Brian De Palma's "Carrie" was a supernatural horror thriller that transcended its genre. De Palma's latest, "The Fury," lacks the dramatic concentration and emotion conviction necessary to achieve a comparable miracle, although it may very well succeed as a camp horror classic.
"The Fury" reveals a directing talent that is sometimes sensational. But this chase thriller, which mixes incongruous and dismaying elements of espionage, parapsychology, Gothic horror and perverse inside-joking, puts the notion of virtuosity as its own reward to a borderline test.
Much as I admire "Carrie, and De Palma's work as a whole, I found my affections tending uncontrollably to the alienated side of the borderline.
The movie can be enjoyed as long as you don't ask for any fundamental dramatic credibility from the material, which remains too bogged down in genre quicksand to attain the cathartic heights of "Carrie". That film, never lost sight of authentic sources of fury and frustration even at its most flamboyant.
The big horror climaxes may set kids in particular buzzing, but the stylistic riffs never seem riffy enough to compensate for the dramatic failings.
Audiences are likely to be equally divided into those who find "The Fury" a tasty indulgence, those who can't stomach it and those who just stare at this Gothic dessert in numbed disbelief.
Faced with the prospect of synopsizing the plot, especially when it reaches the exceptionally wacky, ludicrous climatic stages, one feels a bit like Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo the morning after he returns from a police interrogation and encounters Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon." Cairo complains, "I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it."
But there's not a slack scene in "The Fury." If anything, the weaknesses in the material are unexpectedly exaggerated by a kind of high-definition, cartoon vividness, embodied in the very presence of Kirk Douglas, whose familiar effusive style, eyes bulging and voice cracking with emotion, seems undeniably comic in spite of itself.
The pleasure De Palma derives from manipulating his medium is tangible - one can feel it in the camera movement, composition and especially the lighting, which often is luxuriously bright, yet troubling, a disarming preamble to horror - but it doesn't transform this particular effort into a success.
Douglas stars as a slightly crazed, fugitive espionage agent betrayed by his boss, John Cassavetes. The boss wants to gain control over Douglas's son, Andrew Stevens as a teen-age psychic with supposedly prodigious abilities. The film opens with an ironically prescient scene shot in Israel: A group of Arab terrorist suddenly storms a seacoast resort where Douglas and Stevens have been vacationing under the treacherous protection of Cassavetes.
This raid is revealed to be a murderous hoax, staged by Cassavetes in order to eliminate Douglas and monopolize the services and loyalties of Stevens. Since the Douglas character seems to be entrusting his son voluntarily to Cassavetes' care, you may well ask why this treachery is necessary - and never discover a satisfactory answer. One also craves a little more information about what Cassavetes has in mind for his unwitting young captive.
The plot concerns Douglas' attempts to retrieve his son and get even with Cassavetes. Amy Irving, as the boy's teen-age "psychic twin," eventually joins Douglas in his search and becomes the vessel of wrath that exacts revenge for the treacheries suffered by father and son.
Although the final confrontation between Irving and Cassavetes is pictorially sensational, it confirms one's raging sense of incredulity.
The kicker at the end of "Carrie" made it unlikely that audiences "would sleep peacefully. It was a scary yet exhilarating sign-off, a witty reminder that the film's quality of illusion might outlast the filmgoing experience itself.
"The Fury" also closes with a flourish, and it's full of flourishes along the way, but in this case quite a few people might prefer to forget the experience.It appears that a sizable share of audience may exit seething or muttering, persuaded they've exposed themselves to a slightly wretched excess rather than an inspired display of virtuosity.
According to De Palma, "The Fury" was the only solid offer he received after "Carrie," despite its box-office success. It will assure two future projects, which Frank Yablans has agreed also to produce. So "The Fury" can be regarded as a marriage of convenience for both men.
It's reassuring to hear that De Palma plans to take at least a brief respite from horror movies. "The Fury" is more exciting and entertaining to contemplate than a cautious clinical thriller like Michael Crichton's "Coma," but it's also perilously close to self-parody.