October 07, 2009

THE FURY (1978) - De Palma follows up CARRIE

(1978, USA)

Highly recommended horror thriller

This is my first full review of the horror films from director Brian De Palma's best, most consistent decade, which I recently listed here.

Thirty-three years on, Carrie (1976) is a staple of Halloween horror marathons, but the director's next film continued with the theme of teenage killer telekinetics and could even be viewed as a sequel. What if Carrie White passed on her powers? I'd go as far as to say that it was even hinted at the end of the film, mirrored by a similar scene at the end of The Fury. The link is actress Amy Irving who played Sue, Carrie's best friend. What if she moved town and changed her name...

Amy plays Gillian, now facing schoolgirl bullies of her own. But what Carrie did with objects, The Fury does with people, channelling telekinesis to manipulate blood pressure and internal organs... They also have limited telepathy, vivid flashbacks, and maybe even second sight.

A bunch of suits from the government are very interested in Gillian's powers and have already kidnapped Robin (Andrew Stevens) whose dad (Kirk Douglas) is desperately trying to find him. While Gillian's powers are being investigated, she discovers that she's not alone and psychically linked to Robin. While Gillian is unaware that she's in danger, Robin's father is stopping at nothing to avoid arrest and rescue his son.

But these talented teenagers have to be handled carefully, for if they get stressed, watch out. The Fury can make people bleed. From the nose, the eyes, the fingers, and so on... There's also a tense, disastrous scene when Robin gets stressed at a funfair.

Secret government agents with dark motives are now more familiar in series like Heroes. Decades ago, I thought that The Fury had been ripped off by the very similar Firestarter - with telekinesis substituted by pyrokinesis. But The Fury lead the pack of telekinetic thrillers, and for my money it was the best of the bunch, certainly far more fun than Cronenberg's Scanners.

De Palma masterfully uses camera movement and classic slow-motion sequences backed by a rare horror score from John Williams, who provides a lush and memorable theme-heavy score. This combination is showcased in an impressive action scene (the rescue)where the dialogue and sound effects are left out, leaving just the music. The soundtrack was recently remastered on CD.

Why it wasn't nearly as popular as Carrie, I don't know. I was shocked that Carrie played to sold-out performances and The Fury didn't come close. Both were fuelled by a popular novel (The Fury was written by John Farris), but perhaps Carrie was a far bigger bestseller (Stephen King's first) and the movie's high school hi-jinks paid off with the target audience. Both are horror films, but The Fury is also a conspiracy thriller. The stories have all the same ingredients, a little less humour, and more politics, a better cast, a higher budget and plenty more blood.

In fact, the spectacular prosthetic effects made it one of the bloodiest uncut films of the seventies, presumably due to the weaponless violence, with an unforgettable climax, attempting to top Carrie's final moments. The effects were by Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and Rick Baker (before An American Werewolf in London). It was spectacular, early mainstream splatter. I even thought that Andrew Stevens was cast because he could make the veins in his forehead stand out!

The Fury is flattered by a cast of acting heavyweights, with Kirk Douglas (Holocaust 2000) sparring with a demonic John Cassavetes (Rosemary's Baby). Fiona Lewis rarely played good girls (Dr Phibes Rises Again, Innerspace) and the underused Carrie Snodgress plays an old flame of Kirk Douglas. At the time I thought that Andrew Stevens (Stella Stevens' son) as the other telepath, would surely have
a more high-profile career.

Some De Palma favourites reappear: Charles Durning was also in Sisters, and William Finlay (in a bit part) had already starred in Sisters and The Phantom of the Paradise. Dennis Franz was in both
Dressed To Kill and Blow Out, and appears here in one of his earliest of many, many cop roles. Keep your eyes peeled for a teenaged Daryl Hannah as one of Gillian's school bullies.

A tight thriller, a good horror angle, unusual action scenes, creatively shot, a beautiful and haunting soundtrack... what's not to like?

The DVD hasn't been remastered in the UK or US since 2002 and especially needs remastering to make the many darker sequences far less grainy and foggy. Anamorphic? I guess it would be too much to ask for extras. Once again, I'd have thought the director's many hits, and recent work (Redacted) would have ensured that his back catalogue would be better treated.

More about De Palma's 1970s horror films here...

An uninspiring trailer for The Fury is here on YouTube. Perhaps why it wasn't as big a hit?


  1. Yeah, I think it's a masterpiece! I prefer this over Carrie (not a bad movie) actually.

    Kirk Douglas had a lot of interesting movies during the seventies, and I consider this one, Holocaust 2000 and The Light at the Edge of the World the best ones.

  2. Hmm. I remember catching the last half of this on late night TV several years back. Looks like it might be worth adding to the ol' Netflix queue....

  3. By the way, what a great screenshot, with Amy Irving and the severed head nonchalantly lying about.

  4. I agree with Ninja. THE FURY is prime De Palma, whereas I feel CARRIE is one of the director's less personal films.

    I should here recommend Kirk Douglas's autobiography "The Ragman's Son" which comes across as very honest and will increase your admiration for the star.

  5. Dan, that's a publicity still, rather than a screenshot. I think it appeared in Cinefantastique at the time. Certainly made it a must see!

  6. Absolutely love your possible Carrie connection theory. Never even crossed my mind with the use of Amy Irving and telekinesis. Awesome! Andrew Stevens has had a varied career of sudsy lady dramas ( I remember watching Hollywood Wives w/ my mom when I was young) and B- movies galore. I too thought he had to ability to make it. Wonderful review of an underrated almost forgotten horror/ thriller classic.

  7. I enjoy "Scanners" enormously for what it is - it's a lot moodier, more laid-back and icy/cerebral. But I like "The Fury" for what it is as well. Funny that both have been opted for remakes, haven't they?

  8. I watch The Fury because I love the last scene (absolutely blew me away the first time), whereas I watch Carrie because I love the whole movie.

    The main difference is that there is a huge gap between John Farris' story-telling skills and Stephen King's. There's a reason why Stephen King sold so many books... He tells great stories.

    The fact that Stephen King went in a lot of the same directions with Firestarter (which is a poor film, but a good book) really shows that the "secret government think-tank" can be way better done than it was in The Fury.

  9. i love the fury as well, but there are huge problems with it. much like the nancy allen character in carrie john cassavete's villian was evil just for the sake of being evil. there was no redeeming quality about him. he betrayed his best friend and once he had robin in his clutches he didn't even try to seduce the boy into believing that he actually cared about him. he just threw him to the wolves. some may argue, but the subtext leaves no doubt that robin sanza is sexually confused. it's a subject that probably would have come up between he and kirk douglas if robin hadn't been so unceremoniously kidnapped. even fiona lewis alludes in a subtle, oblique way that she doesn't have the ability to satisfy what robin really needs. it's even more telling that robin sanza destroys fiona lewis because she doesn't desire or need him sexually.

    yes, i also agree that the fury is the perfect heir to carrie with amy irving in the lead. amy was really a heroine in carrie so her role as gillian is completely logical. andrew stevens was so incredibly gorgeous, but his character was so sullen and damaged that it was hard to root for him. you don't really know if he really missed his father or not because once he was reunited with his father his first instinct was to kill him. i guess i like the fury for all that it could have been. somebody should re do it with two male leads playing the gillian and robin sanza roles. hey, did anyone else notice that gillian's and robin's names are androgynous. the characters really could have been two boys.

  10. Robin, have you read the novel? That might flesh out their motivations more...

  11. Never a big fan of this film..Carrie's much better.. this has too many sub-plots to hold my interest..but it does have a good cast and great effects..I wonder why this hasn't been remade since 'Carrie' has had 2 remakes...both bad.