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The View from the Trailer Park: For Violent Images, Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content and Language

Written by: Daniel Mc Donald

I have been a horror film fan for 46 years. In that time, I’ve seen pretty much every type of what fans consider to be horror or terror or thrillers, and I’m proud of the fact that each time I paid for a ticket, or sat down in front of my TV, I did so with a true sense of fanboy excitement and anticipation, no pre-judgmental negativity ( that has been and still is one of my pet peeves, why give your time or/and money, only to decide you’re not going to let the film tell you it’s story, and take it’s ride?).

Everyone has their subjective favorites, and I’ve had many enlightened, entertaining discussions, some heated, but never denying one’s right to have an informed, intelligent opinion.

In 1973, a film opened in limited release, with almost no promotion called Sisters. I knew a few of the lead performers, but had heard very little about its director Brian De Palma.

Well, to say the least, I was more than impressed with the film, in fact much more than impressed. As it progressed, I was overwhelmed (enthrallingly so) by what was becoming an entertaining mix of violence (the murder is so vicious, but so creatively shot, suddenly there were split screen points of view showing simultaneous events from two different but connected perspectives) and some situational comedy. In the midst of dealing with the horrendous event we have just seen, and this murder was as prolonged and savage. It was in the midst of this well-choreographed (cinematography and especially editing) feast I realized how incredibly emotional, expressive and entertaining the score of this film was. Courtesy of frequent collaborator Bernard Herrmann.

I won’t give away any more information, but I will say the script’s delightful twists and turns, and the increasingly stylized cinematic bounty were exhilarating to me… with a finale that screamed “HITCHCOCK,” in a good way. I returned to see Sisters two more times, quickly becoming aware that De Palma was a major new talent to get to know and follow. I found that he had done some low budget comedies in the late ‘60s that upon viewing years later, showed De Palma’s potential and featured a young Robert De Niro!

Press was mixed but mainly positive, with phrases like “overly violent,”  “misogynistic” and “self-indulgent.” Obviously the press was not into De Palma’s “mad scientist” approach to cinema, except for one single pundit. Ironically she was the only critic whose opinion and reviews I sought out, Pauline Kael who wrote for a New York magazine.

I eagerly awaited De Palma’s next project, a horror comedy satire, Phantom of the Paradise, a Rock and Roll version of the horror classic. It was greeted by non-enthusiastic press and box office tallies. Once again I thought it was passionate, very well made with a terrific score by Paul Williams which, along with the film itself, has developed a large cult following. Next up came (in my and many critics’ opinion) De Palma’s first masterpiece, a film adaptation of Stephen King’s smash hit novel, Carrie. The film, its stars and the director were catapulted to stardom.

Next up came back to back successes, the beautifully shot, twisted edge of your seat thriller Obsession, and a big budget horror film similar to Carrie in topic, and over the top bloody, action filled violence: The Fury. Again a critically divisive box office disappointment. De Palma was beginning to gain a reputation as an overly violent, perhaps misogynistic filmmaker with a hit and miss film track record.

The 1980s and ‘90s seemed as if De Palma was living up to the title of this article. The extremely controversial horror thriller Dressed to Kill was both lauded and criticized, and originally received an X rating for its overt violence and sexuality. It was De Palma’s first box office success in years, but seemed to accentuate his reputation as an auteur of violence and sex. Then came a truly phenomenal thriller Blowout, starring John Travolta and De Palma’s wife, Nancy Allen. The film was both cleverly written and directed by De Palma, named as one of the ten best by several critics… yet it proved to be another box office disappointment. De Palma began to step outside the thriller/horror genre to make some winners; Scarface once again originally rated X, The Untouchables, and several missteps (popular opinion, not mine) Bonfire of the Vanities and once again, an originally X rated extremely sexually violent Body Double.

At this point, I’d like to add that each of these productions were top of the line in terms of creativity, especially refined cinematographers. De Palma worked with the best in the business. Which brings me to the point that despite popular highs and lows, if you look closely, you’ll see films that are stunningly told with eye-popping visuals (camera movement, use of light, shadow and especially color). De Palma’s reputation for being difficult held a little truth: he barred Oliver Stone from the Scarface film set for disagreements regarding Stone’s script. He also was an obsessive perfectionist calling for costly retakes in art, music and production design. Once again I say you can see every bit of blood, sweat, tears and dollars in his final products.

This is evident in not only the technicians, but also the A list talent that signed up to work with him; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Gary Sinise, Nicholas Cage, John Lithgow, Melanie Griffith, Michelle Pfeiffer etc.

Brian De Palma was the “bad boy” of the New Hollywood crop of directors which included Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg. The amount of cinematic contributions this group of geniuses produced is astounding, each in their very different ways. De Palma’s last Hollywood film is 2012s Passion, at the age of 75. I hope he’ll take a few more stabs (yeah, I heard it) at horror thrillers, with his signature blood, violence, nudity and sexually explicit sequences…I’m just saying

As my favorite filmmaker he gets 5/5

About The Overseer (2283 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

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