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]

The Faculty

This one is The Invasion of the BEd Snatchers, as teachers one by one seem to be transforming weirdly at Ohio’s Herrington High.

The Faculty teachers have had their mental faculties altered by a malevolent force that’s coming for the students, “hey, teachers leave those kids alone.”

The school’s resident nerd, Casey (elfin cerulean-eyed Elijah Wood) finds a pelagic slug far from where its home should be in this, a land-locked state. He brings it to the science teacher, Mr Furlong (Jon Stewart) and before you know it, the thing sprouts weird tendrils before biting the biologist and rolling the narrative ball downhill.

Herrington is all Breakfast Clubbed when it comes to cliques, with teen dynamics any demographic will recognize. The Faculty wisely invests in its disparate cast(e): the criminal, jock, new girl, Goth, stoner, nerd, goddess, etc, all of whom must band together Stranger Things-style to take out the queen parasite of the hive mind (it’s no accident the school’s team nickname is The Hornets).

They’re soon compelled to put differences aside and begin poking around the science lab trying to figure out what’s making the teachers act so odd. And all the while, they’re stymied by indifferent authority figures.

The Faculty comes to us at the tail end of the unforgiving 90s, a time when the horror genre was in a real slump (come to think of it, the Golden Era of Rap excepted, the same could be said for music). It’s since recovered, but after sustaining many a self-referential / ironic body blow.

Written by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, this one is all over the map tonally, complete with obvious song choices (School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall) and too long by 20 minutes. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with this talented cast and the bleacher-creature finale is off-the-charts.

*** (out of 5)