming through the roof.