Criterion Prediction #48: The Fury, by Alexander Miller


Title: The Fury

Year: 1978

Director: Brian De Palma

Cast: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Fiona Lewis, Amy Irving

Synopsis: Peter Andrews (Douglas), along with his son Robin (Stevens) and their family friend Ben Childress (Cassavetes), fall victim to an Arab attack while abroad in Israel.

Andrews narrowly escapes after he finds out he’s been double-crossed by Childress who staged the attack to harness Robin’s psychic abilities. Meanwhile, a teenage girl realizes that she has telekinetic powers of her own. Gillian (Irving) agrees to enroll in the Paragon institution, which happens to be the nefarious organization headed by the treacherous Childress. Although Robin believes his father to be dead, he and Gillian are allied with the intention of saving him.

Critique: One thing I love about Brian De Palma is his brazen technical prowess and his fearlessness to crank up the audacity levels to eleven. The Fury is a facet of interest concerning Brian De Palma’s career being one of the more original in terms of referential influence. Instead of the obligatory addendum that follows the explanation of many of his other films (Body Double: Rear Window:: Dressed to Kill: Psycho) The Fury, based on the novel of the same name by John Farris doesn’t have the same headline effect as Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, or Howard Hawks, therefore peeling back a few layers of thematic buffering that allows The Fury to exercise on its own terms as a film. While there’s no shortage of bloodshed The Fury has a surprisingly low level of the fetishistic voyeurism that populates much of his work; there’re some weird sexual inflections, but the overall sleaze factor is pretty tame for a romp in Brian De Palma’s territory. It continues to baffle me as to why The Fury seems to rank so low among the director’s many accolades; it might be that the material is a little too close in proximity to his previous film Carrie, as well as being somewhat hard to place.

Indeed, The Fury is a horror movie first but the ambitious scope is buttressed by an identifiable range of globe-trotting espionage and conspiracy, providing an unlikely but punchy marriage of themes and making The Fury one of De Palma’s most impressive efforts. Exciting doesn’t always translate to excellence, but it does substantiate the role of the director as an entertainer as The Fury hits the ground running and delivers an abundance of psychological terror, gore, action, and a few moments of humor, flaunting expectations as much as it falls in line with convention. The sly veneer of the adept craftsman can construct a winding story (that veers on convoluted) with style and technical wizardry to spare; The Fury isn’t perfect but it’s a wild and proficiently entertaining film from open to close. The culmination is a B-movie story indulged with a multi-million dollar budget and A-list cast. Kirk Douglas never disappoints; his herculean persona is met with a robust and physical performance throughout. John Cassavetes confirms once again that he is capable of playing a magnificent bastard; the nefarious Ben Childress; sporting an arm sling that serves as an atypical “bad guy” appendage like a hook-hand, eye patch, or wheelchair. Amy Irving is likely recognizable to most of us thanks to her role in Carrie, despite having to vibrate her hands and make the “my brain will blow you up face” but her performance is admirable. At the risk of sounding immature, you can’t discuss The Fury without touching on one of the best bodily explosions in film history. For the sake of spoilers, I’ll just say it’s on par with the famed exploding head in Scanners; brilliantly staged, shot from numerous angles and with John Williams’ Bernard Herrmannesque score wailing away. This particular marriage of high and low art that typifies De Palma’s body of work; capturing this gore par excellence with multiple cameras shooting at various speeds the flailing limbs and blood pole vaults us from exploitation fare while evoking the (other) explosive finale of Zabriskie Point. The possibility of making these connections is one of the many attributes that make the work of Brian De Palma so endlessly compelling.

Why it Belongs in the Collection: Edgar Wright once said during a Trailers from Hell commentary (a great YouTube channel headed by Joe Dante), “l am a big Brian De Palma fan and apologist” and my interpretation is that all De Palma fans are apologists one way or another.

However, Blow-Out is a masterpiece, Dressed to Kill is an immovable placeholder as my favorite from the director and Sisters, his earliest and most lively chiller, is long overdue for a Blu-ray upgrade. Despite his fetishistic tendencies, I don’t feel like there’s anything to apologize for with these three features distributed by Criterion. And in succession with his best work The Fury is a ripe candidate to be the fourth De Palma film to receive the Criterion treatment. Although Carrie is a worthy contender, and understandably so giving the film’s significance and considering it was a Criterion laserdisc, Shout! Factory announced that their 40th-anniversary release of his 1976 Stephen King adaptation is on the way. No qualms there, seeing as Shout! Factory has never failed to disappoint in the home video market.

Based on the reviews of the Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Fury, it seems their restoration and transfer are a crowd pleaser but they are limited to 3000 copies, scantily available online, and Amazon has jumbled the region B with the free encoded versions. The Fury getting a  Twilight Time release is something of a story in itself, back in 2008 Fox screenwriter Brian McGreevy, and Lee Shipman was commissioned to pen a remake of the film, thus prompting the studio to oversee a restoration, however, the movie was shelved due to the economic recession. Twilight Time then swooped up the licensing the title from Fox. But with so few prints in circulation it might be high time for Criterion to “pull a Twilight Time” and parlay the distribution rights and do what they do best with this overlooked gem. While I would like to make a case for Obsession or a Hi Mom!/Greetings double feature, The Fury takes precedent. That’s not to say we won’t hear more about those titles down the road.

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