American director Brian De Palma has always insisted that he gained his fascination with all things gory by watching his father, an orthopedic surgeon, at work. It's more likely that the principal influence on De Palma's career was Alfred Hitchcock, a fascination he has claimed to have outgrown professionally. Whatever the case, De Palma did his first film work in amateur short subjects while a student at Columbia University. Thanks to one of these films, he won a writing fellowship to Sarah Lawrence College, where he made his first feature, The Wedding Party, between 1962 and 1964. In the cast of The Wedding Party, which wouldn't be released until 1969, were Sarah Lawrence student Jill Clayburgh and a Brooklyn kid who called himself "Bobby" De Niro.
De Palma's first film to gain theatrical release was 1968's Murder à la Mod, and the first to accrue critical approval was a trendy anti-war tome called Greetings (1968), again with the Brooklyn boy who by this time was known as Robert De Niro. Hi, Mom! (1970) was a similarly irreverent comedy, but De Palma was prescient enough to realize that the vogue for anti-establishment films would soon pass. Thus he began emulating Alfred Hitchcock with Sisters (1973), utilizing the split-screen technique popularized by such late-'60s pictures as Grand Prix and The Boston Strangler. De Palma not only admitted to borrowing from Hitchcock in Sisters, but also underlined the tribute by having the film scored by Hitchcock's frequent musical director Bernard Herrmann. Obsession (1976), again scored by Herrmann, was one of several De Palma imitations of Hitchcock's Vertigo (see also Body Double), and also established the director's fascination with 360-degree camera pans.
Carrie (1976), De Palma's most successful film to that date (and still one of the most successful Stephen King adaptations), marked a return to the split-screen technique and wrapped the story up with another of De Palma's trademarks, the "false shock" ending which turns out to be a nightmare. There was a similar finale (again staged as a dream) in Dressed to Kill (1980), which audaciously included a shower scene à la Psycho (but the director deceived, staging the murder in an elevator). By the time Body Double came around in 1984, De Palma was all but parodying himself with gratuitous gore, slow motion, lyrical panning shots, Herrmann-esque musical scores, characters who weren't who they seemed to be, and twist-around endings. With the acclaimed Scarface (1983), the director inaugurated his "crime is not nice" period, ladling out grimly violent sequences in such films as Wise Guys (1986) and The Untouchables (1987) to show that the bad guys weren't the lovable lugs Damon Runyon had made them out to be. De Palma next explored a different kind of violence in Casualties of War (1989), a Vietnam War film that centered on the outrageous mistreatment of a Vietnamese woman by a platoon of American soldiers.
Raising Cain (1992) was a full-blooded return to terror, with one of De Palma's favorite actors, John Lithgow, given free reign to express his wildest, darkest passions. Carlito's Way (1993) was another crime flick, this time with Al Pacino (who'd worked with De Palma in Scarface), and proved to be one of De Palma's most widely praised films in years. With the exception of The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), which was a full-out failure, De Palma has remained one of a handful of truly bankable Hollywood directors capable of opening a picture on the basis of his own name rather than the names of the stars. He had another hit on his hands in 1996 with a big-budget adaptation of the TV series Mission: Impossible. Snake Eyes (1998), a thriller revolving around a political assassination, was something of a critical and commercial disappointment, but the director resurfaced two years later with Mission to Mars. A sci-fi suspense thriller, it removed the director from earthly horror and violence, only to restage it elsewhere in the solar system.
De Palma was back just two years later with Femme Fatale, a typically stylish exercise featuring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the title character and Antonio Bandaras as the man unlucky enough to become entranced by her. After a four-year layoff De Palma returned to theaters with an adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. Based loosely on the infamous unsolved murder case, the book was the first of a four-book series that would also include L.A. Confidential. He got some of his best reviews in years for his 2007 Iraq war film Redacted, but the film failed to click with audiences.