Blu-Ray Review – Raising Cain

Brian De Palma was pretty much burnt out after the catastrophic failure of his adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities. It was a seriously compromised film in every regard, from deviating from the original text to casting, despite its an inspired opening, which was one long steady-cam shot. After the debacle, De Palma returned to an idea he had been toying around with before Bonfire, a Hitchcockian film set on a playground. He wasn’t without trepidation about going back to his roots, and initially saw it as a possibly retrograde step.

The result, Raising Cain, is about child psychologist Carter Nix (John Lithgow), who is starting to concern his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich), because she thinks he is studying their daughter like one of his patients. Unbeknownst to his wife, Carter suffers from multiple personality disorder, with personalities that include a woman and a teenager hustler emerging, amongst others.

Carter finds out his wife is having an affair with her ex, Jack Dante (Steven Bauer), and reacts by killing a girl and attempting to frame Dante for the crime. However, Carter may have been continuing his discredited psychologist father’s work all along, and Jenny has figure out who her husband really is after their daughter goes missing and someone makes an attempt on Jenny’s life.

It’s total vintage De Palma, and deserves to be spoken in the same breath as his more shock-driven suspense films, such as Dressed To Kill and Body Double. It radically plays around with time, rolling out dream sequences and flashbacks that for the casual viewer may become overwhelming. This edition has a radically altered “Director’s Cut,” put together by fan Peet Belder Gelderblom but with the blessing of De Palma himself. The new cut reassembles the structure that De Palma initially intended, which was changed due to studio interference.

John Lithgow’s performance elevates the film in more ways than one. It goes all the way up to 11, but as it’s about a person who has all these extreme personalities, it works. The whole film is simply a showcase for what Lithgow can do. Despite being known by younger viewers for his comedic roles, Lithgow exudes such a sense of menace when necessary, which is why De Palma used him as a villain over and over. It also is why Joe Dante was interested in using him as the Joker in the Batman film he never made, which he revealed to me when I  interviewed him.

Raising Cain may have been a critical disaster when it premiered in 1992, but it’s gained a cult following that seems to just grow and grow. It’s no Blow Out, but the new Director’s Cut should make some of the naysayers give the film a second look. It also has a twist at the end for which De Palma would be vilified if he tried it in today’s overly PC landscape, but I doubt that he would change it.

Arrow has compiled a handsome package that includes both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut. The theatrical cut disc is full of newly filmed interviews with the cast, including Lithgow, Sam Bauer and more, along with editor Paul Hirsch and composer Pino Donaggio, who scored most of De Palma’s thrillers. It also includes a visual essay on the film from Chris Dumas, author of Un-American Psycho: Brian De Palma and the Political Invisible, along with the trailer.

The director’s cut disc includes an intro by Gelderblom as well as a visual essay in which Gelderblom dissects the differences between the two cuts. It’s available in a limited edition version on two Blu-Rays, and also contains a DVD with the theatrical cut. The release is finished with a booklet on the film written by Anne Billson.

★★★★

Ian Schultz

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