Despite some promising elements this is a lumpen mish-mash of punishment horror, governmental corruption drama and action thriller, not to say some throwaway moments of tragedy. None are well developed and one is left with the occasional bravura outburst of bloodletting, not to say an egregious anti-Arab sentiment. Scanners did it so much better - body horror that is, not Middle Eastern politics...
Upon rewatch my opinion is about the same: it's at its best in the 2-3 scenes involving Amy Irving's abject experience with her power, and an otherwise middling late-70s/early-80s studio horror film. So much of it could've been directed by anyone...devotes too much time to the conspiracy stuff.
A prickly, paranoid post-60s slice of government malaise. Everyone is using or being used, including the scapegoating of terrorists which might sit well with conspiracy fiends today. De Palma's technical embellishments are central to our inclusion in the mystery, a game of changing perceptions. The material is weak but the craft is exceptional, forgiving the mismatched score.
Even De Palma isn't a fan of this film. While there are some cool sequences - OK maybe just the ending - the movie is a rambling connection of parallel stories that you'll be able to put together by the end of act 1. It's fun watching Kirk Douglas and John Cassavettes rule the screen together, but the material is so vapid and unengaging that any modern audience will not be able to hold their attention. Disappointing.
Re-rating. Rewatched in a magnificent 35mm copy. Only a great filmmaker could make a movie as valid from a base material so rough and poor and not make it laughable. De Palma did not like this film but i can say that is not shameful and much better than some he assumed as his own movies, like "The Untouchables," "The Black Dahlia" or "Scarface". Just see how Chicago is filmed.
Following Carrie, De Palma managed to create a completely different kind of girl with telekinetic powers, adding government conspiracy and upping the ante on the practical gore. Irving's intense facial gestures and fierce eyes capture her fury, and De Palma's one-of-a-kind direction behind the camera is like a conductor to an experimental orchestra. The ending puts Scanners to shame.
I can see how, on the heels of Carrie, this looked like a vague, slow, lukewarm retread of old ideas. But four decades later, when prime era De Palma films are a limited resource, it's a fun Tuesday night, where concerns about shaky plotting or muddled psychodrama can get tarted up in a seductive surface. Bonus points for evil John Cassavetes.