SHOCK celebrates the bloody eye of maestro Brian De Palma.
With directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s wonderful documentary/long-form interview film DE PALMA (read our review here) casting contemporary light on one of Hollywood’s most gifted and singular visionaries, SHOCK felt the need to spotlight 8 examples of what the master director is primary known and loved for: ultra-stylish murders.
Here then, are 8 moments from 8 movies that showcase Brian De Palma at the peak of his powers, sculpting sequences of eroticized, bizarre and operatic death as only he could…
De Palma’s first stab (literally) at walking in his hero Alfred Hitchcock’s footsteps is a gory, twisty-turny horror thriller that’s positively pulsing with style. The best death in the film occurs in the first reel, mimicking PSYCHO’s beat of violently deep-sixing a main character. In this case it’s a completely bonkers Margot Kidder slashing poor Lisle Wilson to shreds, while Bernard Herrmann’s elegant string stabs make every puncture count.
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
The ultimate horror rock musical, PHANTOM earns every inch of its cult status, with De Palma’s typical over-the top style and set pieces draped over every inch of the picture. But PHANTOM is primarily a comedy, an absurdist and giddy romp and that humor is reflected in its goofy murder sequences. The best and most ballistic death belongs to poor effete rock God ‘Beef’ (Gerrit Graham), whose muscular glam stage performance gets an electric finish, while William Finlay’s cackling phantom looks on…
De Palma’s breakthrough masterpiece is best known for its alarming prom bloodbath, in which Sissy Spacek’s tortured psychic teen kills almost the entire cast, while De Palma goes bananas with his patented split-screen. But the film’s most effective demise comes in the form of a broken Carrie telepathically hurling tools at her banshee mother (Piper Laurie), effectively crucifying her. It’s a deviation from writer Stephen King’s original novel’s ending that De Palma added to amplify style and thematic gravitas and it works.
THE FURY (1978)
De Palma returned to both a literary adaptation and psychic phenomena with this gory fantastical espionage thriller, with a big cast of big names like Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes…and big body explosions, the best of which predates David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS by 3 years. In it, a major character, at the final moment of the film, gets the supernatural stink eye and blows up good, his shattered debris falling to the ground just before the credits roll. A true show stopper!
DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
Perhaps De Palma’s most fetishized Hitchcock nod, DRESSED TO KILL combines transgressive sex, transgendered killers and brutal black gloved killings. The film is a master class of style and designer murders but nothing tops the PSYCHO influenced elevator slaughter of unfaithful wife Angie Dickinson, as the cross-dressing killer drags her straight razor all over Dickinson’s screaming body, aided effectively by Pino Donaggio’s lush score.
Perhaps De Palma’s most popular and enduring film, due in no small part to its assimilation into hip hop and gangster rap culture. SCARFACE revels in violence but the notorious shower/chainsaw murder is right out of a horror movie, a slow, balletic and bloody bit of gleeful sadism that seems like it belongs in a Lucio Fulci film. But whereas Fulci would SHOW the explicit nature of such death, De Palma relies more on sound, camera movement and Al Pacino’s horrified, blood-sprayed face to make the audience squirm.
BODY DOUBLE (1984)
As every fan knows, even middling De Palma ends up being classic De Palma and BODY DOUBLE is proof of this. Unloved upon release, it stands today as one of the master’s most fascinating and lurid achievements. Among its many great moments is the perverse scene where the masked driller killer traps his screaming female victim and, in a none-too-subtly sexual stroke, pushes his whirling drill right through her body to the floor/ceiling below. Again, a very Fulci-esque scene, a kissing cousin to the famous John Morghen death in THE GATES OF HELL.
CARLITO’S WAY (1993)
A much better Pacino/DePalma collaboration, CARLITO’S WAY is a perfect film, filled with style, great performances, amazing music, real heart and emotion and exceptional violence. The best scene – and perhaps the most operatic in any De Palma film – occurs early on in the pool hall, when, after an unbearable tense bit of set-up foreplay, a graphic throat slitting is witnessed in progress reflected in a character’s aviator glasses. Like De Palma’s stunning POTEMKIN-esque sequence in the train station in 1987’s THE UNTOUCHABLES, this is De Palma at his most in-control and inventive.
“You think you’re big time? You’re gonna die…big time!”
What are some of your favorite Brian De Palma murders?