P.J. Soles (2017) #WiHM

Not many people can boast that they’ve been killed by two iconic movie villains, but those are exactly PJ Soles’ bragging rights. Slaughtered by both Michael Meyers and Carrie White in the space of a few years, she endeared herself to generations of horror fans as a spunky girl with a lot of lip but not much luck. Though she turned in equally memorable comedic performances in Rock and Roll High School and Stripes, it’s her double-deaths for which she’s probably most remembered; and while many actresses who cut their teeth on the genre before departing it are reticent to discuss those bloody stepping stones to stardom, Soles has embraced her roots, returning to do cameos in such modern films as The Devil’s Rejects and participating in festivities to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Carrie, which was celebrated last fall by Scream Factory with a gorgeous Blu-ray release. It was for that purpose that I spoke with Ms. Soles, regarding the power of the film, the longevity of its’ appeal, and the relevance that it has today.

Preston Fassel: What do you think it is about Carrie that has captured people’s imaginations?

P.J. Soles: These movies are amazing, obviously. I was in Carrie, and Halloween, and Rock and Roll High School, Stripes, they’ve all just seemed to be long lasting. And I think It’s the time period coupled with the directors coupled with the scripts coupled with the amazing choice of casting. But in terms of Carrie, yes, absolutely. They did try to remake it twice. Once for TV and again, and they keep doing musicals in London, and, they had one in Thousand Oaks at the high school. So I know that they constantly are reviving it because, yes, the subject matter is very timely. It’s this science fiction, fantasy, horror movie where the bullied person is exacting her revenge. But I guess it definitely is a testament to people understanding that’s not really, you know, a good choice to make. We’re all different, we all have our wonderful talents, obviously. Poor Sissy. Poor Carrie.

PF: How do you think teen culture and bullying has changed since that time?

PS: I don’t think it’s changed, I think the awareness of it has probably increased. Gosh, back as far as you can remember, probably, in terms of ethnicity, in terms of race, bully has always— even in terms of size—the little kids always got picked on in school— I think it’s only recently, probably in the past ten years, that parents are now a little more eager to listen to their kids when they come home from school and say “Billy beat me up.” As opposed to maybe 20, 30 years ago, “Billy beat me up” was “Yeah, yeah, well, hit him back.” They didn’t pay attention. But now teachers are now more aware of things like that and parents will go back to the school and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” It’s a different world today, and obviously because of social media, and access to the internet, because of things getting out there… I mean, there are a million subjects on which society has improved, y’know. Due to everyone’ awareness of it. Sharing of it. I think that’s the most important aspect. Before that, you just called up your neighbor or your friend and talked on the telephone. You weren’t talking to 5000 people on Facebook. Or showing pictures of your kid’s sore arm or whatever happened.

PF: Stephen King has really distanced himself from Carrie in recent years and even compared her to the Columbine shooters. What’s your perspective?

PS: I think that’s a little off-base because for Carrie it was the ultimate humiliation at the prom there coupled with her home life... the Columbine shooters, if I remember, they had nice home lives. I guess—whatever. Yeah, I’ve always assumed and thought… you’re comparing it to real life tragedies. And to me, Carrie has always been a Stephen King book, a fantasy, a horror genre sci-fi kind of a story, so, I don’t think it’s completely relevant to be compared to kids that go to school and shoot their classmates. I can’t really put that in the same box.

PF: Would you see her as more of this sort of Dirty Harry figure, like, an empowerment fantasy?

PS: It’s just that for her, it wasn’t—It wasn’t premeditated. It wasn’t something she was plotting and planning. It was almost like her character submitted to it because of the fact of her home life and her mother, so she was dealing with her mother actually coming out of it, going to the prom, so I think she probably acted in the way that she did because here she had an opportunity to—her mother was telling her, “they’re all gonna laugh at you, things are gonna go wrong,” and Carrie was, “no.” Once Carrie stood up to her mother, you know, it wasn’t so much the kids in school. You look at Sissy Spacek and it’s hard to say she was an ugly kid. I mean, she was pretty cute, just behind the times in her fashion and very, very, very shy. And the fact that Tommy Ross kinda started liking her, he liked her shyness and her quietness and her naivety, so it wasn’t a premeditated event that she was gonna go to prom and kill everybody. It’s the premeditation part of it that doesn’t sit with me, in comparing it to any plot or plan, or Dirty Harry seeking revenge. I mean, once it started, it’s not gonna end. She did get going there. Got rid of everybody. Including her mother.

PF: There were a lot of movies around the time of Carrie’s release, and throughout the 80s, about young underdogs pushing back against their circumstances, either through violence or some sort of achievement. What differentiates Carrie from the rest?

PS: Honestly I really think it’s, again, the time period. It just holds the middle of the 70s in a kind of, I don’t know… it profiles what it looked like in high school in that time period, and then how the—what the students were like. Y’know, what was going on during that time. Even… Betty Buckley as the gym teacher. She had the ability and the permission, if you would, to slap Chris, Nancy Allen, in that scene, when she wasn’t gonna stand for it anymore, wasn’t gonna do the gym exercises, and got upset when we couldn’t go to the prom. So it’s sort of a little time capsule there of life in the 70s. And obviously the wonderful direction of Brian DePalma, and the wonderful actors, and, more than anything I think, the story coupled with the casting makes the movie extra special. I don’t think it’s particularly because of the subject matter of bullying. In fact, until recently, the bullying aspect of it never really came up. I know there’s the famous plug it up scene and yes, of course, that’s bullying, but, y’know, it was about a girl trying to fit in at high school. And obviously because of her telekinetic powers, that was not realistic. So for me it’s always been a sort of horror-fantasy movie, because she wouldn’t have been able to do anything in reality if she wasn’t just this cute kid without telekinetic powers. So really it’s a story about telekinesis, to me. And Brian DePalma put everything into it. And we had a good budget and a great cast. And Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek, they both were nominated for it.