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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Fury

Twentieth Century Fox put out an A-level thriller/horror film in March of 1978 that is sometimes tagged as being sci-fi. The Fury actually has very little sci in its fi. Paranormal powers are on parade. Brian DePalma directs. Kirk Douglas stars as the father looking for his abducted son. Andrew Stevens plays Robin, the abducted teen. Amy Irving plays Gillian, the paranormal young woman. John Cassavetes plays the sinister agent.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Peter and his son Robin enjoy their extended vacation in a middle eastern port city. Peter’s coworker friend Childress gets a phone call. Seconds later, a band of gunmen wearing keffiyeh appear and start shooting bystanders. In the chaos, Childress whisks Robin to safety. Peter is thought to be killed, but comes back to find Childress chatting with the gunmen. Peter shoots Childress in the arm and flees. Childress and the Agency men search for Peter. They almost capture him, but Peter escapes in Chicago. Meanwhile in Chicago, there is Paragon Institute for the paranormal. 17 year old Gillian has come to better understand her “gift”. She is able to make people bleed and she sees visions. One of those visions is of Robin at Paragon. The Agency is secretly in charge of Paragon, and takes an interest in Gillian. She gets visions of Peter being subjected to uncomfortable tests. A nurse at Paragon, Hester, is Peter’s clandestine girlfriend. She tells Peter that Gillian might be able to lead him to Robin. She arranges for Gillian to not be sedated and escape. In her escape to Peter (posing as a cabbie), Peter shoots a few Agency men. Hester is struck by one of their cars and dies. On a long bus ride, Gillian tells Peter where to find Robin. He wants to go alone, but she comes with him anyhow. Robin is being kept in a fine mansion, but his telekinetic powers are giving him uncontrolled rages. As Peter and Gillian find the mansion, Robin goes into one of his rages. He controls the body of Dr.Charles, his pseudo-friend and captor. He elevates her off the floor, makes her spin around and spew blood from ears, eyes, nose and just about everywhere. Robin throws two guards out the window via telekinesis. Peter and Gillian are captured by other guards. Childress lets Peter go see his son. Robin, still in his blind power rage, attacks his father. They fall out a window on the roof. Peter holds Robin by one hand as he hangs off the roof. Robin attacks Peter, so Robin falls to the pavement below. Peter slips and falls to his death. Robin, not quite dead, is held by Gillian. His eyes glow blue. Hers do too. He dies. Later, Childress is talking all nice and paternally to Gillian — the Agency’s replacement for Robin as mind-weapon for study. She plays the fragile young girl, but turns on Childress. Her eyes glow blue. She controls his body via telekinesis, making him convulse so badly that he actually explodes all over the room. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As a spy thriller, there are many plot twists and parallel threads to keep the mind interested. Brian DePalma keeps the pace brisk most of the time and sets up some nice visuals. The acting is reasonably solid too.

Cultural Connection
ESP Fad — Even though Extrasensory Perception had been around since the 1930s, it had to wait until the 1970s to become “mainstream.” The amorphous spiritualism that would later be called New Age, also existed for a long time before the 70s. Both benefited from the strong counterculture movement of the 60s which was eager to reject everything of the prior generation and embrace just about anything their elders rejected. As such, ESP, belief in the paranormal and New Age spiritualism blended and found ready audiences in the late 70s. Mix in the traditional 70s paranoia about secretive government agencies, and Fury is a product of its times.

Buckets of Blood — As adapted to film, John Ferris’s story took on the grabber d’jour of the 70s: buckets of “blood.” In this, Fury is almost more of a horror film than anything. Rick Baker, who gave audiences the slimy-gross make up in The Incredible Melting Man just a year earlier, provided the bloody special effects. This even repeats the visual of a falling rubber head after Childress explodes.

Once Is Not Enough — The director of the cheesy B-movie Laserblast tried to get his money’s worth out of each exploding car, by filming the effect from various angles and repeating the explosion several times. One should not waste a good explosion, apparently. DePalma does the same thing when Childress explodes. He could not just let that spectacularly gory effect be over in a half second and be done. Someone might miss it. So, DePalma had the exploding manikin filmed from many angles and played them all back, most in slow motion, just to make sure his audience got his money’s worth out of the effect.

Carrie II — DePalma had directed his more famous film, Carrie just two years before. It had a similar theme of a young woman with startling special powers, who can kill with them. The similarity has not been lost on DePalma fans, who see Fury as a sort of sequel to Carrie — even though the stories are unrelated. The girl-with-mind-powers trope is sufficient.

Power Corrupts — Another feature that Fury has with Laserblast is the notion that immense power tends to turn mere humans into monsters. Even the film’s title points to the problem. Instead of an arm cannon, the power in Fury is paranormal. Yet, it is still just as deadly, and just as soul-consuming and corrupting. Robin becomes unable to control his rages, even turning on his father. Gillian, without any real knowledge of who Childress is and what he wants, rather quickly and summarily kills him in a rage of her own. This theme lurks in the background of another late 70s film, Nothing But The Night. The late 70s seemed worried about power in immature hands.

Aborted Moral — At one point, the Dr. Jim character delivers what is supposed to be the pathos moral of the story: “There’s no place for these kids in our culture. What a culture can’t assimilate, it destroys.” Poor kids, right? But note how the story casts the ‘kids’ as equally capable of destroying. In this, Ferris’s story has affinities to H.G.Wells’ “Food of the gods.” (The book, not the film) The “poor kids” become giants with much destructive power. Perhaps “our culture” was not so off-base in fearing them. Neither the sinister government nor the furious teens come off as sympathetic parties.

Bottom line? Fury is a complex spy thriller with bloody horror elements. In these genre, it is fairly well regarded. There is not much of any science in the fiction. There are a few lab tests and bit of medical mumbo-jumbo, but the bulk of it requires paranormal dies ex machina. Watch it if you like spy thrillers. Watch it if you like spurting red paint. If you like sci-fi with saucers, aliens, rocket ship or monsters, Fury won’t be all that satisfying.

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