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Everyone knows the sweet-turned-horrifying climax of Stephen King’s “Carrie.” The title character, a teenage, telekinetic outcast tormented by her fanatical mother, finally has the night of her life at senior prom. She’s even elected Prom Queen, but only thanks to a stuffed ballot box setting up a cruel prank. After Carrie is coronated onstage, she has a bucket full of pig’s blood dropped on her, a callback to one of Carrie’s earlier humiliations: she thought she was bleeding to death when she got her first period. Carrie is finally broken by this and uses her mind-over-matter powers to slaughter the entire senior class. The terror of the scene is supernatural but it has a realistic root: bullying and the pent-up resentment of those who are victimized by it.
Carrie’s torment was already disturbing in the novel but it’s even worse in the 1976 film adaptation; it’s a scene that relies on a key visual and so benefits from unfolding in a visual medium. Taking pointers from Hitchcock in what wouldn’t be the last time, De Palma cuts between a joyous Carrie onstage and the bucket in the rafters above her — when it drops, so does all your hope. You can’t even enjoy Carrie’s new happiness with her because you can see what’s about to happen.
There is one person who enjoyed the scene though: Sissy Spacek.
A Nerve-Wracking Blast
When Spacek spoke with ComingSoon.net about “Carrie” in 2017, she recounted the shooting of the pig blood prom. As Spacek tells it, most of Carrie’s emotions that you see onscreen were real. While the overall experience was “a little nerve-wracking,” she enjoyed the first half for the same reasons Carrie did: “I was having my beautiful prom queen moment and that was so lovely. Carrie was having the time of her life, and those were real tears of joy and happiness.”
Then the blood spilled. Spacek said that it felt like a “warm blanket,” of all things: “It was heavy, thick and it was shocking.” When the soaked Carrie looks out into the crowd, she sees people laughing. The movie suggests that this is just how she thinks they’re reacting, but obviously, the actors in the crowd had to actually laugh. This meant Spacek had to endure a facsimile of the humiliation Carrie felt.
And it wasn’t over yet. The scene was shot over two takes, so after the first, Spacek had to get cleaned up only so she could get blood dropped on her again. Even though it wasn’t anything new, Spacek said the second take still felt, “just as intensely real” as the first.
From the way she describes it, Spacek’s experience sounds like a rollercoaster of emotion. Yet, she capped off her recollection by declaring: “I loved shooting that scene, it was really great.” Carrie is a very withdrawn character for most of the story, which meant Spacek had a limited range of emotions to display in her scenes, mostly just shyness and submissiveness. The prom scene must have felt thrilling in comparison. Spacek’s experience is proof that a scene can be traumatizing for a character — and the audience too — but fun for an actor.
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