Tag Archives: Brian De Palma



Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 28 April 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Brian De Palma

Writers: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose

Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning

USA 1973

93 mins

My colleagues, they can make believe that Dominique is truly disturbed; I think that they will find that Danielle, who is so sweet, so responsive, so normal as opposed to her sister, can only be so because of her sister.

Present day, Staten Island, and actress Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) has been separated from her twin, Dominique Blanchion, for some years. She meets Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) a kind man who seems like he’d take care of Danielle; but when her spooky ex-husband shows up on their date, it becomes clear that she has a ‘past’. When sinister events unfold, columnist Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees this as her big opportunity to write the story that will finally help her to bust through the glass ceiling, and starts her own investigation into Danielle’s life.

Central to De Palma’s films is the idea that the normal and the psychotic are symbiotic: they feed from each other, and one cannot exist without the other. It makes sense therefore that he would have been drawn to making a psychological thriller based on conjoined twins; Sisters (1973) is an early incarnation of the syrupy twisted with grotesque violence. What starts as a quasi-realist thriller takes a turn simply with the appearance of a huge birthday cake to celebrate the twins’ birthday; its pink frosting flowers, the twinkling candlelight, Bernard Herrmann’s score jangling in the background, and the enormous carving knife that has been placed next to it all bode ill, yet somehow they seem to be entirely appropriate. In Carrie (1976), three years later, De Palma would combine the saccharine normality of American high school pomp with pig’s blood and telekinetic delirium, and how blissful is that mix.

Sisters is like a fairy tale that evolves into a slasher thriller, with women doing some of the thinking – at last. De Palma is good at writing material where female characters are allowed to talk to each other, and about women. Grace Collier has scenes where she speaks about her frustrations with not being taken seriously; this happens at work, and when she confronts the police as a witness to a brutal crime, their levity is clearly based on her gender. She even gets to talk directly to Danielle Breton about something other than men or children, although Danielle’s capacity for murder is not much of an upgrade. Later, in a sense, Grace metaphorically changes places with Dominique, the disturbed twin. Grace is a character with guts and intelligence, but it’s as if these qualities can be easily made equivocal with the monstrous. Only heavy-handed hypnosis can manipulate her strong mind, and she is partly silenced for her agency and will. De Palma creates aberrant women, where psychosis merges with normality, even if the narratives shut them down at the end of the films. But consider Carrie’s hand thrusting out of the soil of her newly dug grave – this lasting image serves as a reminder that the monsters are not going to go away.

It’s good to see this cult classic re-released, and to remember it as one of the films that paved the way for other great films about twins, including Kim Jee-woon’s Tale of Two Sisters (2003).

Nicola Woodham

The Fury

The Fury2
The Fury

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 28 October 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: John Farris

Based on: The Fury by John Farris

Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Amy Irving

USA 1978

118 mins

There’s a lot to like about Brian De Palma’s The Fury, his big-budget 1978 follow-up to horror classic Carrie (1976). For one thing, there’s the monumentally dramatic score from celebrated film composer John Williams, which swoops and creeps with a sense of epic malevolence. Add to the mix De Palma’s stunning operatic visual flair, Rick Baker’s special effects, and the remarkable cinematography of Richard H. Kline, and you’ve got yourself a potent slice of late 1970s mainstream cinema. It’s a shame it completely bombed on its initial release, mostly due to it not being Carrie.

The plot literally is the stuff of those pulpy paperbacks that fill the shelves of airport bookshops, adapted for the screen by John Farris from his original novel. (Farris was also responsible for other such sensational literary titles as The Corpse Next Door and The Axeman Cometh.) Kirk Douglas plays government agent Peter Sandza, whose telepathic son has been abducted by colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), who plans to exploit the boy’s psychic abilities for warfare. Sandza’s desperate search for his son brings him into contact with a teenage girl named Gillian (Amy Irving), who also has immense telekinetic powers. Together they join forces in the hope of saving his son from the evil grip of Childress before it’s too late.

Aging Hollywood legends Douglas and Cassavetes don’t seem to have any delusions as to what kind of film they’re in, and give it everything they’ve got. Douglas is great as the tormented father, and Cassavetes is equally memorable as his incredibly intense and menacing adversary. Between all the running about and telekinetic hocus-pocus, it’s fantastic to see such movie heavyweights sharing the screen. Amy Irving is a very sympathetic heroine, who’s picked on by fellow classmates, confused by her special psychic abilities, and unaware of her full potential, but without Carrie’s religious baggage and domestic issues.

Essentially a supernatural horror tale, The Fury also succeeds as an action film and a mystery/suspense thriller, with De Palma never slacking on the pace and effortlessly balancing out the elements of each genre into a very entertaining cinematic hybrid. Of course, there are moments (mostly during the final act) that are complete nonsense in terms of narrative, but it’s extremely well-composed and directed nonsense, with lots of split diopter shots and wondrous over-cranking, culminating in an unforgettable final scene that could quite possibly be an incredibly humorous, horrific and gruesome homage to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.

Although The Fury has never been perceived as one of De Palma’s more credible efforts, it’s definitely worthy of attention, and still stands up as a compelling, entertaining and enjoyable thrill ride.

Robert Makin

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Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill
Dressed to Kill

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 29 July 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Brian De Palma

Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen

USA 1980

83 mins

The legendary New Hollywood director Brian De Palma has had a more erratic filmmaking career than most. Iconic classics (Carrie and Scarface) rub shoulders with legendary disasters (The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Black Dahlia – not coincidentally, two unwieldy adaptations of classic American authors). Impassioned, personal labours of love (Blow Out, Femme Fatale) vie with hire-a-hack studio gigs (The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible). His trajectory is an unpredictable swerve: De Palma has often seemed like an outsider in the fickle world of Hollywood, persecuted first by critics who decried his unoriginality and apparent bad taste, and then by censors balking at his films’ often transgressive content.

Dressed to Kill, newly reissued on Blu-ray for the first time in uncut form, and made at a convenient mid-point in De Palma’s now 50-year career, provides a timely opportunity to evaluate this uncommonly talented auteur. The film has aspects of the passionate, personal side of his directing, as well as his underrated commercial instinct: its box office success marks it as an early populariser of the modern erotic thriller. De Palma was enamoured with Hitchcock; a science whiz as a young man, he fell in love with film at college via Hitchcock, Welles and Godard, and spent his career crafting elaborate cinematic love letters to the three of them (Antonioni was also a favourite). Dressed to Kill is one of his most overt Hitchcock homages: it overflows with lush audience-baiting orchestral music cues, bravura wordless set-pieces, and erotic perversity.

De Palma was more compelled by the voyeuristic strands in Hitchcock’s films than by his studies of wronged-man innocence. So if Obsession cribs from Vertigo, and Blow Out from Rear Window, Dressed to Kill set its sights on Psycho; it lunges knife-in-hand at this overbearing predecessor, extracting the juiciest ideas and discarding the dated fat. Yet as De Palma retrofits and enhances Hitchcock with modernised sexuality and violence, the result only amounts to a blandification; it reduces the master’s fascination with human behaviour and rare empathy into something insincere and unfeeling. We leave Dressed to Kill staggered by De Palma’s technique and craftsmanship, while still unconvinced by the cold void imparted by the button-pushing plot.

Revealing too much of that plot would be cruel. Someone is offing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott’s (Michael Caine) patients; Elliott believes it might be ‘Bobbi’, an unseen and unknown transgender patient, who leaves him threatening, desperate answer-phone messages throughout the course of the film. A well-heeled, bored housewife patient, Kate (Angie Dickinson), and a hooker with a heart of gold, Liz (played by De Palma’s then-belle Nancy Allen) may be in danger. It’s then left up to Liz, and Kate’s teenage computer-boffin son (Keith Gordon) to unlock this taunting mystery.

Uncharacteristically, the film’s highlight sequence is ultimately tangential to the main thrust of the plot. After a meeting with Elliott where, in rather cheesy racy-thriller form, Kate confesses her sexual attraction to him, she then takes a lazy mid-morning detour into a modern art gallery. In a sequence reminiscent of the recent Spanish arthouse film In the City of Sylvia, we follow her as she alights upon a male admirer stalking the gallery for pick-ups. What ensues is a formidably choreographed cat-and-mouse chase of attraction through the white gallery hallways, the glances and reactions of the two conveyed first in split-screen, and then in one breath-catching long take.

Yet it’s a shame that De Palma instills most of his energy into the film’s most conspicuous ‘action’ scenes; as a result, the concluding twist’s lack of psychological credibility exposes this thriller as just another giddy ‘gotcha’ contraption, rather than peering into the heart of its characters with any genuine curiosity or insight.

David Katz

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