People wielding supernatural powers in the movies is certainly nothing new but in the late 70s and early 80s it wasn’t quite old hat yet, and we got some great and some not-so-great films; Carrie (1976) Scanners (1981) Firestarter (1984), which leads to today’s entry The Fury, which not only was helmed by Carrie director Brian De Palma but also starred Amy Irving, one of the few survivors from that film.
Based on the 1976 novel of the same name by John Farris and though there are key similar elements between the book and the movie much was changed to amp up the horror elements for the big screen. The movie begins in the Middle East where we are introduced to Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) and his son Robin Sandza (Andrew Stevens) and their friend Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), who are having a good day at the beach and it is here that Peter informs his son that they are going to be moving back to the States so that Robin can attend a special school that can help him with his unique gifts.
After Childress takes a mysterious phone call a group of terrorists attack with the clear intention of killing Peter, and during this attack Childress hustles Robin to safety while Peter scrambles for his life amongst a hail of machine-gun fire until he manages to get to the bad guy’s speedboat and makes his escape, but then the boat takes a hit and explodes. Of course, it takes more than an exploding boat to take out Kirk Douglas and once he climbs out of the surf he spots Childress chatting with one of the “terrorists.” To say he doesn’t take that revelation too well is a bit of an understatement.
The story jumps ahead eleven months as we slowly learn that Peter has been doggedly trying to track down the people who took Robin. You see, both Peter and Childress worked for a secret intelligence agency, it just turns out that Childress worked for an even more clandestine branch of that agency, which has secretly been recruiting people with psychic gifts in the hope of turning them into living weapons. Drawn into this struggle is young Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving), who appears to be equally gifted and Peter wants the girl to aid him in his search for his son, while Childress wants her for his stable of psychic killers.
Gillian is not a happy young woman, as her abilities range from telekinesis to telepathy, which she seems to have little to no control over, worse is the fact that when she touches someone, while in an anxious state, she can cause them to instantly bleed from their eyes, ears and even old wounds can burst open. When she learns of the Paragon Institute, a place that may actually be able to help her, she begs her mother to let her attend. Unfortunately for poor Gillian, the place is run by Dr. Jim McKeever (Charles Durning) who, unsurprisingly, is working for Childress and is the one who supplies him with test subjects.
As the movie drives forward we follow two threads; one is Peter running around Chicago, dodging squads of killer agents bent on preventing him from finding his son while the other is Gillian, learning that she is somehow psychically linked to Robin, and her wanting to find him. She hopes that maybe Robin can help her, as a vision she gets of Dr. McKeever chasing Robin out of a second-story window has somewhat shaken her faith in the institute. Also thrown into the mix is Hester (Carrie Snodgress), a nurse at the institute who Peter has seduced so that he can get some inside intel to hopefully help break Gillian out.
Meanwhile, Robin is being drugged and subjected to all manner of tests to make him into a killing machine but their key tool in controlling him is Dr. Susan Charles (Fiona Lewis), who has become Robin’s mistress, and sure, what can’t sex with an older woman not solve? The problem is that they have ramped up his emotions to such an extent that he is a bubbling atomic volcano just waiting to explode, and during a day trip to the city, Robin sees Dr. Charles talking to two men from the project, which causes a jealous rage that results in a psychic temper tantrum that sends amusement park rides flying.
Who would have thought mentally torturing a young impressionable man, one that happens to have the ability to kill with his mind, could go horribly, horribly awry? Oh right, anybody with half a brain. Things got even worse for Dr. Charles as her romantic hold over Robin completely crumbles and he goes into full-on Carrie mode.
When Peter and Gillian finally make it to the super-secret training facility, which could seriously pass for Charles Xavier’s school, it’s too late as Robin is now officially batshit insane. Things have gone so far off the rails that after Childress’s goons capture our intrepid heroes, he invites Peter to go up and talk to his raging psychotic son. To say that Peter is a bit shocked to find his son’s room painted in blood, and littered with corpses, is a bit of an understatement. Sadly there is no tearful reunion between son and presumed dead father as Robin is too far gone, and he proceeds to try and murder his dad, but only ends up with the both of them falling to their deaths, and unbeknownst to Childress, before shuffling off this mortal coil, Robin managed to pass his power to Gillian.
As villains go Childress could have come across as your standard evil government spook but John Cassavetes brings a good amount of textured complexity to this duplicitous bastard, and the “cat and mouse games” between Childress and Peter are really quite great as they were partners for years and they each know how the other one thinks, but Childress’s one failing is his inability to grasp the nature of the psychic forces he’s dealing with, and hubris is the last quality you want when trying to forge weapons out of young and volatile people. When Robin dies he just switches his focus to Gillian with a business-as-usual attitude and this does not lead to happy results for him.
So the movie ends with neither love conquering all nor evil triumphing, instead, we are left with the knowledge that out there in the world there is now a badass powerful Gillian, who will not be taking shit from anyone and all I can say is this totally needed a television series spin-off.
This is not one of Brain De Palma’s endless homages to Hitchcock and while the beautiful score by John Williams is very reminiscent of Bernard Herman’s Hitchcock collaborations, and this film may have been released too soon after Carrie for my liking, overall it is a well-crafted and superbly cast film with a great “Gotcha!” ending. Amy Irving clearly has the stand-out performance in this movie, as a young woman afraid to even touch her mother, who is tossed into a maelstrom of danger and intrigue by forces she doesn’t understand. Andrew Stevens as her psychic counterpart is given less to do as we mostly see him act petulant, watch his forehead throb and then bad shit will go down. On the other hand, Kirk Douglas looks to be having a ball as an ex-operative gunning down the baddies, leaping out of windows and swinging over Chicago’s famous elevated train tracks.
Trivia Note: The hotel room Peter stays in is the exact room Jake and Elwood Blues survived a rocket launcher attack in The Blues Brothers. Also, look for a young Dennis Franz as one of the beat cops that Peter takes hostage during his time trying to elude Childress’ team of killers.
This may not be De Palma’s best movie but it sure was a lot of fun as it beautifully blended the espionage thriller elements with the paranormal aspects of the horror genre. So if you’re a fan of Brian De Palma, and have missed this gem, I highly recommend you track it down.
The Fury (1978)
In a film that could be called Carrie Meets Scanners De Palma bring us a rousing psychic adventure movie that keeps you invested in the characters while nailing you to your seat during the action.