The Fury is not a movie that often (if at all) turns up in the discussion of pop culture influences on the Netflix original series Stranger Things, but see if this plot summary doesn't sound familiar: A shadowy government organization abducts children with psychical abilities in the hopes of training them to become superweapons against foreign powers. Of course this was nothing new at the time, either, with rumors abounding that the CIA was conducting experiments into ESP phenomena with the aid of psychotropic drugs.
The main reason to watch The Fury is to witness the directorial prowess of Brian De Palma, here revisiting the cinematic potential of telekinetic abilities after the success of Carrie. Despite the somewhat impressive cast, De Palma is the true star of the show, ushering in such visionary thriller set pieces as Gillian's escape from the duplicitous facility setting her up to become the government's next psychic guinea pig (filmed entirely in slow motion), and the demise of Dr. Susan Charles as the brainwashed and betrayed telekinetic prodigy (and lover) Robin spins her in the air so fast it rips her body apart. True, none of it quite lives up to the prom sequence in the lower-budget Carrie, but perhaps that is only because we are not nearly as invested in the characters in this follow-up film as we were in that adaptation of Stephen King's premiere novel.
The performances are a mixed bag. Amy Irving, as pursued potential psychic Gillian, is good at being vulnerable, but doesn't get much to do beyond that in a role that is--at least until the final scene--incredibly passive, flitting from the charge of one character to the next like a human MacGuffin. Kirk Douglas is miscast in a role that requires a younger, warmer actor. The sexagenerian fails to convince as either the highly-trained government operative who can elude his sinister peers with both wit and physical ability, nor as the devoted father willing to scour the Earth for his missing son. Without a leading lady to woo, Douglas seems perpetually lost. (I'm not sure who would have been better--maybe someone like Roy Scheider?) John Cassavetes, the one-dimensional traitorous villain, is never as threatening or manipulatively charming as he needs to be, and Carrie Snodgress sounds dubbed through the whole film. Andrew Stevens' sneering Omen-like interpretation of wunderkind Robin belongs in a bad TV movie from the era. The two best performances are from Fiona Lewis and Charles Durning, who actually come across like human beings but are entirely irrelevant for plot purposes and could have been written out of the film entirely without too much impact.
Which leads to the other primary criticism: the screenplay. I haven't read John Farris's source novel but the movie makes it abundantly clear that he was not the right choice to adapt his own material. Sometimes novelists fall in love with their own creations too much to leave anything out, and the result, as in this case, is a film adaptation that feels overstuffed and, even at two hours, rushed and underdeveloped. I know many theater patrons find the practice of splitting a single novel into two or even three films to be an abhorrent and unnecessary cash grab, but as far as The Fury is concerned I wouldn't mind another two-plus hours to flesh out its many half-baked ideas, or even a miniseries. The apparent school for psychics Gillian attends at the beginning of the movie is an intriguing environment and much more time could have been allotted to explore such notions as campus social life and class structure. (Actually, to be honest I'm not even sure if the school at the beginning is exclusively for psychics, but the classmates react so nonchalantly to Gillian telekinetically blasting a toy train off its tracks that I can't believe it's just a regular school either.) Robin's transformation from the loving son of the first scene to Sith Lord at the end is given so little screen time it's hard to develop any sympathy for the character, and the "training" utilized by the PSI to turn him into the ultimate weapon is so nonsensical (given what very little of it we do see) it makes you wonder why nobody in this highly-classified, highly-skilled government intelligence agency so much as considered the (seemingly inevitable) possibility that he would go off his rocker and kill everybody in a fit of lunatic vengeance--which, of course, he does. I also would have liked the relationship between Gillian and Peter to have more depth, and indeed, throughout the entire film character relationships and motivations are often muddy at best. There are more examples, but the overall point is that the screenplay really ought to have been streamlined and restructured before shooting ever began.
In the plus column, the cinematography by Richard H. Kline is superb, perfectly dreamlike when it needs to be and merely beautiful otherwise. The special effects are well done for the time, if a little rough by today's standards, with two legendary makeup artists (Rick Baker and an uncredited Rob Bottin) contributing their talents. Gillian's visions are suitably ethereal and disorienting, playing with chronology and space in a way that keeps you tense and, at times, lost--but never frustrated. And the score, by John Williams in his heyday, isn't as eminently hummable as Star Wars or ET but is a great symphonic tribute to Bernard Hermann with nary a synthesizer in earshot (one or two theremins, though).
Since adapting novels into television shows is all the rage these days, perhaps the Farris Fury series (he wrote three sequels in the early to mid 2000s) is a prime candidate. If not, this 1978 opus is, at least, never dull.