A Stroll Down Carrie’s Blood-Splattered Memory Lane

Inspired by Stephen King’s debut novel of the same name, Carrie is one of the most important and influential horror movies of all time. It focuses on a bullied teen with a mentally unstable and abusively religious mom. Carrie is terrorized both at home and in school and develops telekinetic powers to take her revenge on everyone.

Sissy Spacek / Sissy Spacek / Piper Laurie / Sissy Spacek, John Travolta.
Source: Getty Images

The movie shocked and amazed viewers at the time of its release, and its impact on the genre hasn’t diminished over time. Reboots, sequels, and references have brought this horror film back to life, time and again. Here’s a look at the crazy events that happened on the set.

Stephen King’s First Screen Adaptation

This gory movie was shot and released in 1976, two years after Stephen King published his debut novel of the same name, making it the first movie based on the writings of this best-selling horror author. Since then, his work has become the basis for over 100 movies, TV shows, and episodes.

A still of Sissy Spacek in a scene from the film
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Other films based on Stephen King’s books include The Shawshank Redemption, The Dead Zone, It, Misery, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining. I believe all of us owe this talented author a huge thanks.

Did Carrie Fisher Turn Down the Lead Role?

Director of the movie, Brian De Palma, was a good friend of filmmaker George Lucas, who began working on Star Wars around the same time production on Carrie began. Both movies kicked off their auditions at the same time and rumor has it that Lucas and De Palma considered swapping their leading stars, Sissy Spacek and Carrie Fisher.

A dated portrait of Carrie Fisher.
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Legend has it that Fisher refused to play Carrie White because she didn’t want to take part in the bits that required nudity. She eventually dismissed the rumors in a blunt fashion, telling the press: “Not only do I love being nude, I would’ve been nude then. Maybe. But anyway, it’s total bulls***.”

Nominated for the Oscars

Over the years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences hasn’t shown too much enthusiasm when it comes to horror or fantasy films. They’re rarely nominated! However, Carrie turned out to be one of the rare exceptions.

A movie still of Sissy Spacek when she gets elected prom queen.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Sissy Spacek was nominated for Best Actress for her stunning performance, while Piper Laurie was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately, they both went home empty-handed. Faye Dunaway won Best Actress and Beatrice Straight snatched Best Supporting Actress.

Nancy Allen Was on the Verge of Ditching Acting for Good

The movie turned out to be a huge career turning point for most of its young cast, in particular, Sissy Spacek and John Travolta. The movie also significantly impacted Nancy Allen, as she was cast for the movie right when she was thinking to quit acting for good.

The cast poses for a picture behind the scenes.
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Landing the part of Chris Hargensen not only saved Allen’s career but also affected the star’s personal life. Nancy went on to marry the film’s director, Brian De Palma, and would go on to star in three of his other films.

They Thought They Were Making a Comedy

The movie sheds light on the harsh reality of bullying, both in the brutality inflicted on Carrie by the other kids, and the abuse she suffers at the hands of her evil mother. Brian De Palma encouraged his actors to get into character by using extreme measures, so extreme that many couldn’t take him seriously.

A still of John Travolta and Nancy Allen in a scene from the film.
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Actors Nancy Allen and John Travolta believed that their roles would be portrayed as comic relief because the director pushed them to go so over the top. Like her co-stars, Piper Laurie considered her role of Margaret White to be somewhat of a black comedy, despite Brian De Palma’s protests to the contrary.

The Teacher Was the Same Age as the Students

Actress Betty Buckley, who played Miss Collins, was around the same age as the stars who played her students. In general, the actors in Carries’ cast were no longer in their teens. Sissy Spacek, P.J. Soles, and Nancy Allen were 26 at the time of filming.

Spacek and Buckley are staring at their reflection in a mirror in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

Amy Irving was the youngest – 23. So, there was barely any age gap between the high school students and their teacher, for Miss Collins, played by Betty Buckley, was actually just 29 at the time of filming Carrie.

Sissy Spacek Wanted Real Pig Blood

Sissy Spacek was truly dedicated to her role as Carrie White, and she went to great lengths to prove it. To get into the character of an isolated loner, Sissy wouldn’t talk to any of her costars in between takes and she spent her breaks sitting all on her own in her dressing room.

A still of Spacek in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

The actress even asked for actual blood to be dumped on her head in the climactic prom scene. However, her request was turned down. Instead, the production used corn syrup with red food coloring (probably because the rest of the crew was creeped out by having that amount of blood splattered on set).

P.J. Soles’ Ear Drum Burst

P.J. Soles, the actress who played Norma in Carrie (and also starred in another ‘70s scary movie – Halloween) is met with a tragic fate after she is struck by the blast of a fire hose. Like many other victims, she ends up burning to death as the gym goes down in flames.

A promotional portrait of P.J. Soles for the film.
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In the movie, the water being sprayed on P.J. Soles was sprayed in full force. As it turns out, the hose pressure was so intense that Soles’ eardrum actually burst. After the scene wrapped up, Soles left the set with a deafening ring in her ear and ended up being partially deaf for six months.

A Homage to Deliverance

Carrie’s ending showcases one of the most impactful and widely imitated “jump scares” in the history of scary movies. In what turns out to be part of a dream, Amy Irving’s character Sue places a bouquet of flowers on Carrie White’s grave, but then…

A backstage picture of the scene while filming.
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A hand bursts up through the ground and grabs her wrist. Director Brian De Palma added this sequence to the movie as a reference to an eerie nightmare scene from the end of the 1972 classic Deliverance, in which a hand pops up from beneath the water.

The Cringy Sequel

23 years after Carrie shook its audiences, a sequel rose to the surface (why though?). The Rage: Carrie 2 was released in 1999. It had no returning figures from the original film except actress Amy Irving. The movie proved to be a box office bomb.

A promotional still from the film.
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2002 saw the release of a Carrie remake, a TV movie originally intended as the pilot for a Carrie TV series, with Angela Bettis in the title role. Later, there was 2013’s theatrically released Carrie remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz, which proved to be a modest hit.

The Psycho Connection

Brian De Palma gained a reputation as a director who likes to pay homage to one of his cinematic idols, Alfred Hitchcock. In his movie Carrie, Brian De Palma throws in at least three connections to Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic scary film Psycho.

A movie still from the character Norman Bates.
Source: YouTube

For one, the school in the movie is named Bates High after the evil maniac, Norman Bates. Another reference is the Bates Packing meat plant. In addition, Bernard Hermann, Psycho’s composer, worked in two of Brian De Palma’s prior films, Sisters and Obsession.

A Dizzying Shot

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie happens during the epic prom sequence, when Carrie’s unstable mental state is emphasized through a unique, dizzying form of camerawork. The shot came to life thanks to two actors – Sissy Spacek and William Katt.

A picture behind the scenes.
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Spacek and Katt were asked to stand on a platform that rotated in one direction. At the same time that they were moving, cameras tracked them in the opposite direction. To bring this scene to life, cinematographer Mario Tosi gave it his all.

The Prom Scene Took 35 Takes

The epic prom scene in the movie was the film’s climactic sequence. The iconic scene took two weeks and around 35 takes to create. Instead of actual pig blood, corn syrup was used to replicate the icky liquid that the bullying teenagers dumped on Carrie’s head.

A still of Spacek in the prom scene.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

To remain in the character’s tormented headspace, Spacek returned to her trailer after three full days of filming and would sleep in her gore-sodden wardrobe. This measure was also taken to maintain visual continuity in the film, as the fake blood would often dry under the hot filming lights and stick to Spacek’s body.

No Stunt Doubles!

Sissy Spacek was reportedly so into her character that she turned down Brian De Palma’s suggestion to take a stunt double during the movie’s final scene, the graveyard finale, where her dead, creepy hand pops out of the soil.

A still from the scene.
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Her refusal shocked Brian De Palma, who kept insisting she use a body double. When Sissy Spacek declined, the director handed the responsibility over to her husband, production designer Jack Fisk. Ultimately, Sissy Spacek squeezed herself into a box at the bottom of a hole in the ground and waited for the cue to lift her hand into the sky.

One Scene Was Shot in Reverse

In one of the movie’s scenes, director Brian De Palma decided to create a creepy visual effect by shooting the scene in reverse. The reverse shot takes place when Sue Snell places some flowers on Carrie’s grave.

A still from the scene.
Source: YouTube

To create an eerie, surreal effect, the moment was filmed backward., The shot was reversed and edited in slow-motion to make it look a bit off-kilter. Fun fact: you can spot the optical illusion by noting a car in the background driving down the street backward.

It Was Supposed to End Differently

Rather than burning the White’s house down in flames, Carrie’s original ending was meant to be very different. In the movie’s original script, rocks and boulders were supposed to tumble down on the White’s home and crush the house to rubble.

A still of Julianne Moore and from the 2013 version of the film.
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The hail of rocks sequence was shot, but Brian De Palma didn’t like how the effect of the boulders turned out, so they changed the ending. But the stones can still be seen in the final shots of the movie. In the 2013 version of the film, the ending was done as Brian De Palma first intended.

She Smeared Her Hair With Vaseline

While many stars auditioned for the lead role in Carrie (among them – Carrie Fisher, Glenn Close, and Linda Blair), director Brian De Palma insisted on casting Amy Irving for the role. However, when production designer Jack Fisk suggested that his wife, Sissy Spacek, audition for the part, everything changed.

A photo of Spacek behind the scenes.
Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Sissy auditioned wearing a sailor dress made for her as a kid and smeared Vaseline in her hair. Luckily, she did so well that De Palma changed his mind and gave the role of Carrie to her instead of to Amy Irving. However, Sue Snell was already promised the role; she was given the part of Chris Hargensen instead.

John Travolta Auditioned in His Vinnie Barbarino Makeup

John Travolta starred as Billy Nolan in Carrie a little before landing his true breakout silver screen roles in the movies Grease and Saturday Night Fever. But at the time of shooting Carrie, he was also acting on Welcome Back, Kotter.

A still of John Travolta in a scene from the film.
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This created an amusing link between the Stephen King film and the classic sitcom. When the actor first screen-tested for the part of Billy, he did so sporting his Vinnie Barbarino makeup and clothes because he had to audition during his lunch break.

Betty Buckley Provided the Voice Who Taunts Carrie

Carrie White’s life at home AND in school is completely miserable. The poor girl can’t even get a break while walking from one place to the other, as shown by the annoying kid on the bike early in the movie who mocks her by yelling “Creepy Carrie, Creepy Carrie.”

Betty Buckley speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Carrie gets her small revenge on the boy by using her telepathic abilities to shove him a bit. Fun facts about the scene: the little jerk is played by Brian De Palma’s nephew, Cameron. But because the director wasn’t pleased with his performance, Betty Buckley was asked to re-record Cameron’s line.

The Bill Paxton Reference

In 1976, Bill Paxton was not yet a household name. However, he still managed to inspire part of the film. When Carrie’s house is first shown in the movie, there’s a sign that reads Paxton Realty on the left side of the sign. This was a reference by art director Jack Fisk.

A still from the film.
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Though left uncredited, the star of Aliens and Weird Science worked as Fisk’s assistant on a film created by Brian De Palma two years prior to the Stephen King adaptation. The movie was 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise.

Pre-Carrie Relationships

In the 1972 film Sisters, director Brian De Palma had actors Jennifer Salt and Mary Davenport (who are daughter and mother in real life) act as daughter and mother characters. He loved how it turned out, so he decided to replicate the mother-daughter chemistry in Carrie by casing Priscilla Pointer and Amy Irving as Mrs. Snell and Sue Snell.

A still from the film Sisters.
Source: YouTube

Fun fact: that wasn’t the only pre-Carrie relationship on the set of the movie. Amy Irving had dated William Katt a little before joining the Stephen King movie. There are also two songs on the film’s soundtrack sung by Katie Irving, Priscilla Pointer’s oldest daughter, and Amy Irving’s sister.

Nancy Allen Was Slapped for Real

It’s hard not to be happy when Betty Buckley’s Miss Collins planted a hardcore slap on Nancy Allen’s Chris Hargensen’ s face. But it’s actually a bit harder to cheer when you learn what the actors were forced to go through while shooting the scene.

A promotional portrait of Nancy Allen for the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: MGM

Brian De Palma wasn’t satisfied with a fake slap, so he told Buckley to do it for real in order to get an authentic reaction. The scene was shot not once, not twice, but several times. Sources say that the number of takes was anywhere between 12 to 30.

The Sticky Pig Blood Substitute

While the film was shot at an actual slaughterhouse (in the scene where Chris and Billy butcher a pig), the movie didn’t pour real blood on Sissy Spacek. They used a mix of corn syrup and red food coloring instead. The result? Everything was sticky, sticky, and STICKY.

A still of Spacek standing in front of Travolta’s car in a scene from the film.
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When the goo dried up, it became so incredibly sticky that Spacek’s body parts kept getting stuck. For example, her chin stuck to her chest or her arm to her side. Spacek had to be followed by an assistant with a spritzer bottle whose sole job was to keep the gooey mess wet.

“Squirm Like a Bug on a Pin”

One of the differences between Stephen King’s book and the Carrie movie is the tragic fate of poor Miss Collins (whose actual name in the book is Miss Desjardin). In Stephen King’s version, her life is spared. But director Brian De Palm had different plans.

A still of Betty Buckley as Miss Collins.
Source: YouTube

He killed her with a swinging basketball hoop. When it came to shooting the scene when Miss Collins flops over dead, Brian De Palma gave her some on-point direction. He told her: “I want you to squirm like a bug on a pin.”

Margaret White’s Death Is Foreshadowed Early on in the Movie

Another bit of Carrie’s ending that is altered in the film adaptation is the death of Margaret White. In the novel, she has her heart telepathically crushed by Carrie. But without enough money to bring the idea to the silver screen, Brian De Palma had to figure out a different idea.

A still of Piper Laurie in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

Influenced by the death of Toshiro Mifune’s Washizu Taketoki in Throne of Blood, he decided to go for something similar. Fun fact: if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that Margaret’s pose in death looks just like the creepy St. Sebastian statue in Carrie’s closet.

Carrie’s Dress Was Supposed to Be Red

Piper Laurie, who starred as Carrie’s religious, terrifying, and abusive mother, Margaret White, noted that after all these years, she still “takes pride in rescuing one of her favorite lines” in the movie. It happens when Carrie is getting ready for the prom.

Spacek is in a still from the prom scene.
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“She’s getting ready to go and she’s made her own dress and obviously it’s pale pink, which wasn’t planned,” Laurie explained, “It was in the script. My line is, ‘Red. I might have known it would be red’ and the designer decided pink would be nicer on Sissy and no one bothered to check the dialogue.” Laurie then added that Brian De Palma wanted to change the line. “I said, ‘No, no no,’…In her head, it’s red,” she recalled.

Where Are They Now? Then – Sissy Spacek (Carrie White)

Carrie White was a bullying magnet, and her creepy, religious mother made her life a living hell. Sissy Spacek did an incredible job expressing her character’s isolation and vulnerability, as well as her scary side and uncanny telekinetic powers.

Sissy Spacek poses on the porch at the White Residence in Carrie.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Sissy’s acting was so haunting that she was given her first Oscar nomination after the movie’s release. The actress later starred in additional movies including 3 Women and Coal Miner’s Daughter, for which she nabbed an Oscar for Best Actress.

Now – Sissy Spacek

Sissy went on to star in several other film projects including 1984’s The River, In the Bedroom (2001), Four Christmases (2008), and The Help (2011). As for the small screen, Sissy appeared in Big Love, Bloodline, Homecoming, and Castle Rock.

A photo of Sissy Spacek receiving an award on stage.
Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Sissy went on to marry Jack Fisk, the director of some of the movies she starred in, like Violets Are Blue and Raggedy Man. Recently, the actress had a recurring role on the series Big Love and has starred in the movies Hot Rod, Get Low, and Deadfall.

Where Are They Now? Piper Laurie (Margaret White)

Piper Laurie excelled at playing the role of Carrie’s religious freak of a mother (who – spoiler alert – stabbed her for being sinful). For her wonderfully unhinged performance, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Role.

A portrait of Piper Laurie as Margaret White / A photo of Piper Laurie attending an event.
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After the show wrapped up, Laurie was cast in 1986’s Children of a Lesser God and on the small screen shows Days of Wine and Roses and Twin Peaks (for Twin Peaks, she earned a Golden Globe). As for her recent works, she’s starred on ER, Will & Grace, and Law & Order.

Where Are They Now? Then – Amy Irving (Sue Snell)

Amy Irving played mean and lean Sue Snell, who tossed tampons at Carrie in the girl’s locker room. Attempting to make up for her cruel behavior, Sue convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross to ask Carrie out to the prom.

A still of Amy Irving as Sue Snell.
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Even though her life was spared when things hit the fan at the prom death-fest, Carrie made sure she didn’t leave the scene untouched. She gave her a little something that would traumatize her for life! Muahahaha…

Now – Amy Irving (Sue Snell)

After Carrie wrapped up, Amy Irving’s acting career reached impressive heights. She starred in movies like Deconstructing Harry, Crossing Delancey, and Yentl. In 1999, she came back to reprise her role as Sue in the sequel The Rage: Carrie 2.

Amy Irving attends an event.
Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

A year later, Irving starred in 2000’s Traffic. Apart from the silver screen, Irving has appeared on Broadway, in plays such as Amadeus, Broken Glass, and The Coast of Utopia. She’s currently married to TV director Kenneth Bowser.

Where Are They Now? Then – William Katt (Tommy Ross)

In the movie, after Sue convinced her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, he ended up treating her like a princess. While his bully friends laughed at the awkward and shy Carrie, Tommy proudly danced with her and even talked her into voting for herself as prom queen.

A still of William Katt as Tommy Ross.
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Tragically, a bucket full of pig’s blood spilled above Carrie’s head and later toppled right onto Tommy’s head, knocking him out and likely killing him. What a horrifying end to an otherwise exciting and revolutionary night…

Now – William Katt

After playing Tommy, actor William Katt was crowned one of the ‘70s and ‘80s most sizzling stars. He went on to play in movies including 1977’s First Love and 1979’s Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. But there was one role that truly brought him to the forefront.

A photo of William Katt.
Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

He was mostly known for his early ‘80s acting gig in the TV show The Greatest American Hero. He would then go on to star in the Perry Mason TV film series that ran between 1985-1988. Today, he’s living a humble life with his wife Danielle Hirsch.

Where Are They Now? Then – Betty Buckley (Miss Collins)

Actress Betty Buckley played Miss Collins, the high school gym teacher who cared for Carrie and stood up for her when the mean girls acted like evil bullies. Sadly, Miss Collins wasn’t spared when Carrie went on her rampage.

A still of Betty Buckley in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: MGM

The gym teacher died when Carrie forcefully slammed a basketball goal post into her body, slicing her in half. Why did Carrie kill her? No one knows but Stephen King, who is one heck of an author of horror stories.

Now – Betty Buckley

After Carrie wrapped up, Betty Buckley continued acting and became a much-appreciated Broadway star, winning a Tony for her part in 1983’s Cats. She also starred in Sunset Boulevard which ran from 1994 to 1996.

A picture of Betty Buckley attending an event.
Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage/Getty Images

Betty Buckley also appeared on the small screen, starring in shows like Oz and Preacher and Eight Is Enough. One of her most recent wins is her Saturn Award nomination for her part as Dr. Karen Fletcher in the movie Split (2016).

Where Are They Now? Then – Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen)

The movie’s mean girl, Chris Hargensen, enjoyed picking on Carrie; however, she would live to regret it. Actually, she wouldn’t live very much longer. It all began when she got detention after a run-in with Carrie. She then convinced her boyfriend Billy to help get her revenge by asking Carrie out to the prom.

A still of Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen.
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Both Chris and Billy were responsible for the bucket of pig’s blood drenching Carrie, the newly minted prom queen. But Carrie got her revenge by turning the two wicked classmates into a ball of flames in their burning car. To be fair… they had it coming!

Now – Nancy Allen

After Carrie wrapped up, Nancy Allen tied the knot with the movie’s director, Brian De Palma. She went on to star in two of his other films – Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981). And to think that she was that close to giving up on acting…

A photo of Nancy Allen speaking on stage.
Photo by Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images

Nancy starred in several acting gigs throughout the ’80s, including 1983’s Strange Invaders, 1984’s The Philadelphia Experiment, the Robocop franchise which began in 1987, and 1988’s Poltergeist. Nancy and Brian De Palma ended up divorcing a few years after they wed, and Nancy ended up marrying twice more.

Where Are They Now? Then – John Travolta (Billy Nolan)

The spineless Billy Nolan was easily talked into following his girlfriend Chris’ demands. He helped craft a malicious plan to embarrass poor Carrie. However, their plan failed and gradually mutated into their worst possible nightmare.

John Travolta poses for a picture behind the scenes.
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They witnessed Carrie in full-fledged fury mode, annihilating their classmates at prom. They tried to stop her, but met their fate instead, both burning in flames, crying in agony, screaming in pain. For some reason, I didn’t feel sorry for them. Not one bit!

Now – John Travolta (Billy Nolan)

John Travolta’s first major movie role was as Billy Nolan. After the movie wrapped up, his career soared! He starred in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and then Grease (1978). Both films skyrocketed his status to a whole other level of stardom.

A photo of John Travolta during an event.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Travolta’s career hasn’t slowed down. He’s starred in additional blockbuster hits like Pulp Fiction (1994), Swordfish (2001), Get Shorty (1995), Face/Off (1997), Hairspray (2007), Gotti (2018), and The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009). He’s also appeared on TV and is known mostly for his role in American Crime Story’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

Where Are They Now? P.J. Soles (Norma Watson)

P.J. Soles was known for starring in several blockbuster horror movies. In Carrie, she played Norma Watson, Chris’ evil sidekick who, like her evil counterpart, also ended up being burned alive. Two years after Carrie wrapped up, P.J. was cast to play Lynda van der Klok in Halloween (1978).

A backstage photo of P.J. Soles / P.J. Soles attending an event.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: MGM / Photo by Albert L. Ortega, Getty Images

Her character in Halloween also met a premature death. Oh well… ’tis the life of a horror actress. After earning her status as one of the scream queens of ’80s, P.J. Soles dived into comedy, starring in movies like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), Private Benjamin (1980), and Stripes (1981). She returned to horror in 2005 after starring in the cult classic The Devil’s Rejects.

Where Are They Now? Sydney Lassick (Mr. Fromm)

Sydney Lassick played Mr. Fromm, Carrie’s high school English teacher, who met his doom after being electrocuted by Carrie and inadvertently sparking the fire at the gym. Before Carrie, the actor played the role of the shy and manic-depressive Charlie Cheswick in 1975’s masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A still of Sydney Lassick in a scene from Carrie.
Source: YouTube

Sydney was later cast to The Unseen (1980), Sonny Boy (1989), and Deep Cover (1992). The actor also made some small-screen appearances in Eight Is Enough, Moonlighting, Knots Landing, Hawaii Five-O, and The X-Files.

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