Take a brilliant modern filmmaker with a directing style that reeks of Hitchcock. Add the charismatic stars of Spartacus, Rosemary's Baby and Carrie. Stir in a multiple Academy Award-winning composer and special makeup effects artist. What do you get? The Fury, a disappointingly mediocre yet interesting horror/thriller that has some moments of greatness topped with a convoluted story.
Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) and Childress (John Cassavetes) are agents in an undisclosed U.S. government agency and best friends. The film opens in a Middle Eastern café where Peter and Childress are stationed along with Peter's psychokinetically gifted teenaged son, Robin (Andrew Stevens). Suddenly, the café explodes in an abrupt outburst of gunfire. Childress grabs Robin and ushers him to protective shelter while Robin looks on helplessly as his father is shot down. Or so he thinks. Peter survives, only to find his "friend" Childress socializing with his would-be assassins. Not only has he been double-crossed and almost killed, but his son has vanished without a trace.
One year later, Peter is back in the good old U.S.A., spending his days and nights trailing Childress and his faction in an unrelenting bid to retrieve his son. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Gillian Bellevere (Amy Irving), a likeable teenage girl who possesses an uncanny ability to read minds. Although it has the potential to be a cool party trick, Gillian fears her precognitive talents. Any physical contact with the person whose locked brain is being picked tends to bleed profusely from a bodily orifice or the site of an old wound. Hoping to learn how to control her powers, she checks herself into a facility called the Paragon Institute that specializes in testing and training of psychic potential. Ironically, it is the same facility in which Robin Sandza was housed while Childress and other government baddies experimented with and honed his strong psychokinetic powers into a weapon of war. Gillian instantly feels a connection to Robin and sees visions of his life at Paragon. When Peter gets wind of a girl with powers equal to Robin, he enlists her aid to lead him to his son.
Robin, however, is not the same sweet kid we were introduced to at that Middle Eastern café. The battery of relentless tests combined with heavy doses of experimental drugs is taking its toll. Robin slowly becomes unstable, short-tempered and violent. He is a caged beast, restrained but capable of inflicting great harm. The government, in their attempt to create a psychic soldier, has done a reverse Clockwork Orange treatment on this formerly docile kid. In a race against time, Peter and Gillian must get to Robin before he finally snaps.
The Fury was Brian De Palma's follow-up to his blockbuster Carrie, which investigated the theme of psychically endowed teens much more successfully. Almost anyone who attended high school could identify with Carrie White's ostracism and isolation and then sympathize with her subsequent breakdown. We are not made to care as much about this film's psychic friends. Although Gillian is sympathetic as beautifully portrayed by the ex- Mrs. Spielberg, Robin's character is not built up enough for the audience to care about what his whereabouts or plight. All we know from his cursory introduction is that he is a handsome All American Boy who has a good relationship with his father and likes to play soccer. His powerful psychic abilities are only learned about through second hand conversations and Gillian's visions, and we don't even get to witness them in action until well into the movie. We commiserate with Peter because he misses Robin so much, but we don't miss Robin. The next time we see him outside of a flashback or vision, he has already been turned into a cold-blooded automaton incapable of invoking any warm feelings. The only way this characterization helps the story is by making the inevitable father-son reunion tragically cold and lifeless, which heightens audience sympathy for Peter.
All cast members turn in superb performances. Kirk Douglas renders a dead-on portrayal as a tough guy who has a soft spot in his heart and isn't afraid to show it. John Cassavetes plays a charming snake to rival Guy Woodhouse and does it with a smile on his face. Amy Irving is quietly beautiful with her penetrating but innocent azure gaze - I think her performance in The Fury was a cut above her previous work in Carrie, one of the only examples I can think of where this film outdoes the latter. (I also enjoyed the irony of Irving playing the psychically cursed adolescent this time around!) Andrew Stevens is not hindered by the limitations of his character. He convincingly switches from tearful, grieving teen to icy, stoic killer. Supporting actors Carrie Snodgrass and Charles Durning also provide well-drawn, believable characters. Look for Daryl Hannah and Dennis Franz in tiny roles, as well as cameos from then-unknowns James Belushi and television stars Laura Innes (E.R.) and Melody Thomas Scott (The Young and the Restless).
The special effects in The Fury are notable. Not surprisingly, makeup f/x were handled by Rick Baker, who got his start doing effects in movies like It's Alive, Squirm and The Incredible Melting Man. Baker was no longer a rookie at this point in his career, but he had yet to win one of his many Oscars for such groundbreaking films as An American Werewolf in London. His effective use of vibrant blood is shocking but subtle, relegated to simple wounds and nosebleeds. An extremely impressive display of foam latex and artificially colored Karo syrup is a corker of a scene where a character's entire body is blown up using psychic energy. It makes the exploding heads in Scanners and Dawn of the Dead look about as complex as popping a zit.
It is almost a cliché to compare Brian De Palma's directing style to that of Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid. The Fury is reminiscent of Vertigo in its dizzying, spherical style. Most events dealing with psychic phenomena are filmed in circles. A psychokinetically powered toy train revolves around its track in rapid loops. One of Gillian's visions unfolds as a carousel-like rear matte shot with her in the middle. A key scene that first makes us aware of Robin's scary strength and escalating anger involves a rapidly spinning carnival ride. In some scenes, even the vertiginous John Williams score is made up of quick, revolving ascensions followed by downward spirals of sound and tone. The score figures prominently in a key scene in which Gillian escapes Paragon. De Palma's use of wordless, noiseless slow motion coupled with the whirling music is exemplary and unforgettable.
To recap: The Fury showcases outstanding direction and acting by all players involved. Special effects are jaw dropping in places and suitably downplayed in others. An excellent, effective score laces its way like fine needlepoint through the entire production. So why wasn't this a better movie? After mulling this over for some time, I have come to the conclusion that it was a combination of convoluted storytelling and poor pacing. The government's motive for using Robin in their experiments is never outlined in detail, only speculated. He has very powerful psychic abilities, yes, but exactly do they expect him to use them? After Robin is kidnapped by Childress, we invest almost a full act on Peter's search - a story arc that is abruptly dropped in order to introduce Gillian. The whole reason for the Paragon Institute's existence is ambiguous - are the seemingly benevolent doctors really interested in the well being of their psychic subjects, or are they just pawns for the government, testing for suitable candidates and shipping them off to a secret military installation? It's a shame. The Fury really had potential. Carrie it is not, but the technical brilliance of this movie is still worth a look.
So much time and talent was invested in this lackluster movie that I am happy to report that at least it looked good! The Fury is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was an excellent transfer that made a 1978 movie look like it was filmed yesterday. Colors and flesh tones are sharp, glossy and balanced with minimal, if any, grain. Night and indoor shots don't hold up quite as well; grain was a bit more noticeable in these particular scenes. But because the outdoor and daylight scenes were so immaculate, you will get no complaints from me.
A movie with a sweeping score and a few potentially speaker-shuddering scenes deserved the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment. Alas, The Fury is only blessed with Dolby 4.0 Surround. I expected my rear speakers to do at least a little work, but they remained fairly silent for most of the duration of the movie. Most ambient sounds like gunfire were confined to the front speakers, which dimmed dialogue and other sounds and that were trying to beat their way through. Sound clarity was sharp, though, with good balance and dialogue that was crisp and easily understandable. As expected, John Williams's recognizable music is highlighted and each scene wears it well.
If you like pictures, you'll love the supplements included on this disc. The Fury boasts an extensive still gallery containing photos of foreign lobby cards and one-sheet posters along with publicity shots and one solitary outtake and behind the scenes still. The usual theatrical trailer is included. Along those lines are a host of unrelated promo trailers for various "Fox Flicks", including Alien, The Fly '86, The Fly '58, Lake Placid, and The Omen.
I really wanted to like The Fury. And for the most part I did. It was a very good movie - if a cast and crew of unknowns made it. But with the combined talents of the people involved, this should have been a phenomenal movie on the same level as its predecessor, Carrie. Each individual piece - acting, directing, special effects, music - was superb, just unable to melt into one great casserole of a movie. The Fury can be enjoyed like a salad - piece by piece - rather than one big mouthful.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - C+
I feel this movie is really underrated. It's one of my personal favorite horrormovies, because it's just a lot of fun and his this great 70's vibe going for it. The special effects are good, and the cast, headed by Amy Irving, Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes, are all good. Naturally Brian De Palma makes the movie look killer too.
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