October 20, 2019

The Fury (1978)
Grade: 71/100

Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, John Cassavetes

What it's about. Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes are longtime employees of a covert U.S. government agency. Douglas is a single dad with a teenaged son, Andrew Stevens. Stevens has psychic abilities, which Cassavetes would like to exploit.

Cassavetes arranges Stevens' kidnapping. He tries, but fails, to murder Douglas. Douglas escapes, but never gives up his search for Stevens. Douglas' girlfriend, Carrie Snodgress, works with a psychic teenaged girl, Amy Irving, at an institute ostensibly run by Charles Durning, but actually controlled by Cassavetes.

Douglas and Snodgress help Irving escape from the facility. Irving leads Douglas to Stevens, who is held at a Cassavetes facility and managed by brunette beauty Fiona Lewis. Stevens' psychic powers have become spectacular, but he is also emotionally disturbed, which leads to a bloodbath ending.

Familiar faces in supporting roles include Dennis Franz, Gordon Jump, Daryl Hannah, Laura Innes, and in a cameo, Jim Belushi.

How others will see it. The Fury was Brian De Palma's successor film to Carrie. Both films feature teenage girls with extraordinary psychic powers, and both movies are good, especially by De Palma standards.

The Fury made money at the box office, but did not receive the critical praise bestowed to Carrie, probably because of the acting prowess of Sissy Spacek and John Travolta.

The Fury was mostly ignored by the festival circuit, but today has a respectable 12K user votes at imdb.com. The user ratings are middling, ranging from 6.3 (among men over 30) to 6.6 (among women over 45). But the "most helpful" user reviews are highly positive, and call the movie underrated and violent. The trick seems to be not to take the plot too seriously. Or to identify too closely with a character, given the film's high body count.

How I felt about it. De Palma is not interested in subtlety. Cassavetes wants Stevens at his institute, so he kidnaps him and attempts to murder his father. You'd think that there would be a simpler, and less violent, solution.

Stevens' complete mental breakdown coincides with Irving's arrival at his compound. De Palma then manages to kill off four major characters (along with two henchmen) in the finale, which leaves only Amy Irving left to clean the carpet. It is true that movie characters are expendable, and Cassavetes survived his explosion to make nine more movies, but is the gorefest necessary? Yes, if it is a horror movie. The body count is even higher in Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I can understand why Kirk Douglas is obsessed with finding his son, and getting even with Cassavetes. But it is murky why Cassavetes is forcing Stevens to watch film of his father's apparent murder, or why Stevens is so psychotic despite his constant companionship with hottie Fiona Lewis.

The best explanation may be Cassavetes. He is as evil here as he was in Rosemary's Baby, where he allowed Satan to impregnate his wife in return for a plum acting role. Cassavetes delights in kidnapping and mentally torturing psychic teens, and if they somehow help his secret agency, so much the better.

We still don't understand why Irving has such a connection with Stevens that she knows where he is, and what is happening to him. It is also a disappointment that Irving and Stevens never meet face to face, and that Douglas never gets the upper hand on Cassavetes.