The Fury - A closer look
The Fury is full of De Palma's trademark style and wit whose spookily scary story stems not from those with powers, but those in power
The Fury is Brian De Palma’s second foray into the world of psychics, but whereas Carrie (1976) was a straight-out horror based on Stephen King’s book of the same name, this one dealt with shady conspiracies, kidnap, clandestine government agencies as well as people possessing powers they are afraid of. Based on John Farris’ book of the same name, The Fury is full of De Palma's trademark style, wit and raw guts woven tightly together in a spookily scary story whose fear stems not from those with powers, but those in power. Having lived in its elder sibling’s shadow, The Fury is by no means a lesser film; it is just not quite so focused on delivering the shocks, preferring to have a backbone of mystery in amongst bloody mayhem. Securing superstar Kirk Douglas in a starring role and giving the likes of Amy Irving, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress and Charles Durning an equal crack of the whip there is no lack of talent in front of the camera, with De Palma on strong youthful form behind it and John Williams on top form fresh from the triumphant Star Wars; the story develops with paranoia and gusto all the while building to an explosive climax. Lushly restored and vibrant throughout, hold on to your heads as we delve deep into the mind of: The Fury.
The film starts off innocently enough with Peter Sandza and his son Robin swimming towards the beach as they race each other to the finish; it neatly sets up their relationship while expositing Robin’s powers without explicitly saying so. I love the camera position here; Peter and Robin lying down with their heads towards the camera and centre frame, to bottom right is Peter’s best friend’s, Ben Childress, foot as he joins the conversation: although we don’t yet know it the foot is about to stamp on the mind and this simple set up conveys this message without the need for heavy handed exposition.
Playing the part of Peter is living legend Kirk Douglas who, at the time, was over sixty, but was clearly relishing the part of an ex-government agent, doting father and avenging angel; just look at his swagger as he struts across the screen with his action chops on, his escape from his hotel room is ripe with frivolity as in nothing but a pair of boxers he flexes his muscles and puffs out his chest showing the world that even the oldies still have it – see Stallone and all his cronies do the same thing in the Expendables films! Still he is right for the part and whilst there is nothing to stretch his acting ability, he does get to show a full range of emotions and we do end up feeling for his plight as the aggrieved father out to do anything to find his son. I’ll go into it a little later too, but see how he conveys genuine emotion with nothing but his body language in the scene where Gillian makes her escape, here is where he should be judged and not his aerial acrobatics and escape tactics.just look at his swagger as he struts across the screen with his action chops onGiving life to Robin is jobbing TV actor Andrew Stevens whose journey forms the backbone of the mystery element of the story. When first introduced as a shy and unassuming young man, who clearly loves his father but has a very competitive mind-set, we watch, not always through his eyes, as he develops a darker edge as the unrelenting pressure on him forces his hand and drives him further into psychosis. Gillian may want help, but Robin needs it. His development reminded me very much of Charlie X in the Star Trek episode of the same name, the fact that actors Robert Walker and Andrew Stevens look pretty much the same didn’t help either. It is perhaps the weakest element of the story that we don’t spend enough time with Robin to fully understand his transformation from innocent to weapon, especially his later actions – although it is fun to postulate.
Ben Childress represents the shady side of life and who better than John Cassavetes to play a turncoat? Even right at the beginning, when he is still the good guy, he still looks dark and menacing – his saunter betraying the deceit behind his eyes; it’s a wonderful characterisation. Only later does he become far, far darker (and not just his suits!) with a brooding menace that is palpable. His motivations aren’t fully explained; why he would betray his best friend is never really broached, and whilst this could be construed as underwriting, I prefer to think of it as leaving his character open to interpretation, thus giving him the eminent boo-hissability that the role demands. He is never over the top, just cold - his seduction of Gillian is skin crawlingly adept.
After the brief introductions we are swiftly into a De Palma set piece, this time it’s a ‘terrorist’ beach invasion complete with speedboats, machine guns, explosions and death. It is, as we quickly find out, all part of an elaborate smoke screen for Childress to kidnap Robin and kill Peter and thus set up one of the major plots of the film – Peter’s hunt for his son. The piece is typically action packed, it allows Douglas to show off his action abilities (again in very little clothing) while the close ups show a grim determination behind the eyes. Douglas, of course, was no stranger to this type of role and you can see from the glint in his eye that he was giving everything. The scene ends in a typically explosive fashion with Robin believing his father dead and now in the hands of an unknown, but clearly deadly government agency, Childress wounded and Peter not only on the run for his life, but determined to find his boy.By this time the character has been through the wringer, she has no one to turn to for help and she sees Peter as her one salvationFrom one blood soaked beach, the film then cuts to another beach, this time in Chicago, where the mood could not be happier and we are introduced to our next protagonist and who the rest of the film centres around. Gillian Bellaver is a young high school student free from the dangers of the world and worried about nothing more than her up and coming exams. Little does he know she is about to be plunged into a very different world, where she will lose her identity and become nothing more than a tool – if she lets it. Having a starring part in Carrie, Amy Irving took the lead in The Fury, the young woman with psychic abilities that tend to harm the people around her, and actually took time out in psychic research facilities to better understand and give credence to her character. Gillian is a bright young girl, terrified of her powers as they cause people to bleed when an episode occurs. Due to her unprecedented abilities she pops up on the radar of both Peter and Childress – Peter wants her to locate his son, Childress for his own nefarious purposes. The two worlds collide when Gillian has a vision of Robin, who she identifies as having powers similar to her own, and then wishes to seek him out with the idea that he may be able to help her gain some insight and information into what is happening. Irving does a tremendous job in her portrayal, first as the naïve girl with little to no knowledge of her growing powers, to a frightened and willing student, trying to discover what is happening, to desperate fugitive with powers she does not know how to control and finally as someone with nothing to lose. Her journey is quite traumatic and there are a number of scenes in which Irving gives an incredible and emotional performance. One particularly sticks out for me, when Peter, after Gillian leads him to Robin’s whereabouts, attempts to leave her on a bus – she wakes and runs after him, pleading with him to take her with him – and her pleas are gut wrenching and you really do feel for her. By this time the character has been through the wringer, she has no one to turn to for help and she sees Peter as her one salvation, and Irving gives everything she has to persuade us, and it works.
Working at the Psychic Research facility is Hester, someone who will pay a dear price for her helpful nature – she is a friend to Gillian and a lover to Peter and it is her direct involvement that gives rise to one of the best scenes in the film – Gillian’s escape. In what is another typical De Palma set piece (well it is typical now, was relatively new at the time of filming) the whole scene is filmed in slow motion with no sound except the score – this focuses the eye on the actors' movements, reactions and situation with Williams’ terrific music to carry the emotion; it is a sublime scene full of elation, tragedy, resolve, desperation and determination. Hester is played by Carry Snodgress and this was seen as something of a comeback film for her, and indeed she does very well with the little amount of screen time she has, being able to convey and convince enough to give a very emotive exit in the aforementioned
Talking of Williams’ score, he really did pull out all the stops for what is little more than a little psychic horror film; the music is ethereal, creepy, bombastic and just plain excellent – it creates mood, defines characters and situations and, in the case of Gillian’s escape, provides all the visual cues with verve. Oh he may be best known for science fiction and super heroes, but The Fury may just be one of his best scores ever.the music is ethereal, creepy, bombastic and just plain excellentAt the time of its release the film did not do particularly well, coming off the back of Carrie, which had been phenomenally successful, and being of the same ilk, many expected more of the same; and when De Palma delivered a film that was part mystery, part psychic horror and all conspiracy many were disappointed, even those that were involved in the project. And when compared to Carrie it is a very different film despite their similar subject matter. But it is in the differences that the film shines; the film is not about psychics, it is a film about mistrust, betrayal and conspiracy, that happens to contain psychics. Cronenberg’s Scanners has much to thank the Fury for and this is a much fairer comparison. However any initial misgivings have been well and truly forgotten over the years and everyone now agrees that The Fury is a class act. And I must agree, I hadn’t seen the film before this review and I now really rate it, there are a number of terrific set pieces (as there are in every De Palma film) that really stand out, and the narrative is creepy enough to tie them all together really well. Williams’ score is the icing on the cake and makes the film eminently watchable – it has matured with age and comes well recommended.
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