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Raising Cain

***
1992

‘…feels like the final scene of Psycho, expanded to feature length, with cod-psychology constantly used to provide context for crazy, disturbing visuals…’

Brian De Palma’s 1992 thriller is widely seen as some kind of cinematic disaster area, and I can see why, but I’m a genuine fan of this under-appreciated work. In fact, while De Palma’s big hits are venerated, from Carrie to The Untouchables, there is plenty of merit in his failures, from Obsession and The Fury to Blow Out to Body Double; the director was always willing to do more than just pay tribute to Hitchcock, he seemed intent on pushing on further, more sex, more violence, more tension and more shocks. It’s a mission that frequently put him on the naughty step as far as critics and audiences were concerned, but it certainly secured a unique niche.

Just to backtrack; I saw Raising Cain on release in a tiny cinema in Montpellier, dubbed into French. My schoolboy French was just about good enough to handle buying a ticket, but was somewhat stretched by a very talk-heavy film about medical experimentation, multiple personalities and marital infidelities. I had to work hard to figure out what was going on, and even watched again in English, Raising Cain still tests the patience. Child psychologist Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is murdering woman who attend his local play-park; he steals their children for his mad scientist father Nix Sr (also John Lithgow) to experiment on. Nix has frequent lapses of intent, so his evil twin Cain (also John Lithgow) often appears to sort things out. The cops close in with the help of a psychologist, but when she interviews Nix Jr, she finds herself talking to Josh, a seven year old child (also John Lithgow) Could the family nanny (also John Lithgow) have the secret of the family’s obsessions?

So far, so strange in the manner of M Night Shyamalan’s Split, but the above summary isn’t even the main plot of Raising Cain, which fragments to tell the story of Carter’s wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovitch) whoo is having an affair with Jack Dante (Stephen Bauer); as they frolic in the woods or hotel rooms, are they going to inspire the ire of the entire Nix clan when they find out? And why are there so many clocks in this story, from the gifts the lovers buy at the mall to the sundial which nearly impales the characters in a frenzied multi-level set-piece that ends the film?

Raising Cain really does not make much literal sense at all, but as dream logic, it’s an absolute belter, with tonnes of weird moments and shocks, from Jenny dreaming that she impales herself (while driving) on a pointed blade thrust by an equestrian statue, to Margo’s strikingly abrupt cameo at the end. The dialogue has a full time job keeping up with the explanations for the crazy visuals; Raising Cain feels like the final scene of Psycho, expanded to feature length, with cod-psychology constantly used to provide context for crazy, disturbing visuals.

So what’s great here? De Palma off the leash, Lithgow having a lot of fun, and lifts from Peeping Tom, Psycho, Tenebre and more making this amusing for cineastes and thriller addicts. In any language, it’s all too silly for works, and is no primer for real world mental-health issues, but the technique is breath-taking, and under-appreciated. A fan recut, apparently, is available, and I’m tracking that down right now.

 

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  1. ‘Camp, contempt, contrived confusion..’.not a fav De Palma film of mine, however, your rousing review elevated my opinion of the film from the above remark to ‘Hitchcock homage overkill.’ Well done and perhaps worth another watch, probably haven’t viewed film since it came out in 90’s. Well done!

    • Well, I’m going to look at this fan recut and see if it makes any more sense. All your c-words are correct, and this film is not for everyone. But having grown up with the grand style of De Palma, this is a little nugget of pure style, there’s more than a handful of great shocks here….worth another shot for fans!

  2. Lots of garbage to take out today. Recycling. As a Canadian, even in France, I take a kind of pride in doing my civic duty.

    Um. Just catching up. John Lithgow. I haven’t seen 3rd Rock. I did see Buckaroo Banzai but can’t remember it now. Thought he was fun in this movie, and good as Ailes in Bombshell. Also the creepy killer in Blowout.

    What happened in Montpellier will have to stay in Montpellier. It was thirty years ago. We were younger then. Enough said.

    Now off again!

  3. I’ve been wanting to get back to this one for a while. Got it sitting on my to-watch shelf. I remember it as being quite suspenseful, with some really good jump moments. That business with the reflection of the woman watching from her hospital bed was terrific.

    Funny, I don’t remember seeing you in Montpellier. But that was a long time ago.

    • I’m ready for the fan-edit, and only re-watched this a week ago. The shock moments are terrific, the scene following the psychologist around the building is wild too. The story is so dark and convoluted, though, I’m not surprised people didn’t go near this. But it really does have some amazing moments…sorry for reminding you of our time in Montpellier. Too soon?

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