AP Film Studies: The Wild-Eyed Piper

Carrie's Piper Laurie emerges from your nightmares.

There were a thousand things wrong with the 2013 remake of Carrie. It took Stephen King’s story of a bullied teen pushed into a killing spree and reimagined it as what director Kimberly Peirce called a “superhero origin story.” It glorified the slaughter of innocent teens at the hands (well, mind bullets) of a troubled young woman. In a post-Columbine-and-Sandy Hook world, its tone-deafness was staggering.

But the tone wasn't the only issue with this misguided revamp of Brian De Palma's cult classic. The biggest problem was the absence of Piper Laurie. Laurie, who received her second Oscar nomination for playing Carrie's crazed mother, Margaret White, will fend off horror geeks in Portland on Saturday, March 1, when she and co-stars Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles hit Movie Madness for an autograph signing. That evening, the 1976 classic will play at the Hollywood, with the stars sticking around for a post-screening Q&A.

For anyone unfortunate enough to have caught Carrie as a child, you might remember Laurie from every fucking nightmare you've ever had. In a film crowded with macabre images—a blood-soaked Sissy Spacek and a young John Travolta among them—Laurie manages to be the most singularly terrifying thing on the screen. One moment she's seemingly calm and collected, and the next she's grinning maniacally as she stalks her daughter with a kitchen knife. And she does it all in the name of God. Laurie's performance just might be the scariest thing to come out of Christianity since Mormon underwear. 

But what's even more startling about Laurie's performance is how surprisingly well it has aged. Despite its revered status, Carrie as a whole doesn't hold up very well. Its split-screen climax is about as dated as "Disco Duck." Its Giallo-inspired lighting snaps the film out of reality and makes it look like a community-theater production of Suspiria. Its Travolta is sooo Travolta-y. 

But Laurie's looney-tunes Margaret White remains terrifying, a diabolical mix of high camp and classic horror. Look at those crazy eyes and the way she seems to float down the hallway, her nightgown blowing ethereally as if by being sent aflutter by the breath of demons. She isn't just the epitome of the warped righteousness of fundamentalism. She's one of the best monsters ever committed to film. Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles will be at Movie Madness, 4320 SE Belmont St., on Saturday, March 1, from 12:30 to 3 pm. Carrie screens at the Hollywood at 6:45 pm. 

Also Showing: 

  1. The NW Film Center shakes off the elderly penises and failed romances of the Portland International Film Festival with a revival of Sweet Smell of Success (7 pm Friday and 4:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 28-March 1), a 1957 Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis drama set in a time when newspaper columnists wielded actual power, using it for evil rather than Keanu Reeves jokes. The film kicks off a monthlong Forever Burt series. This week, you can also catch Lancaster in a swashbuckler costume in The Crimson Pirate (4:30 pm Sunday, March 2) and in a trench coat in noir flick Criss Cross (7 pm Sunday, March 2). NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
  1. Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man examines the black experience of the 1960s through the lens of a family crumbling under the weight of racism in the South. 5th Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Feb. 28-March 2.
  1. Portland’s incidental Sissy Spacek Week also includes Badlands, the Terrence Malick classic in which she rubs her dirty pillows on Martin Sheen. Laurelhurst Theater. Feb. 26-March 6.
  1. Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre gets into the revival-and-beer game with a run of Airplane! that is surely good enough reason to cross the river. Kiggins Theatre. Feb. 28-March 4.
  1. Young Frankenstein turns 40 this year, and it still hasn’t been surpassed as the most ridiculous homage/ensemble comedy out there. Academy Theater. Feb. 28-March 6.
  1. The NW Film Center launches its impressive Studio Ghibli retrospective with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the first peek into the ingenious mind of Hayao Miyazaki. NW Film Center. 7 pm Saturday, March 1.
  1. Directed by a stunt man and featuring little more than a bunch of shit exploding, Action U.S.A. might be the most ass-kicking B-Movie Bingo entry to date. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, March 4.
  1. The Clinton Street celebrates Fat Tuesday with a double feature by documentarian Les Blank, whose Southern-fried work includes barbecue doc Dry Wood and Always for Pleasure, examining the shit show that is Mardi Gras in NOLA. Clinton Street Theater. 7 pm Tuesday, March 4. 

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