You don’t necessarily need freakishly iridescent blue eyes to see that Brian De Palma’s The Fury is far richer and stranger than the slapdash Carrie clone many cross-eyed critics have made it out to be. Mostly that’s because the director unabashedly mashes together seemingly disparate genre tropes, dishing out paranoid thrills and occult chills cheek-by-jowl with reckless abandon, in much the same way Obsession blends its sampler platter of Hitchcock referents into a beguilingly compulsive bouillabaisse. De Palma is clearly riffing throughout the film on Carrie’s “teen with telekinesis” theme, cheekily upping the ante with not one but two paranormally gifted youngsters. Though it may arguably lack the cumulative gut-punch of the earlier film, The Fury remains an entirely satisfying stylistic smorgasbord. More than that, it shows De Palma incisively working out (and through) personal themes that have consistently earmarked his work. All of which is to say that The Fury is only superficially superficial.
As an opening gambit, De Palma loves a good psych-out. Witness the voyeuristic game show that starts off Sisters and Blow Out’s sleazy slasher film-within-a-film. The Fury begins with an apparent terrorist strike on a sundrenched Middle Eastern beach. Things are not, of course, what they seem: In fact, the “attack” has been arranged (for the benefit of 16mm cameras, naturally) by chilly Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), resident spook-wrangler for a shadowy espionage outfit, in order to separate secret agent man Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) from his teenage son, Robin (Andrew Stevens), the latest-and-greatest in psionic super-weaponry. What with all the running and jumping and shooting, De Palma stages the attack like a dry run for a Golan-Globus production like The Delta Force, but when Peter gets a glimpse behind the scenes, his rapid-fire response leaves Ben with a “dead” arm in a sling, an overtly symbolic stand-in for castration and impotence whose real significance only becomes apparent in the film’s furious finale.
The footage Ben shot will later be used to elicit an emotional response from the increasingly unhinged Robin as he undergoes a barrage of tests. More importantly, this footage is doubly fictitious, capturing as it does a pseudo-event, a fake attack that ends with Peter’s apparent demise. Aloof and ill-disposed to the aesthetics of cinema verity, De Palma’s camera-eye dissembles, offering up lies at 24fps. Seeing, for De Palma, is disbelieving.
De Palma’s cinema of disillusionment is never better depicted than in the scene where Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving), the film’s second psychic, “goes alpha,” witnessing the visual record of another dissembled demise; this time, it’s Robin plummeting out the window at the Paragon Clinic, as seen by its director, Dr. McKeever (Charles Durning). Gillian’s been told that, in order to attain alpha, she has to picture herself standing in the middle of an empty movie theater in front of a blank screen, and so De Palma dutifully literalizes this imagery. His orchestration of the sequence is stunning in its elegance: The camera twirls around her (a vertiginous 360-degree swirl akin to the prom dance in Carrie) while McKeever’s first-person POV shot plays in rear projection. Like an endlessly refractive set of funhouse mirrors, this complex play of perspectives ends up dissolving into infinity.
Peter’s quest to locate and rescue his son exemplifies another recurring theme in De Palma: the cost, and often the outright futility, of resistance against power and authority. His protagonists often wind up sidelined (Charles Durning in Sisters) or driven to insanity (Jennifer Salt in Sisters, Amy Irving in Carrie). The Fury carries this trend to its logical conclusion, while also adding new and disturbing wrinkles. When Peter persuades his lover and confederate Hester (Carrie Snodgress) to help Gillian escape from Paragon, the attempt may go awry, but it provides De Palma with an opportunity to mount the film’s most exquisite and disconcerting set piece. The nearly four-minute episode unfolds in slow motion and thus entirely without dialogue, recalling the museum seduction/chase in Dressed to Kill. Peter’s armed intrusion, going all Clint Eastwood on Ben’s goons, inevitably brings on collateral damage when Hester is struck and killed by the henchmen’s out-of-control auto. Shattered glass and shattered illusions scatter across one of The Fury’s most provocative scenes.
Peter and Gillian close in on the compound where Ben is holding Robin. Kept doped and sexually sated by his handler (Fiona Lewis), Robin has become a dissolute demigod, a cerebral Caligula driven to the edge of madness by the enormity of his psychic powers—and, it’s implied, frustration that his physical prowess hasn’t developed commensurately. When Robin senses Gillian’s proximity, he’s driven over the edge by the knowledge that one day she can replace him. As far as Ben’s organization is concerned, they’re nothing more than interchangeable commodities whose worth is gauged according to their exchange value. As the film approaches its increasingly gloomy endgame, The Fury aspires to the gravitas of Greek tragedy, indicating that its title works as something of a double entendre, signifying not only Robin’s murderous rage, but also Gillian’s advent as an exterminating angel straight out of classical mythology.
According to Greek myth, the Furies emerged from the bloody castration of Uranus at the hands of his son Cronus, linking Gillian’s vengeance against the impotent Ben to the oedipal struggle between Peter and Robin. As usual with De Palma, the film ends on a note of stasis. Harried and ultimately cornered by Ben’s oleaginous entreaties, Gillian responds with the ne plus ultra of retributive violence—and thus the finale plays inversely to Carrie’s, where Irving’s character is cornered and helpless in the face of ubiquitous madness. But this solution is effectively stalemate. There is truly no exit. The film can only descend into a Peckinpahvian inferno of endless, calmly reiterated murder.
Twilight Time’s 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray is certainly an improvement over Fox’s previous DVD, especially with regard to overall clarity and color density, which is most noticeable in well-lit and outdoor scenes. Then again, the HD boost only makes more appallingly apparent the same graininess that crops up in low-light surroundings, most egregiously in the nighttime car chase and the murkier interior scenes. On the sonic side, Twilight Time carries over the four-channel track from the DVD, provides a new stereo mix, as well as an isolated score track that’s also in stereo. The stereo mix sounds excessively muted and hemmed in, while the quadraphonic track boasts a broader spectrum of sound effects and music, especially given the limited dynamic range of the original effects, while always keeping the dialogue front and center.
The only extras offered are an isolated score track (the better to hear John Williams trying to channel Bernard Herrmann in his swoony, lush and evocative score) and the fairly bombastic original theatrical trailer. There’s also an illustrated booklet with an essay by film writer Julie Kirgo.
Twilight Time unleashes The Fury onto Blu-ray with a moderately successful upgrade in A/V quality and a paucity of extras.