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Brian De Palma – 4 Lesser Known Essential Films

Brian De Palma is perhaps one of the most famous directors of all time.  He has created some brilliant classics; The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible, and just a small ditty of a movie that you’ve probably not heard of called Scarface. No doubt De Palma is a ridiculously big name in crime thriller and drama. As well as this, he also constructed one of the finest horror movies to date with the delightfully chilling Carrie.

So De Palma is a big name when it comes to movies which is showcased in recent documentary De Palma – aptly named and out today.

However, there is a great collection of films that you might not

Blow Out (1981)

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Despite connotations to Hitchcock and other filmmakers, De Palma really crafted a career and tone of his own. The thrillers that he produced were some of the most poignant and terrific pieces ever made. And some of his more brilliant and crucial work were less applauded over time. In the instance of Blow Out, however, De Palma’s horror has developed into a much celebrated and meaningful work.

Starring John Travolta in an unrecognisable role from his hip swinging quaffed Danny Zuko, Blow Out revolves around  a sound effects technician for low-budget slasher films who comes across audio evidence of an assassination and tries desperately to prove it is true.

The intelligence and gripping film possesses excitement surrounding the mystery. The spectacular work by De Palma. The film is raw and unnerving whilst paying homage classic films too. The political suspenseful movie is one to watch in an incitement of the all-American dream that is quickly unravelling. Perhaps more important in today’s climate.


Sisters (1972)

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If you have read more on Sisters then you may read the words “rip-off” and “Hitchcock” everywhere. And some have called it a loving homage. It’s best to lean to the latter because Brian De Palma’s thriller about a pair of identical sisters and the imbruing mystery surrounding them and it definitely has the Hitchcockian feel, right down to the “peep” hole dream sequence, Rear Window set up (Grace sees the murder from her block of flats,) and the close up on widening eyes. Heck, some may argue that the dramatic score is very Psycho-esque. Nevertheless, it never feels that De Palma is leaning over Hitchcock and copying down his answers on “How To Scare.” Instead, it feels as though he has lovingly obsessed over the famed director and it has oozed into his work.

Sisters will split a lot of audiences, especially a younger one who may perceive the ending well into the first five minutes of the film. And it has that heightened seventies feel from flared trousers, hair and some moments straight out of Charlie’s AngelsSisters also takes a while to kick in but when it does, it is satisfying horror farce that takes you to the depth of emotional bonds and broken minds. There is some depth here and it may take a few scenes to whittle it out but when you find it, it often disturbs.

The Black Dahlia (2006)

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Taking a true life crime as horrific and uneasy as Elizabeth Short is hard and, true, perhaps this film isn’t as essential to De Palma’s list than, say, Scarface or Carrie. Critically panned and with an uneven audience reaction, this 2006 noir film hasn’t the best reception. With a star-studded cast such as Josh Brolin, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson, it’s surprising as the main cast were critically shafted and unfavourably received.

Perhaps with the eye of nostalgia and time, De Palma’s noir thriller could unravel some gold to it. There is definitely a raw and uneasy element to it and it grips you in the sense that this is a true story. A terrible one too:  A young girl found sliced in two, drained of all blood, and  left dismantled in LA. Attacking the story would be tricky considering the controversy surrounding the glitz and the glam of Hollywood that allowed the death to go unsolved. But De Palma has a degree of sensitivity when employing a murder that could’ve become sensationalised within someone else’s hands. With astute camera working and a sensitivity surrounding the case, as well as mixing the mystery surrounding the death, De Palma certainly works a lot crucial elements into this film that deserved to be bitterly received.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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This film is an amalgamation of  different themes an films: A satirical look at glam rock, this is an amalgamation of Phantom of the OperaFaust with a splash of Dorian Grey. Winslow Leach is an aspiring composer, having his work stolen by demonish record producer SwanPhantom of the Paradise initially panned globally on first release. It was only ever in Winnipeg, Canada that the movie made any success. Proving that people don’t know exactly what they are missing when they watch a movie, this 1974 classic is a teaming with brilliant hilarity and surprising dark elements. Piecing together all that is great of the seventies from the great costumes to the glam rock music, De Palma here utilises different musical eras as well as fantastic shots that really showcase his talent as a director. A homage to his idols such as Hitchcock, De Palma uses lingering camera work and even includes a Psycho-esque shower scene.

Phantom of the Paradise is a similar vein to Rocky Horror and Tommy with all the grandiose set pieces, steamy scenes and hilarity. De Palma cuts out a movie that is both frightening and funny. It is a perfect  combination of evil and good. Phantom is proof that selling your soul for rock and roll may not get you as far as you want; it is also a shocking indictment of rock and roll fans all wanting something more, something better and something entertaining. It is our need for bloodshed that disfigures the soul


What do you think?
De Palma is out in cinemas now!

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