You’d think that in an era when Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi are taken seriously as filmmakers, De Palma might catch a break for his pop sensibility, but Tarantino and Raimi don’t operate in the most dangerous area of violence, where it intersects with sexuality. Even Hitchcock didn’t. Except in Vertigo, which is a romantic melodrama – a genre De Palma essayed only once, in Obsession, and couldn’t get into – the sexual material in his movies is only there to play with us, lure us in so he can swap it for violence: Robert Walker coming on to Farley Granger in the opening scene of Strangers on a Train, Tony Perkins peeping at Janet Leigh in the shower in Psycho. (Spielberg takes a leaf from Hitchcock’s book, of course, in the opening of Jaws, where we’re led to think that the wasted kid on the beach is going to get laid in the water by the girl with the come-hither eyes, but the only orgasm is the bloody thrashing in the water as she’s scissored by the shark.) De Palma’s bravado in taking Hitchcock tropes into the truly forbidden places Hitchcock wasn’t interested in – the way he riffs on the Psycho shower scene as a way of exploring adolescent sexuality in the opening minutes of Carrie and middle-aged sexual longing and disappointment in the first scene of Dressed to Kill – branded him as everything from a misogynist to a plagiarist. It was fruitless to point out that artists have always built on each other’s work and that there are fewer portraits of female sexuality more sympathetic than these two pictures. In 1987, when he filmed David Rabe’s dramatization of the Daniel Lang New Yorker article, “Casualties of War,” about the rape and murder of a Vietnamese teenager by some American G.I.s, he came up with perhaps the most compassionate and devastating movie ever made about what happens to women in a war zone. His detractors, apparently confusing the film with its subject matter, called it pornographic.
|director Brian De Palma|
It’s that identifiable core of adolescent terror and confusion that gives The Fury so much depth of feeling. You could dismiss the story, which is out of a John Ferris novel (Ferris did the adaptation), as schlocky, but it may be the most emotional horror movie ever made. In other words, it works at cross-purposes to exploitation horror movies (like The Exorcist, which predates it by half a decade) that are powered by sadistic impulses and don’t demonstrate any real feeling for their suffering characters.
|Kirk Douglas in The Fury|
|Fiona Lewis & John Cassavetes|
|Andrew Stevens' eyes in The Fury|
|Amy Irving in The Fury|
|Gillian's escape from Paragon|
Paragon is like a haunted house for Gillian; that’s one way, but not the only way, in which The Fury is a Gothic. I assume that’s why De Palma quotes William Wyler’s 1939 film of Wuthering Heights in the scene where Peter and Gillian infiltrate the estate where Childress is holding Robin and his dogs hunt them down. It’s easy to make fun of the narrative, but visually the movie is brilliantly worked through. Kael once said, referring to Casualties of War, then when you experience filmmaking so sophisticated that it’s almost subliminal, it makes you a little crazy, and I think that’s often true of De Palma’s movies. God knows it’s true of The Fury. And it’s not just technique – it’s the way his technique is drenched in feeling. The combination makes you weak at the knees.