Ryan Clark on the making of ‘The Making of Carrie’

CarrieCarrie was Stephen King’s first book, but it wan’t my first Stephen King book – that honor belongs to Pet Semetary. After I devoured that book I set out to find and read everything King had read up to that point. I really envy that version of me, getting to read stuff like ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining and Night Shift for the very first time. At some point in there I read Carrie, and it just didn’t grab me like the others did. I re-read it many years later to see how it held up, and while there are bits that I like, there is much that hasn’t aged well. (The fake news articles are a particular problem for me – as a former journalist, I can’t ignore how far off they are from the way real news articles read. Even now, when King writes fake news articles in his books and stories, they don’t ring true to me.)
The movie, on the other hand, has aged quite well. Oh, yeah, the music is dated and the prom fashions are laughable (of course, every generation’s prom fashions are laughable, aren’t they?), but there’s not a damn thing off about the performances by Sissy Spacek (as the tortured ugly duckling Carrie) and Piper Laurie (the fanatically religious and clinically insane Mrs. White). Look at that image to the right, with Spacek covered in pig’s blood – there, in that instant, you can see that she’s accepted her own fate, and decided the fate of her tormentors. And it ain’t going to be pretty.
Ryan Clark is a man who agrees with me on the continued impact of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie. It’s a movie that means a lot to him, and his love for it spurred him to begin work on a book about it. Blood Among the Stars: The Making of ‘Carrie’ is deep into production now, and Clark (along with co-writer Lee Gambin) has assembled an amazing list of interviews with the film’s cast and crew, including Spacek, Laurie, De Palma and the man who started it all – Stephen King. As soon as I heard about the book I wanted to know more – and I figured you would, too. I reached out to Ryan and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for October Country.
Tell us a little bit about how the project was conceived. Why devote so much time to Carrie?

Well, I’ve been obsessed with Carrie – in a good way – ever since I can remember.  I used to play the soundtrack album in my CD walkman every morning on the long bus ride to middle school.  The film really began to resonate with me starting then, and after so many years I thought maybe I should use this fascination constructively.  In my own small way, I wanted to add to the legacy of a film that means so much to me and always will.  I began chatting on Facebook with Terry Bolo, who was an extra in Carrie and many other films, and she gave me that push I needed to move forward with the book.  The first thing I did was start a Facebook page to make people aware of this project, and I got some of my friends to “like” it.

On your website you state that Carrie is your “all-time favorite movie.” What about it resonates with you?

There are many reasons that Carrie resonates so deeply with me, but a big reason I think the film has lasted so long and has become timeless is that it’s a story that covers pretty much all aspects of teenage behavior.  To expound on something that Nancy Allen said to me, and I’m paraphrasing, the characters in Carrie are very much like real teenagers in that they are somewhat one-dimensional.  They either love you or they hate you, everything is about them, and they’re very self-absorbed.  There’s no in-between.  I really connected with that in a big way when I was that age, because everyone I knew was like that and I myself was like that, and my fascination with this classical story continues even though I have matured.  The characters in Carrie are very divided and simplistic; they’re either good guys or bad guys.  I’m not putting down the story in any way – it’s brilliant – but that’s how it is.  It’s like a western.  High school, and middle school, often feels like a western!  And yet there’s room for nuances.  Tommy Ross, for instance, as played by William Katt, is not your typical jock.  He’s a lot more sensitive and self-aware than that.

Carrie Stephen King 1975 1st edition paperback Signet New American LibraryWhat are your thoughts of the novel it’s based on? Many feel that it’s one of King’s weaker efforts (which is only natural, given it was his first published novel).

The novel does have weak spots, which King himself often admits, but Carrie is a really solid psychological/paranormal thriller.  It’s especially impressive as a first novel, though we now know it wasn’t the first one he wrote.  Contrary to popular belief, the 1976 film is relatively faithful to it, and I think that the changes screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and Brian De Palma made from the novel were perfect.  As I’ve always said, unless you’re Roman Polanski adaptingRosemary’s Baby word-for-word, you cannot take everything from a novel and put it up on the screen.  It just will not work.  You’ve got to change some things.  Now, some of those changes were done for budgetary reasons – the $1.8 million budget did not allow for Carrie to destroy the entire town, but you don’t really need that for the movie.  Destroying the high school is sufficient, because, to paraphrase an old interview with Brian De Palma, when you’re in high school, that is your world.  I think focusing on the town’s destruction is a trap the remakes fall into.  It works in the book, because you can use your imagination, but to me, that’s never been what Carrie is all about.

You seem to have gotten lots of cooperation on putting this book together from the people involved with the film. What is your take on why this film was such a good experience for those who worked on it?

Well, Carrie was a first for a lot of people.  For many of the cast members, it was their first film.  For Brian De Palma, it was his first major hit.  I think people tend to look back fondly on things that came first in their lives.  They were young, and, despite minor tensions (and some major face-slappage), it was a pretty pleasant experience for everyone.

How did Lee Gambin get involved, and how has he helped you in making this idea a reality?

Lee has been amazing.  I could not have come this far without him.  He ended up on the Facebook page I had created for the book, and I was aware that he had interviewed Sissy Spacek for Fangoria.  He offered to help out with the book, and I decided to ask if he’d like to co-write it with me.  He seemed like the best person to do it, and I was right!  Because of his connections, we have been able to interview almost all of the major cast and crew members, though there are many I was able to get myself.  We share an equal amount of the work.  It’s nice to work with a partner, because you have someone to prod you when you start to slow down.

What can you tell us about the book itself? Is a release date set? A publisher? Are we talking oversized coffee table book, hardcover, softcover…?

I’m afraid we can’t reveal any such details at this time, but if you subscribe via email to our website or keep up with our Facebook and Twitter pages, rest assured you will remain up to date on our progress and you will know when the book is coming out.

There have really been some excellent examples in the “Making of…” genre of books over the last few years: Crystal Lake Memories (covering the Friday the 13th series), Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (JAWS), the books devoted to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, for example. Why do you think there is such a hunger for this kind of material?

I think it’s the same reason that DVD documentaries are so popular – fans love to hear the cast and crew talk about their memories.  Making-of books have an advantage over feature-length documentaries in that books are much more informative.  You can only pack so many facts into an hour-and-a-half long documentary.

What are your thoughts on the remakes of Carrie that we’ve already seen? What about the upcoming Chloe Moretz version? Will you touch on any of those in the book?

The various versions of Carrie all have their points of interest, and we will be covering all of them to some extent.  I feelThe Rage: Carrie 2 is the best of them so far, and it’s unfairly maligned.  It’s really not bad, especially when you consider how terrible ’90s horror films typically were.  I’m not going to say much right now about the upcoming remake, because I don’t want to judge the film sight unseen.  I love Julianne Moore, and Kimberly Peirce is a really good director, so I think there’s a decent chance the new Carrie will surprise people.

I know you can’t give away all of your good stuff, but is there a little something you learned in the process of putting this book together that you can tease us with?

Yes, one thing I learned – and I’m revealing this to you because it was already published in a book of Stephen King interviews, Feast of Fear – is that United Artists originally wanted John Travolta to sing one of the songs that Katie Irving eventually did – I think “Born to Have It All” – over the opening credits and the shower scene.  De Palma and Lawrence D. Cohen fought against this, and producer Paul Monash called up Stephen King for his opinion.  King said that it would be ridiculous to have Travolta, who played the heavy in the film, sing a love song to the girl he will dump pig’s blood on.  Then Monash asked, “Well, how about the Bee Gees?”  And King said, “No, I really don’t think so.”