Raising Cain

With his affinity for odd angles, maybe Brian De Palma could’ve been a billiards champ. Here, he brings those gradients and kicks his Hitchcock aspirations into high gear with a largely forgotten, though underrated 90s thriller, Raising Cain.

John Lithgow plays multiple roles (and multiple personalities), as unhinged child psychologist Dr. Carter Nix, who is skirting regulation and probity trying to procure kid subjects for his unethical research project.

De Palma is a filmmaker smart enough run another subplot counter to that one, and here Nix is being cuckolded by his oncologist wife, Jenny (who in audacious fashion, hooks up with the widower of a woman she’d been treating for cancer — with make-out sessions on her bed too, while she’s falling in and out of consciousness!).

De Palma is also savvy enough not to delve into details about exactly what kind of child research the maniacal doc is up to.

Genre fans will get a kick out of Gregg Henry (Body Double/Slither/Guardians of the Galaxy) as a cop hot on Nix’s tail, and to a lesser extent Gabrielle Carteris (“ON”drea from Beverly Hills 90210). Lithgow is as per usual, really darn good. Later, he’ll explore the role of a devious sociopath living the veneer of a doting suburban dad as Dexter’s top competition, The Trinity Killer (a bit like real-life Kansas butcher, BTK).

While Raising Cain doesn’t hold up entirely, marred by 90s Lifetime Movie histrionics, you can’t help but be impressed by the narrative vision. The obvious nods to Psycho are forgivable too.

Of note, a much more coherent fan-cut made its way onto the Blu-Ray, and amazingly, De Palma admitted it adhered much more to his initial vision than the muddled mess of the original release. The Raising Cain re-cut is, to say the least, “a dramatically different viewing experience.”

***1/4 (out of 5)

[For a more in-depth discussion about Brian De Palma, check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Raising Cain]

Mountaintop Motel Massacre

Part Tourist Trap, part Psycho, Mountaintop Motel Massacre lacks the charm of the former and the direction of latter.

We’re in small-town Louisiana at some roadside dumpy motel (the kind that “steal your towels” according to the late, great Rodney Dangerfield).

Our antagonist, Evelyn, is released from a looney-bin and returns to her place of business. When she finds her daughter practicing witchcraft in the basement of their nearby house (this involves having a rabbit and a goat as dining companions for some as yet unperformed ritual) Evelyn the sicko sickles her to death.

Bayou cops quickly descend, but as quickly as they turn up, they bail, satisfied by Evelyn’s explanation that her daughter died in a bizarre gardening accident (a la one of the numerous early-demise mishaps suffered by Spinal Tap’s various time-keepers). Slipping and falling on a sharp gardening implement doesn’t seem worthy of a coroner report, but what do we know? We’re not carrying a badge.

Evelyn is soon back in business Norman Bates-style (actually, this one is a bit similar to the unheralded, but more than competent Psycho sequel). And gruesome Procrustean innkeepers need victims, right? And what better way to ensure there’s a steady stream than one of the hoariest cliches in all of movie-making: the downed tree blocking the road! (sure, pedants may quibble that the road being washed out by a flash flood is close competition).

Either way, a disparate patron demographic show up to the motel in question with no way to leave, and thunder-claps aplenty. The cast of characters includes: an old black carpenter, a drunk preacher who resembles a bloated William Conrad (Cannon/Gunsmoke), a Memphis ad-man/con-man, a couple of White Trash honeymooners, and two wanna-be country warblers in tight jeans whose bug broke down.

Evelyn begins to take them out, Ten Little Indians style, hiding in a crawlspace and using various creepy-crawlers from around the premises, snakes, rats, roaches (the latter at least thematically on-point for a motel) to torment her tenants. There’s also a bizarre subplot about two of the girls auditioning for the ad-man, who later admits he’s not really a Columbia Records exec and that it was part of a ruse to get one (or both) of the girls in the sack. Unfortunately, we’re witness to the girls’ singing a few frames in, and let’s just say they couldn’t carry a tune even in zero-gravity.

Plodding and idiotic, Mountaintop Motel Massacre nonetheless features 10 minutes of solid atmosphere and it should be said a pretty whiz-bang soundtrack. But what about the other 80 minutes?

Trusty viewers/readers, lead-foot it to a Motel 6 instead, where at least they’ll leave a light on for you (much of this one is shrouded in murky darkness).

** (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of Mountaintop Motel Massacre on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]