The bat shit furor of ‘The Fury’

If nothing else, The Fury satisfied a craving that had been gnawing at audiences since the early sixties: what was the best way to kill John Cassavetes? Revealing the manner of his death would count as a spoiler, but I’ll say that the screen’s go-to man for piss-ant sourness gets a sendoff worthy of him. I wish I’d been in a theatre to watch it.

Released in the spring of 1978, The Fury was the apogee of a subcategory of disaster pictures in which ordinary men and women discover psychic powers and screw up the lives, often inadvertently, of their loved ones. The Medusa Touch, of course, but also Carrie, the Brian De Palma hit that made a star out of Sissy Spacek and showed the world the best way to fuck with a prom. In The Fury, Kirk Douglas plays Peter Sandza, a former CIA spook in search of Robin, the son kidnapped by a colleague named Ben Childress for the purpose of training him as part of a proto-X Men group of psychic warriors. But Childress is no Professor Xavier—to establish control, he orders that these kids kill their own families. Instead of paraplegia, he’s missing an arm; worse, the socket where the arm should be still hurts. Thanks to fellow psychic Gillian Bellaver, played by Amy Irving, who works at a more benign clinic, Sandza is on to the scheme (I should note that Irving, after being the mean girl in De Palma’s earlier film, finally gets to play Carrie)

But none of this horse pucky matters. What does is De Palma’s control over the stuff of teen exploitation melodramas and slasher flicks; he can’t resist mucking the distance between subject and object, observing and participating. In a scene similar in tone to the opening of Carrie, De Palma’s camera follows Amy Irving down the Sunset Strip, never taking its lens off her ass, sheathed in cut-off jorts. And De Palma takes his pleasures where he finds them—hetero- and homoerotic. In the first scene, Kirk Douglas and his onscreen son, both of whom are in excellent physical shape, wrestle on the sand while, again, the camera, panting, holds them in extreme close-up. How I long for an exegesis by the late lamented critic Robin Wood, who was alert to charged moments like this. Surely there are film majors who have argued that The Fury is the story of a young man in sexual crisis, bereft of his father and fighting the one-armed advances of another.

If cinema has any resonance in 2016, if it draws devotees of Marvel comic adaptations and of Olivier Assayas, it’s due to our healthy, edifying fascination with attractive bodies in rest and motion. As lurid as a pink rose in summer, The Fury is a splendid follow-up to Carrie and what I consider De Palma’s best pictures, 1980’s Dressed to Kill and 1981’s Blow Out. If it’s no masterpiece, blame a car chase that stops the movie cold and a bunch of aging actors thinking they’re delivering Academy Award speeches. But it has plenty of nail-biter moments—there are few images more terrifying than Kirk Douglas with his shirt off. And it’s got that ending, what critic Pauline Kael called the most spectacular send-off for a movie villain history. It’ll blow you away.

Thank you.

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