Monday, October 08, 2012

Making Monsters #7: The Fury

The Fury plays like a Super Size version of Carrie, director Brian De Palma's previous movie. The story of an ex-CIA agent (Kirk Douglas) whose son (Andrew Stevens) is kidnapped by a shadowy government agency because of his telekinetic powers takes the supernatural hook of Carrie - which was the basis in that film for a more intimate story about Carrie White being tormented to her breaking point - and adds a larger cast of characters, a globe-trotting conspiracy plot, larger-scale action sequences and a full orchestral score by John Williams. The movie was a modest success in 1978, but it remains very underrated and a favorite among De Palma fans for the way he brings his subversive, cynical sense of humor to a popcorn movie. De Palma also uses the bigger budget of The Fury to stage effects sequences, like the complicated rear-projection shot that places Amy Irving (as a young telekinetic woman) in the foreground while her vision of what happened to Douglas' son fills the rest of the frame, that magnify the director's lifelong obsession with the consequences of seeing.

The work of special effects artist A.D. Flowers and makeup artists William Tuttle and Rick Baker (on one of his first studio productions) comes to a literally explosive climax at the end of the film, when Irving's character uses her powers to blow John Cassavetes' villainous secret agent to smithereens. Whereas the exploding head scene in Scanners is a classic example of gross-out, the effect in The Fury is weirdly exhilarating, both because Cassavetes' character is a son of a bitch and because of the hilariously macabre feeling that De Palma made the entire film to arrive at the moment of blowing the godfather of independent cinema into a million pieces. Pauline Kael referred to the ending as "an orgasm," and it's clear that De Palma, who perfected the shock ending two years earlier with Carrie, wants to get his audience off. The effect is simple enough - a dummy rigged with explosives - but the most impressive trick in the scene is one of the most effective moments of misdirection in cinema. Just before Cassavetes blows up, he knocks over a lamp, so that we're distracted at the moment of the switch. It's a brilliant sleight of hand in the service of a fantastically gory magic trick. There doesn't appear to be a clip of the ending of The Fury on YouTube; if you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it highly enough.

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