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Dustin Putman

Raising Cain  (1992)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
4 Stars
(Release Date: September 13, 2016) – If 1980's "Dressed to Kill," 1981's "Blow Out," and 1984's "Body Double" earned auteur Brian De Palma the moniker of being Hitchcockian in his form, his thrillers have not been merely a derivate aping of the original Master of Suspense. While there is no doubt he has been inspired by past directors he admires—his works are often awash in visual and thematic references—his movies are irrefutably his own. They have their own look, their own style, their own tempo and tone, and their own provocative fascination for the luridly forbidden. De Palma may have learned from the best, but one glance is all it takes for knowledgeable viewers to recognize his singular handprint. It would be eight years after "Body Double" for the writer-director to step back into the genre for which he was best known, and the wait was worth it. 1992's "Raising Cain" is a twisty, mesmerizing showstopper, sumptuously folding in upon itself like origami as the narrative threads itself between bad dreams and nightmarish reality. The storytelling is deviously thrilling, largely chronological in its structure yet woven with the kind of shrewd revelations and sly misdirection that leaves one enthralled yet unsettled, constantly struggling to retain equilibrium.

Child psychologist Carter Nix (John Lithgow) has given up his cushy job to stay home, raise toddler daughter Amy (Amanda Pombo), and study her development. Wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) loves her husband, but is left uncomfortable by his methods of research and the erratic behavior he thinks she doesn't notice. When dashing ex-flame Jack (Steven Bauer) walks back into her life, she considers having an affair in spite of her better judgment. If every action has a consequence, Jenny's will be taken to an altogether more harrowing place when her indiscretions leave her the latest target of a mentally disturbed local serial killer. The culprit's identity? None other than her husband, Carter.

Few filmmakers are maestros of mise en scène like Brian De Palma, each set-piece's every element and layer emulating the act of reading the world's most involving page-turner. His control of each frame is nothing short of spellbinding, weaving together indelible lead characters and situations so hair-raising they might as well be urban legends come to life. His direction and camerawork are often as much the stars of the show as the actors themselves, making the convincing case for why his style is, indeed, a sizable part of his movies' substance. Not all, though, and that's the key: there is still enough on the page and lurking beneath the surface to debate, explore and consider.

"Raising Cain" offers numerous affectionately felt nods to "Psycho" (not the least being Carter's evident multiple-personality disorder) while driving its subject matter in compellingly unpredictable directions. The opening scene grabs the viewer's attention outright, following Carter as he claims his first victim, mother Karen (Teri Austin), and desperately must hide the evidence and deal with her young sleeping son in the backseat. From there, the story races off in surprising directions, spending ample time shifting focus from Carter to Jenny as the very different life-changing crossroads they are at prepare to inexorably collide.

De Palma takes great joy in toying with his audience and their respective frayed nerves, expertly seguing between romantic sentimentality and jolting spurts of terror. An initially docile scene set in a hospital room turns on a blood-curdling dime. A smoking, gum-smacking teenage babysitter, Nan (Gabrielle Carteris, a far cry from Andrea Zuckerman on "Beverly Hills, 90210"), has a fateful encounter with Carter at a park. An extended unbroken shot following bewigged psychiatrist Dr. Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen) from a top floor at city hall down into the basement morgue is stunning to behold, a virtuoso purveyor of the similar, even more complex opening shot of 1998's "Snake Eyes." A stormy climactic showdown simultaneously depicting the happenings on three separate stories at the Riviera Motel is so dazzling it deserves its own film school course. Then again, nearly every moment is noteworthy like this, emblazoned by its director's unapologetically exorbitant cinematic vision. Meanwhile, the ticking hands of time literally and figuratively hover over its players like the pair of nearly identical gifts—one for Carter, one for Jack—Jenny purchases at a musical clock store.

"Raising Cain" was divisive upon its initial release, with some critics labeling it a minor work within De Palma's oeuvre and others nonsensically writing it off as a total failure. Over time, affection has grown for the picture—and for good reason. This is a marvelously devised suspenser, rapturous, intense and bone-chilling in equal measure. John Lithgow (still several years prior to boarding the hit sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun") is tremendous in multiple roles, portraying family man Carter, bad-seed twin brother Cain, and their late father, the diabolical, influential Dr. Nix, while engulfed in a psychological war against homicidal impulses and threats toward his masculinity. As wife Jenny, Lolita Davidovich is immensely warm and likable—crucial to a character who makes some morally questionable decisions of her own—before being pushed to darker, more ruthless places. From first scene to the unforgettable final sting, "Raising Cain" is hypnotic in its richly devised spell, starkly realistic fears invaded by haunting spurts of dream logic. This is De Palma's sweet spot, and he thrives while making his peers look like amateurs.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Raising Cain" tells of a man with many sides, but there is only one side to this 1080p transfer: a consistently pleasing one, superior to all previous home video releases of this title. The beauty of its cinematography by Stephen H. Burum comes through wonderfully here, from the classic Hollywood lighting of its stars, to the mood-drenched, occasionally stormy nighttime sequences and rich black levels, to the lovely fine grain structure of its 35mm film stock. Detail in facial features, like the lines under Lithgow's eyes, pop, while additional texture on clothing and in backgrounds is immediately noticeable. An extensive shot-by-shot picture restoration might have turned a really good transfer into a positively great one, cleaning up the age-related speckles which unobtrusively pop up throughout, but this is still head and shoulders better than the film has looked since its theatrical exhibition. Two audio options are offered: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 2.0 mix. The 5.1 track subtly opens up the soundscape by allowing peripheral sound effects and the exquisite music score by Pino Dinaggio to sneak into the back channels. Much of the film, however, is front-heavy—an accurate representation of the original sound recording. Dialogue is on firm footing, as well, always clear as a whistle.

Blu-ray Features
 Disc 1:
  • Theatrical Version (1:31:38, HD)
  • NEW "Not One to Hold a Grudge: An Interview with John Lithgow" Featurette (30:00, HD)
  • NEW "The Man in My Life: An Interview with Steven Bauer" Featurette (24:00, HD)
  • NEW "Have You Talked to the Others?: An Interview with Paul Hirsch" Featurette (10:49, HD)
  • NEW "Three Faces of Cain: An Interview with Gregg Henry" Featurette (15:47, HD)
  • NEW "The Cat's in the Bag: An Interview with Tom Bower" Featurette (8:00, HD)
  • NEW "A Little Too Late for That: An Interview with Mel Harris" Featurette (8:43, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:05, HD)
  • Still Gallery (2:09, HD)
 Disc 2:
  • Director's Cut (1:31:58, HD) - If the theatrical cut is disorienting in the best way, the Director's Cut feels slightly more disjointed despite reportedly being recut by Peet Gelderblom to more closely match the original shooting script. By rearranging scenes and beginning with Jenny's portion of the film as she contemplates having an affair, it renders her character substantially less sympathetic. It is surely fascinating to compare and contrast the two, and fans should be thrilled this version has been included with this Blu-ray release, but, from my perspective, the theatrical cut is more confidently constructed and emotionally satisfying.
  • NEW "Changing Cain: Brian De Palma's Cult Classic Restored" Featurette (2:25, HD)
  • NEW "Raising Cain Re-Cut: A Video Essay" Featurette (13:02, HD)
Bottom Line
Scream Factory has surely outdone themselves with their features-packed Collector's Edition Blu-ray release of Brian De Palma's too often unsung 1992 gem "Raising Cain." Featuring solid picture and audio and two discs worth of bonus content—including two separate cuts of the picture—this is a must-own package. With any luck, this sterling Blu-ray will contribute to a much-needed reassessment from viewers and, for those who have never seen it, a key discovery of one of De Palma's greatest post-1980s works.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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