31 Days of Hell: The Fury (1978) - Reviewed

Master technical filmmaker Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s coming of age/horror novel of psychic telekinetic wrath Carrie achieved the director’s first brush with mainstream critical and commercial success and cemented the auteur’s status in the film scene as a formidable visual artist unafraid of taking chances or daring to press taboo buttons with moviegoers.  Two years later, De Palma’s next project The Fury would inevitably mingle with those pesky and dangerous telekinetics once again, this time adding two troublemakers to the arena of visual effects wizardry, high-camp with shock and a sense of pure cinematic fun that needn’t always make complete logical sense to be thrilling or entertaining. 

Based on the novel by John Farris, who adapted his own screenplay, The Fury follows Kirk Douglas giving an astonishing physical performance in his 60s as Peter Sandza, a former CIA agent whose telepathic son is kidnapped and imprisoned by Sandza’s evil former colleague Childress (John Cassavetes) channeling even more villainy than his playwright in Rosemary’s Baby.  The Fury finds De Palma stabbing at the same apple twice though with less cohesion and focus than Carrie.  If Carrie was the hard and heavy horror film version of female adolescence, The Fury feels somewhat like a goof on that film’s success and the results aren’t nearly as effective or frightening but it has more than a few wild and even wacky tricks up it’s sleeve. 

A precursor to David Cronenberg’s Scanners more than anything, The Fury partially functions as a conspiratorial espionage chase thriller when it isn’t a half-baked second fiddle to Carrie.  Despite the obvious similarities including utilizing some of the same cast members (notably Amy Irving fresh off of Carrie) The Fury is all over the map and features some of De Palma’s most gleefully over-the-top horror imagery in his oeuvre including a scene that rivals the basketball murder scene in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend.  Unique to this De Palma effort is the original score by John Williams who more or less channels the great film composer Bernard Herrmann, although I have to wonder what The Fury would have sounded like if Pino Donaggio scored it instead. 

All the hallmarks germane to De Palma’s distinctive visual technique (save for the split screens) are here, from elaborate crane shots, key use of slow motion, split-diopter lens work and rapid fire editing simulating a zoom into a close up.  The cinematography by The Andromeda Strain cameraman Richard H. Kline is of course dynamic and complex with several carefully planned sequences involving rear projections, working to bring De Palma’s fluid cinematic vision to life.  And yet The Fury when compared alongside Carrie for all it’s stunning visual effects by Rick Baker and splendid technical merits doesn’t hold nearly as much water or old fashioned scares.  

In the years since, De Palma regarded The Fury as one of his lesser efforts and seen within the context of his filmography it tends to be overshadowed by the infinitely stronger film that preceded it.  As a whole, it doesn't help that Carrie in one scene is scarier than anything in the director's follow up to it.  Still, The Fury like the director’s eventual Femme Fatale displays De Palma having fun with the material, sometimes even firmly planting his tongue in cheek.  Not one of De Palma’s finest hours but certainly an engaging lark with more than enough surprises to make it worth your while.

- Andrew Kotwicki