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Betty Buckley Was Scared She’d Actually Die on the “Carrie” Set in 1976: ‘The Terror You See Was Real’ (Exclusive)

The star of the new horror movie 'Imaginary' reflects on her film debut in the thriller based on Stephen King’s bestseller

<p>John Boal; PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy</p> Betty Buckley

John Boal; PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy

Betty Buckley's first movie role was in the 1976 horror film 'Carrie'

Betty Buckley didn’t need much help getting into character when it came time to film her death scene in Carrie.

In the 1976 classic, Buckley, who’s now starring in the horror movie Imaginary, played Miss Collins, the physical education teacher who shows some sympathy toward bullied, telekinetic teenager Carrie White (played by Sissy Spacek). The film was adapted from Stephen King’s bestseller of the same name, which was published 50 years ago next month.

In the film’s terrifying climax, Carrie is humiliated at a high school dance when nasty classmate Chris (Nancy Allen) douses her with a bucket of a pig's blood just as she’s crowned prom queen. Her peers point and laugh, infuriating the teen.

Using her mental powers, she locks the doors, trapping everyone inside the school gymnasium, where the prom is held. An electrical fire breaks out, killing many, while poor Miss Collins is crushed by a basketball backboard.

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“That was my first death scene. It was pretty classic,” recalls Buckley.

But she was nervous to film it because a stunt coordinator working on the movie was seriously injured while he was doing another scene in which he was thrown backwards in the air as one of the kids who gets killed.

<p>Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty</p> Sissy Spacek in the climax of the 1976 movie 'Carrie'

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Sissy Spacek in the climax of the 1976 movie 'Carrie'

“There was a mattress for him to land on, and they miscalculated the distance and he hit the ground and hurt himself badly,” says Buckley.

“So we all witnessed that and we’re like, ‘What? Are we in safe hands?” says Buckley, who became panicked that she’d be injured, too.

In the scene, Miss Collins is pinned against the wall when the basketball backboard comes crashing down. The pendulum-like mechanism was on ropes, and Buckley says there was a foot of balsa wood that was supposed to prevent any injury.

“It was not going to crush the person in the shot,” she says. “That was the safety mechanism.”

Buckley says she was told, “Oh, this'll work,” but she wasn’t convinced: “I'm like, ‘Are you sure?’ And so the terror you see from Miss Collins when that happened was absolutely real.”

<p>MGM</p> Sissy Spacek and Betty Buckley in 'Carrie'

MGM

Sissy Spacek and Betty Buckley in 'Carrie'

Buckley lived, but Miss Collins did not. For the next scene, when her character is writhing in agony before dying, director Brian De Palma told her what to do.

“I had [fake] blood in my mouth that I had to spit out and stuff, and his direction was, ‘Squirm like a bug on a pin.’ And I thought that was one of the funniest things I'd ever been told by a director,” she says.

<p>Parrish Lewis</p> Taegen Burns and Betty Buckley in 'Imaginary'

Parrish Lewis

Taegen Burns and Betty Buckley in 'Imaginary'

In the five decades since that movie caused a sensation, Buckley has returned to the horror genre often: she starred as the titular character’s terrifying mother in the 1988 Broadway adaptation of Carrie, appeared in two M. Night Shyamalan films (2008’s The Happening, and his creepy 2016 hit Split) and played the soul-stealing Gran’ma on Season 3 of AMC’s spooky supernatural series Preacher.

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Her latest movie Imaginary centers around Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a Louisiana woman who moves to her former childhood home with her husband (Tom Payne) and his two children from a previous marriage, Alice (Pyper Braun) and Taylor (Taegen Burns).

The young Alice finds a teddy bear in the basement, but the toy turns out to be the stuff of nightmares.

Buckley has a supporting role as Gloria, a seemingly-kind neighbor who used to watch Jessica when she was a young girl. But things are not exactly as they seem.

The actress, whose 50-year career includes stints on Broadway and television, is happy to have come back to horror, the genre that helped launch her career. “I thought this might be a fun way to go from here,” she says.

Imaginary is in theaters now.

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