Friday, 12 October 2012

Friday Night Film: The Fury

Brian De Palma was on fire in the late seventies, taking the template of the Hitchcock thriller and gleefully taking it to the nth degree, producing a series of ridiculous, violent, sexy, hugely entertaining thrillers that had more twists and turns than an Alpine bridleway.

‘The Fury’ is from 1978 and is absolutely brilliant. It builds on De Palma’s earlier success with ‘Carrie’ in that it is about young people with a special, terrible power: the ability to kill by thought alone. Here, these kids aren’t small town misfits, however, nor are they alone with their ‘gift’. On the contrary, they are seen as a very valuable commodity, and there are shadowy organisations involved in the recruitment, training and nurturing of these deadly teens, just as there are those trying to save them from becoming psychic weapons. So, yeah, it’s a bit like the X-Men, with added nose bleeds.
At full power, the kids ‘fury’ can cause a person to self-destruct, to boil inside and explode, so, yeah, a bit like ‘Scanners’, but two years earlier. De Palma loves a set piece, and he chucks in as many as he can here: a terrorist attack, a slow motion assassination attempt, and a pretty crass bit where a fairground ride filled with Arabs is destroyed and the passengers all get thrown through the air and killed (this sequence was originally clapped and cheered by US audiences due to the Iran hostage crisis; I wonder what they’d make of it today?)

The sequences where the powers are unleashed (inadvertently or otherwise) are brilliantly realised. De Palma doesn’t do subtlety, so we get lots of loud music, extreme close ups and loads of fake blood pouring from ears, eyes and noses. The death count is enormous, and the whole thing builds up to a fantastically over the top climax where baddie John Cassavates is zapped by a furious Amy Irving – he shakes, he shudders, his eyes start to bleed and then, with a flash of her electric blue eyes, he blows up, the bits going everywhere, filmed from five or six different angles, the explosion shown over and over. It’s almost funny, but it’s terribly effective, even though you wonder what poor bugger’s going to have to clear up the mess afterwards.

Kirk Douglas (him again) is the nominal star and he gets to do his ‘I may be old but I’m still tougher, harder, smarter and sexier than anyone else in this movie’ shtick as he tracks down his son Robin who has the power and has been effectively kidnapped by the secret service. Interestingly, when he finally tracks down Robin he realises that his pride and joy has become a right little shit, a psychotic psychic bully, i.e. exactly the sort of amoral arsehole the government need to smite their enemies.
John Cassavates is, as ever, a hugely effective villain, sort of charming, sort of creepy. He always made a big deal about only taking roles like this to fund his own projects, and despite ‘The Fury’ being, in my opinion, far more interesting, entertaining and unpretentious than anything he ever made himself, he always felt it necessary to disparage his ‘actor for hire’ projects, I suppose as a way of making him seem even more of an ‘artist’, a la Orson Welles. I genuinely love this film, and I must have seen it about a dozen times so, by my reckoning, that means I’ve seen Cassavates get his just desserts about 156 times.

That’ll teach him, the cheeky bastard.

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