Hollywood Flashback: 'Carrie' Was Crowned 40 Years Ago

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Sissy Spacek with a crewmember on the set of 1976’s 'Carrie'.

"For a lot of people, it was their first big break," says Mike Medavoy, then-head of production at UA, of the Stephen King adaptation starring Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Piper Laurie and John Travolta in his feature-film debut.

In its review of Carrie, The Hollywood Reporter commended the horror film's marketing campaign "for truth in advertising," citing print ads featuring the catchphrase "It will scare the hell out of you." THR might have gone a bit far by adding that Carrie "makes The Exorcist seem like a Disney movie," but the point got across.

The United Artists pic, which told the story of a high school misfit with telekinetic powers, was the first film adaptation of a Stephen King novel and brought together a load of under-the-radar talent: director Brian De Palma, who'd have his first hit; Sissy Spacek, then 26, who'd receive an Oscar nomination for the title role ("You get all dolled up to look like a prom queen, and then they pour blood on your head," she once said); a 22-year-old, pre-Vinnie Barbarino John Travolta in his feature-film debut as Carrie's prom-night bully; and Amy Irving, then 23, who tells THR, "The film jumpstarted my career" and credits De Palma with introducing her "to a young director who gave me my beautiful son Max" (that would be Steven Spielberg).

"For a lot of people it was their first big break," says Mike Medavoy, who headed production at UA. "It had the whole thing: good script, good cast, terrific director and done at the right price." Piper Laurie, who played Carrie's nutcase religious-fanatic mother, says a key reason for the film's success was "Brian's energy. He was so open to any ideas. It's a lovely gift to get from a director."

Carrie went on to spawn a 2002 TV movie, a 2013 feature remake and, in 1988, an $8 million musical that with only five performances has been called "the most expensive quick flop in Broadway history" (not many musicals feature a song-and-dance number about slaughtering a pig). But the 1976 original, released a few days after Halloween, did the best: The $1.8 million film ($7.6 million today) brought in nearly $34 million ($144 million) domestically. 

This story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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