The Best and Most Bizarre Brian De Palma Films
One of my favorite rituals is spending a weekend morning watching an old-timey moving from TCM. This morning I discovered a documentary on Brian De Palma. Not old-timey, but it brings to life some of my favorite films of all time.
Honestly, this article has been a long time coming. Ever since I took a class in college about the work of De Palma, I’ve been obsessed. De Palma came up in the studio system with Spielberg, and Scorsese. He cast Robert De Nero in a few of his earliest films, Greetings (1968) and The Wedding Party (1969).
De Palma has such a specific style that pulls from so many other influences. You’ve probably heard of half of his films, he oscillates between indie projects and major blockbusters. It was hard for me to narrow this list down, trust me there are more. But let’s chat through some of my favorites.
Sisters (1972) We discussed Sisters during our doppelgänger episode on Lunatics Radio Hour. Sisters stars Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt and De Palma’s long-time collaborator William Finley. Sisters feels Hitchcockian in so many ways, but with a bizarre-o world flair. Something I often feel watching De Palma's films. Sisters plays with horror tropes that circle around twins and multiple personality disorders and leaves you on edge for the majority of the viewing. More of my favorite doppelgänger horror films can be found here.
Phantom of The Paradise (1974) Another really great film that we referenced during our exploration of The History of The Phantom of The Opera. To me, Phantom of The Paradise feels remarkably fresh eyed, especially considering how many similar versions of Phantom of The Opera exist. Paradise is a rock-opera hallucination that draws on both Phantom and Faust. Another totally otherworldly film, something I love so much about De Palma. He somehow transports us into uncanny valley fantasy absurd worlds that are similar enough to ours for us to buy in, but different enough for us to feel totally transported.
Carrie (1976) Famously starring Sissy Spacek and John Travolta, Brian De Palma transforms Stephen King’s novel into a visual masterpiece. We see some of De Palma’s iconic camera techniques in this film, which dizzy us and carry us through the story with the characters. Ever since my sister had a Carrie poster on her wall growing up, Carrie has been and remains one of my favorite horror movies. A classic story about empowerment and revenge.
The Fury (1978) I don’t mean this in a shady way, but my favorite part about The Fury is the premise. I have a special place in my heart for telekinesis (see Carrie). The Fury stars Kirk Douglas, and explore the story of a CIA agent who enlists a young psychic to help him solve a case.
Home Movies (1979) Home Movies starts Kirk Douglas and Nancy Alan. An independent comedy, Home Movies follows a young man who takes a class in order to learn how to be the star of his own life. Like so many films by Brian De Palma, it’s quirky and bizarre.
Blow Out (1981) Another De Palma film starring John Travolta, Blow Out was one of the first films to teach me about the importance of sound. Travolta plays a sound mixer who accidentally records evidence of a murder. It’s a classic thriller and well worth your time.
Body Double (1984) Body Double also came up in our doppelgänger episode. Body Double stars Melanie Griffith and Craig Wasson. It’s an erotic thriller that, again, plays with Hitchcockian techniques. The films feels like Read Window in some ways, Wasson’s character starts apartment sitting (an unbelievable apartment in LA) and sees something intriguing through the telescope…
Raising Cain (1992) Starring John Lithgow, is a wild psychological thriller. We follow a famous child psychologist who snaps. Often thought of as one of the most squarely De Palma films, Raising Cain again takes us through a world that feels slightly off-kilter from our own.
I reserve full rights to amend and re-write this list many times. If you haven’t seen any De Palma films, I highly suggest starting with the documentary, De Palma (2015). It gives you a taste of his work and style, and some incredible behind-the-scenes stories. Brian De Palma’s films speak to me in such a direct way. I hope this guide is helpful for any newcomers to his truly unique work.