A.J.’s Solid ’70s Horrorthon #2: “The Fury” (1978)
by A.J. Hakari
I’m sure that not long after 1976’s Carrie became a hit, some executive tapped director Brian De Palma on the shoulder and said, “How’s about whipping us up another one?” Anxious to flex his creative muscles but tethered to that sweet, sweet studio coin, De Palma created The Fury as a means to please everyone, even though the final result is anything but satisfactory. Regardless of what the project’s genesis actually was, it bears all the signs of a film made under the burden of compromise, half-developed plot threads excised for a faster pace and ideas unexplored in favor of propping up another bloody set piece. The Fury is ambitious, but it’s a total mess, a marriage of pseudo-science, conspiracy thriller, gore flick, and oddball comedy that whizzes by every single mark.
Robin Sandza (Andrew Stevens) is special. He possesses the rare gift of telekinesis, the ability to effect objects through sheer mindpower. His father Peter (Kirk Douglas), a former intelligence agent, wants him to nurture his talents and possibly use them to better mankind, but Peter’s old associate Childress (John Cassavetes) has other plans. Wanting to exploit Robin’s psychic skills as a weapon, Childress whisks him away to a hidden facility, forcing Peter to use all the black ops experience at his disposal to get his boy back. At the same time, high schooler Gillian (Amy Irving) starts developing her own extra-sensory powers, coming to form a mental link with none other than Robin. She might be Peter’s last hope of reclaiming his son…but will Robin be the same when he gets to him?
Whether or not De Palma intentionally chose to follow up (and potentially one-up) Carrie with another tale of telepathic terror, The Fury is still a rather ungainly flick. It’s chock-full of scenes that feel clipped before their time, cut off just as they were gearing up to expand on certain characters or approach the story from an interesting angle. De Palma’s direction constantly varies from emotional to exploitative, from cerebral to silly, stranding the proceedings with almost zero natural flow. Gillian’s harrowing escape from the bad guys only comes after Carrie Snodgress’ character sets it up in the goofiest, sitcommy way imaginable. In the middle of being hunted down himself, Peter finds time to chill out with the wacky family next door and crack wise with some cops he holds hostage. You never know where the hell this movie is going, and not in a good way, eventually getting to a point at which keeping pace with whatever genre or protagonist strikes De Palma’s fancy at that exact moment just isn’t worth it.
Taken in individual chunks, The Fury shows a great deal of potential. Douglas is impassioned and takes charge in a way not unlike what made Liam Neeson an unlikely star in recent action cinema. Irving is the picture of innocence, Cassavetes sneers up the joint, and Charles Durning is caught in the middle as a doctor who doesn’t want Gillian to experience Robin’s ultimate fate. It’s also a story of psychological warfare as much as it’s one that’s not afraid to show off a gory money shot or two; something must be said for how Peter is shown to be as capable of selfish manipulation as the villains are. But it’s in trying to organize these parts that The Fury arrives at a choppy sum and has you wondering just how much got left on the cutting room floor. Was that really all De Palma had to show regarding Durning’s conflict, Gillian’s discovery of her skills, and just how the baddies kept Robin under wraps?
All the events that transpire offscreen amount to a more intriguing movie than the one The Fury turns out to be. Though not without merit (particularly the acting and John Williams’ forlorn score), the film never settles anywhere long enough to get attached to anyone beyond just wondering who’ll get the Scanners treatment by the end. The Fury is bursting at the seams with stuff it wants to do, lacking only the discipline to avoid resembling the aftermath of leaving a kid and five pounds of candy alone in the editing bay.