I gained a minor obsession with DePalma after reading Shock Value. This quick read highlighted horror’s changes from the early days of film through the mid-90s. It focused largely on the great auteurs of the 60s-80s, and no list on horror auteurs is complete without mentioning Brian DePalma, window-voyeur extraordinaire.
Enter Blow Out, one of the early string of hits that propelled Brian into the limelight. Blow Out starts as a humble movie sound effects editor, Jack (John Travolta), stumbles across a terrible car accident while recording sounds for future FX work. Without hesitation he jumps into the icy water and rescues Sally (Nancy Allen). Cut to the hospital, and Jack wonders what has brought in scores of ravenous journalists. It turns out the other stiff in the car (already dead when Jack dove down) looked like a strong candidate for POTUS. Jack is sworn to secrecy (the usual lines about the corpse’s family suffering at the knowledge of his affair) and he leaves out the back with a dazed Sally in tow.
With an uneasiness sparked by the pleas for his secrecy Jack starts to notice other irregularities with the story. His tape recording from the eventful night clearly indicates a shot rang out prior to the titular blow out.
From here the relationship betwixt Jack and Sally develops, and DePalma fleshes out (pun intended) their motivations. Simultaneously we see hired gun Burke (John Lithgow) attempting to tie up loose ends…
Thrillers, in particular, call for tightly crafted endings. As writer and director, DePalma exercises maximum creative control over the production, and it shows. Tensions build steadily, plot lines converging towards a magnificent final scene. Specifically, Sally and Jack converge upon Burke (demonstrably a cruel, heartless killer by this point) in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Our final moments come with literal fireworks, a giant flag, quality screams, and Jack’s slow motion dash to save Sally. It’s difficult to raise the ante, but Travolta’s facial expressions as he exacts revenge/justice upon Burke (with Burke’s own icepick) combine with flashing red and blue lights across Sally’s dead figure, and finally, fireworks in the background as he clutches her lifeless body to his. It might be a bit too strong, in fact, but I don’t mind a bit of cheese every now and then. In fact, I love it!
The epilogue brings a moment of black irony as we hear Sally’s very real scream dubbed into the very B-horror movie we opened with nearly two hours ago. A television news broadcast is conspicuously lacking talk of a the assassination conspiracy, and in the end, Jack is the final victim, alive, but carrying the weight of his knowledge alone; the movie scream guy haunted by the real thing.
Twists: 3 (pretty damn predictable, although Sally’s death was up for debate until the very end)
Execution: 9 (DePalma is a technical master)
Satisfaction: 6 (purposely leaves you a bit empty, good effect, but I’d have preferred a bit more justice)