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The Fury (1978)

Cover of "The Fury"
While exploring the latest slate of releases from Twilight Time, I’ve been surprised at the enjoyment I’ve derived from them, and while this last one isn’t my favorite it’s a worthy effort from a director known for his ambition.  The Fury is director Brian De Palma‘s follow-up to Carrie, and while it’s glossy, explosive, and more intricate than that Stephen King thriller, it becomes the movie’s downfall.  Julie Kirgo calls it “over-complex” and I agree.  The plot is unnecessarily convoluted, a pastiche of two very different stories that have varying levels of enjoyment, and I ended up yearning for more of one and far less of another.  The third act is the best, but at almost two-hours it’s an endurance test to get there.  It’s easy to see why De Palma faltered here, but even a bad Twilight Time release is still worth watching.

Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) is a CIA operative, presumed dead, looking for his son Robin (Andrew Stevens) after the boy has been kidnapped by government operatives.  Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) is a psychic teen going to a school for gifted children in the hopes of controlling her abilities.  When she discovers that her and Robin are psychically linked, Peter hopes to utilize the girl’s gifts to find his son.

I have a few of De Palma’s later efforts, and while I’ve heard he presents a mixed bag, he certainly wears his inspirations on his sleeve.  Twilight Time essay writer Julie Kirgo cites Alfred Hitchcock as one of De Palma’s predominant influences, and it’s easy to see in The Fury.  For over an hour, the movie is a combination spy thriller/psychic horror movie which has both pros and cons but is all Hitchcock-esque.  In terms of the spy story, it reminded me a lot of Marathon Man and that could be because a half-naked Kirk Douglas jumping all around is reminiscent of Roy Scheider.  (Marathon Man came out two years prior.)  The psychic horror movie is eerily close to David Cronenberg’s Scanners, which wouldn’t come out till 1981, the last scene in particular.  It’s a true mixed bag of elements and it takes some getting used to throughout The Fury.  In the opening minutes, there’s an abrupt introduction to the action elements with a faked terrorist attack and Douglas grabbing up a weapon to start shooting; it all screams of early television action/adventure.  From there, we’re introduced to Gillian as an average girl who we see turn into a X-Men psychically gifted, albeit tortured, woman.  The sexual connotations are carried over from De Palma’s previous film with the manifestation of psychic abilities substituting for sexual maturity.  In many ways, Carrie and The Fury are close cousins which led critics to originally proclaim this as Carrie with an added budget; I can’t say I disagree with that assessment.

De Palma should have said “screw it” and made another psychic thriller with this movie.  The potential works, and pays off, by story’s end.  I understand the man would have been attacked for returning to the well, but there’s not enough interest in watching Kirk Douglas do the whole Taken thing, and the introduction of government operatives and Douglas’ CIA connections make things far too convoluted.  Furthermore, since both stories require so much exposition, it takes far too long to get the actual story of Gillian and Peter teaming up to save Robin.   The psychic horror story ends up as the one worth following, and we get snippets of De Palma’s continued ability to subtly scare the audience.  When Gillian is walking down the boardwalk with her friend, it’s not until the man is right on top of her that you notice she’s being followed.  It’s reminiscent of a scare in In the Mouth of Madness, where you’re so busy focused on the foreground that you don’t notice the monster in the background walking right up to you.  In this case, Gillian is a young girl whose already being oogled by pervy men on the boardwalk; however, the guy that’s following her is just as gross and sweaty, yet he’s allowed to get right behind her.  It’s after the swell of people move aside that you jump upon seeing him right in the camera’s focus.

Once Gillian and Paul are teamed up, combining the two narratives that have been disparate for the last 45 minutes, there’s the Omen/Carrie-esque plot involving Robin.  I say with all sincerity: Andrew Stevens is not a good actor.  I’m sorry, but he’s eating a lot of ham throughout this movie and every time he speaks its unintentionally hilarious.  The highlight of his performance is when he enters Damien-mode and starts utilizing his powers, but his acting performance isn’t necessary in these scenes since it’s all about the horror being committed.  The Tilt-a-Whirl sequence is fantastic, if a little cheesy, but my favorite has to be Susie’s (Fiona Lewis) death sequence.  Robin starts to “play” with her, throwing her around like a toy, and it’s well-done special effects all around!  The blood being spattered is pure fun for gore hounds.  Overall, Robin’s story is essentially “Carrie gone wild,” but it’s wildly entertaining and makes you yearn for it to be the core of the movie.

The ending is also remarkable, if only because it literally ends with an explosion.  De Palma leaves the audience on a question mark, though, in wondering what happens to Gillian?  Will she go on to become another Robin, or will she discover the ability to use her powers for good?  Again, it’s ripped directly from an X-Men comic, but the last third makes up for all the CIA/Kirk Douglas hijinks of the beginning.  The acting from Douglas is good, but forced to be a taste too treacly; it almost feels like Douglas is uncomfortable exerting the emotion necessary to love his son.  He shows it at the beginning, but the rest of the time it feels forced.  Irving is beautiful, but there’s less for her to do here than when she was in Carrie.  She spends the 120 minute runtime either in slow-motion, staring dead-eyed into the screen, or screaming/crying.  Again, if the Robin plotline had been the only one, and Gillian was forced to develop throughout, I doubt her performance would have felt so one-note.

The Blu-Ray has a crisp picture with the blood looking deliciously crimson (or orange-ish considering it’s the late 70s), and the sound is good.  It’s nothing special, but on par with most Blu-Rays.  The only special features are the essay from Kirgo, which is good but does seem apologetic at times; her essays continue to be my personal favorite feature, but this one isn’t as in-depth in the analysis, but in discussing the movie being lambasted by critics.  You also have the isolated score, a typical Twilight Time feature, and the theatrical trailer.  For the most part, you might want to be a fan of this movie before picking it up.

I’m happy I saw The Fury, overall.  It’s not Carrie, but you can see the potential yearning to break free. I fear De Palma was so afraid of being seen as a one-trick pony, doing Carrie all over again, that he went with a story that had far too many plots so as to distance himself from rehashing the psychic story.  It’s to the film’s detriment because that is the interesting part.  The acting is mediocre overall, but some solid horror is worth a viewing.

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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

6 thoughts on “The Fury (1978) Leave a comment

  1. Ok I’ve never seen The Fury but you make it sound worth a watch. It’s funny, as much as I adore classic movies, Douglas was never an actor I gravitated towards. Can’t really explain it. Anyway, wonderful review!


    • It’s got something worth watching despite my lackluster enjoyment of it. Same here, Kirk Douglas hasn’t grabbed my attention at all, and from what I’ve read, his personal life leaves a little something to be desired.


  2. It’s one of my favorite De Palma movies; I especially like the segment in the school with Amy irving giving perhaps her best performance.


  3. Nice review! I love this movie. One of my favorite De Palma movies. It gets dismissed and overlooked easily but I liked the direction, pace, acting and the score by John Williams. Also, of course the sometimes sublime and engaging camerawork that is a staple of his movies. The school escape especially. He does that quite a few times in his movies. “The Untouchables” being another example.


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