Brian De Palma is an enigma; I find his work derivative and clumsy, even as I devour it like popcorn. The Fury (1978) is a textbook example of my reaction to his films: compulsively watchable, campy, all over the map, pretentious, fun, and annoying. In the Middle East, retiring CIA spook Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) is targeted for murder so that his psychic son Robin (Andrew Stevens) can be abducted, exploited, and weaponized by the government. The assassination attempt fails, however, and Sandza goes rogue, trying to track down his son. His investigation leads him to Chicago and troubled teenager Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving), whose own potential for ESP is so off the charts she injures the people she touches whenever she gets upset. Together, Sandza and Gillian work to track down and save Robin from the clutches of Sandza’s devious colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes).
With a camera that pans, zooms, circles, and tracks with abandon, The Fury is a rattletrap contraption that feels stuck halfway been quirky art film and campy horror schlock. Ultimately it doesn’t fully satisfy either way, too ugly for the former and too interesting for the latter…or maybe that’s just 1970s filmmaking. This is De Palma’s follow-up to Carrie, and it seems anxious to capitalize on the Stephen King aspects of its plot. The performances are capably hammy, with some fun support from Charles Durning, Carrie Snodgress, and an obscure early role for Dennis Franz, among others. On the other hand, it’s a structural disaster rife of tonal clashes and an off-putting, macabre sense of humor. In the end, it’s exactly what I expected from early De Palma: an offbeat, mediocre diversion, although its ridiculous, ghastly final shot elevates its memorability considerably.