MVPs of Horror: William Katt escorts us through that bloody prom scene in 'Carrie'

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Sissy Spacek and William Katt in Carrie. (Photo: MGM/courtesy of Everett Collection)

The prom scene from Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie Carrie is an unforgettable moment in horror cinema, a hazy, dreamlike sequence that builds to a bloody, emotionally wrenching climax. For William Katt, who played the title character’s prom date, the scene carries different memories: It was the first time that all the young cast members, including John Travolta, Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and P.J. Soles, had a chance to hang out on set together. “I remember mostly that it was just a ball having everybody there, because the shots would take so long to set up,” Katt tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And there we were, all young 20s guys and girls, and we just had a great time.”

Carrie’s climactic scene (which runs a little over 20 minutes in its entirety) follows the title character, socially naive outcast Carrie (Sissy Spacek), as she goes to her first school dance. Her date is Tommy Ross, the popular boyfriend of Carrie’s gym-class tormentor Sue Snell (Amy Irving). Another of the school bullies, Chris (Nancy Allen), however, plots to humiliate Carrie. Oblivious to the plan, which involves a strategically rigged bucket of pig’s blood, Tommy begins to fall for Carrie. The scene is notable for its dazzling cinematography, and during Katt and Spacek’s first moments together, De Palma’s camera never seems to move more than a few inches away. “If they had had those cameras today that they have, the GoPros that you can hold a foot from your face and wear around, I think we would have been using those,” Katt says with a laugh.

Watch Carrie’s prom scene:

He recalls, in particular, Tommy’s deliriously joyful first dance with Carrie, which was filmed by placing the actors on a rotating platform, with De Palma’s camera moving on a dolly track in the reverse direction. “Sissy and I danced one way, and the camera was going the other way, and we ended up going faster and faster,” Katt explains. “At the end of it, Sissy and I are laughing out loud, and the reason we’re laughing is because I’m literally spinning her so fast she’s up off of the floor, and we are so dizzy.”

The earlier, romantic section of the prom scene is punctuated by a jaw-dropping moment of foreshadowing: In one continuous shot, the camera moves across the gym to the foot of the stage. There, the audience sees a rope that winds across the floor, to the gym ceiling, where the camera looks down on the rigged bucket waiting to fall. The camera then moves back to Carrie and Tommy looking into each other’s eyes, unaware of what’s in store. “I remember it taking almost a day and a half to set that shot up,” says Katt, “because there were so many camera moves, and it was so difficult for the guy that was driving the crane, and the camera assistant who was pulling focus, and the DP, and the actors — it was extraordinarily difficult.”

Spacek and Katt after the prom goes horribly awry. (Photo: MGM/courtesy of Everett Collection)

In the film, Chris’s bloody prank sends Carrie into a rage, and she begins telekinetically destroying everything and everyone in the gym. Famously, actress P.J. Soles was hurt during a scene where her character is attacked by a fire hose. “When the water was going off, I remember being there. And she got very injured; I think she blew out her eardrum in that sequence,” Katt recalls. He also remembers another little wrinkle in filming: When Carrie sets the gym on fire, De Palma’s set actually caught on fire. “I remember being on set when they lit off the fire, because we were doing stuff out of sequence, right? I was already supposed to be lying on the ground, dead. So they lit the stage on fire, and the actual soundstage caught fire. And the AD [assistant director] was screaming for everybody to get out, and Brian was yelling for the camera department to keep rolling,” Katt says, chuckling at the memory. “I thought that that was pretty funny. All the decorations, everything, caught fire, and I don’t believe that that was intentional.” (Thankfully, the blaze was quickly extinguished, and no one was seriously in danger.)

William Katt in 2010. (Photo: Everett Collection)

At least Tommy’s bucket scene was quick and painless. “When that bucket fell, it was actually a guy on a big ladder behind me, and he threw that bucket down,” says Katt. “It was kind of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, papier-mâché bucket that was painted to look real — and we did that shot once. I was ready to do it again, and Brian said, ‘No, we got it.’”

Katt is still a little sad that he didn’t survive the carnage — “even with my saying to Brian afterward, ‘No, you can’t kill the character, he’s gotta come back!’” the actor jokes. “What about Carrie 2? What about the franchise, Brian?”

“It was just wild,” he sighs. “It was everything you could imagine.”

[Editor’s note: The original version of the story was published in October 2014.]

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