Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #494
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 10, 1978
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $24,000,000
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Frank Yablans
Screenplay: John Farris
Based on The Fury by John Farris
Special Effects: Rick Baker, Rob Bottin
Cinematography: Richard H. Kline
Score: John Williams
Editing: Paul Hirsch
Studio: Frank Yablans Presentations, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, CBS/Fox
Stars: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Andrew Stevens, Rutanya Alda, Fiona Lewis, Carol Eve Rossen, Joyce Easton, William Finley, Jane Lambert, Sam Laws, J. Patrick McNamara, Alice Nunn, Melody Thomas Scott, Hilary Thompson, Daryl Hannah, Dennis Franz
Suggested Audio Candy
 John Williams “The Fury”
 John Williams “Gillian’s Escape”
One thing you can pretty much guarantee from a Brian De Palma movie is that it will waste no time in involving its addressee. In Carrie, we were treated to a slow-motion stroll through a dorm shower room which hot college girls whipped each other playfully with damp towels and the like. Blow Out offered us a film-within-film slasher set-up which featured hot college girls taking soapy showers and so forth. And in Scarface it wasn’t a great deal of time before the chainsaw started revving and this time no amount of tampons were enough to plug it up. He always did know how to grab himself an active audience and The Fury leaves just as strong an opening impression.
This time we start on the beach in the Mediterranean with retired CIA agent Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) and his son Robin (Andrew Stevens in his breakthrough role) enjoying a little father-son time. Robin has a gift, that much is clear, but Peter is aware that it will need to be nurtured and is damn sure that his son isn’t going to be taken advantage of. Unfortunately for him, matters are taken out of his hands as a terrorist raid breaks out before we can even apply our sun block, leaving pops seemingly dead and his traumatized boy with only family friend Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) left to console him. This fellow government operative is a long time friend of Peter’s and therefore glad to look over his only child now that he is out of the picture. Unfortunately for the distraught Robin, the interests of the few are outweighed by the needs of the many. Childress ordered the attack and is more than ready to step into his father’s loafers.
So about this gift then. Robin has paranormal powers and fairly potent ones at that. We’re talking telekinesis, the kind of ESP that helped Carrie White finally get her point across and the type that, a few years later, would have Scanners popping heads like primed pimples. This makes him a powerful asset and the Paragon Institute offers to help hone those skills with the hidden intention of using said powers against the Russians. It’s not all bad for Robin as he gets to mingle with other gifted kids and pretty much live the life of a regular teenage boy, albeit behind an iron curtain and with prying electrodes constantly scanning his brain waves for data. Top secret government agency M.O.R.G. (Multiphasic Operations Research Group) are poor Robin’s brand new foster family and that makes Childress his new pops.
Meanwhile, Peter ain’t going out like that. He knows what’s up and Childress does too. Indeed, he has a “dead arm” as a constant reminder of his double cross and solemn vow that he will be hunted down for what he has done. What’s more, he doesn’t waste any time and is soon enjoying something of a second childhood, attempting to remain one step ahead of his ex-friend’s snuff squad. Douglas (sixty-one at the time of filming), rolls back the years during a relentless first act that moves like a twitchy rattlesnake, culminating in a wonderful high-speed car chase featuring none other than a fresh-faced Dennis Franz. While all this testosterone is being spilled on one side of the city, it’s time to meet special one of God’s creatures #2 in more therapeutic confines.
Equally gifted teen Gillian (Amy Irving) is being groomed as Paragon’s next big hope and currently takes up residence at a biofeedback clinic under the jurisdiction of none other than the wretched Childress. It’s still early days for Gillian at the institute and Dr. Jim McKeever (Charles Durning) seems like a good egg, although she can’t shrug the nagging feeling that something more is going on than a few harmless tests. Then there’s McKeever’s assistant Hester (Carrie Snodgress) and she is also a most valuable pawn as she also happens to be keeping the bed warm for Peter. He’s lying low right now after all that early heat and biding his time until he can locate where Childress is hiding his son.
Gillian and Robin are soon introduced although not in the most conventional manner. She can communicate telepathically with him although she is still terrified of her new-found skill and it isn’t without its teething problems. Gillian is not the girl you wish to cross as doing so will have you bleeding out faster than Carrie in the shower room and from any available orifice. Robin too is discovering more and more about the results of relieving any pent-up frustration although his road has been considerably longer and his hope is already all but extinguished. Time for Peter to get a wriggle on and sweet talk Hester into pulling some strings.
After a rollicking opening act, the second is far more sedate, and this change of pace may not suit any adrenaline junkies amongst us. However, Irving as the dazed and confused teen is commendable and Snodgress gives a wonderfully tragic turn as her only trustworthy keeper. She loves Peter and will do anything whatsoever for him without question but has to be content with not figuring high on his priority list and we sense this has always been the case. The scene where the realization sets in that Peter’s one true love has been under his nose all along, and he knows that he’s left it too late, is poignant and shows a fleeting softness to Douglas which catches us all off guard.
This follows a superb slow-motion sequence just minutes earlier, just one of many beautifully crafted set-pieces that show off De Palma’s style exquisitely. As usual, the director strikes just the right balance between supplying the usual well-worn genre tropes and engaging in a little avant-garde experimentation of his own. This gifted craftsman keeps his voyeuristic lens constantly on the move and this creates a great sense of urgency to compensate for any lulls in the narrative. He is aided by Richard H. Kline’s cinematography which combines tracking shots and zoom lens with grand overhead sweeping shots to rather splendiferous effect. John Williams also supplies a masterful Hitchcock-like score that compliments each visual beautifully.
The script from John Farris, adapted from his own novel of the same name, isn’t the best De Palma has had at his disposal but he is totally committed to offering us a spectacle and does precisely that. By the time the final act arrives to pummel our senses, he reminds us that he is far more willing to go against the grain than most other filmmakers and the bloody conclusion doesn’t pander to its audience, instead spinning us on the spot until we’re soundly disoriented and watching us detonate. The Fury may not represent the best of De Palma’s particularly strong seventies output but it is super-charged, suspenseful, and deliciously over-the-top. Any De Palma movie that hits these three targets effectively does more than enough to forgive any shortcomings. Now don’t make me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While The Fury is some way from being a horror film per se, there is one particular scene of glorious schlock courtesy of SFX gurus Rick Baker and Rob Bottin which just begs to be watched again on slow play. Pre-dating the exploding head gag from Scanners by three years, it comes right at the climax and climax is the operative word here as Gillian, brimming with raging femininity, has herself the final say, filling the screen with a geyser of blood and body parts and bringing new meaning to the term self-destructive orgasm.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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