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]

Frenzy

Frenzy, noun: violent mental derangement. 2. wild excitement or agitation; distraction. 3. a bout of wild or agitated activity. Essentially, that’s us when our next book project is due and the publisher wants their manuscript (cheap plug time: Pick up a copy of Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons).

The film of the same name is befitting of its title. Frenzy is a homecoming for the Master of Suspense, and saw Hitchcock’s return to London and the film’s opener, a sweeping, lazy, placid helicopter shot of Tower Bridge and the mighty Thames, is a wonderful tonal setup.

As we land on terra firma, it’s the nasty business of politics that precedes the nasty business of murder: a local city councilor (or possibly an MP) promises to clean up the river…and in the midst of a well-intentioned/well-attended photo-op (journalists + the public) a nude form washes up on the shoreline…the body of a woman…

One of the rabble yells that it’s another “victim of the necktie murderer” and viewers’ minds are immediately sent back to the time of Jack the Ripper, the mysterious Victorian in the top-hat with medical training who terrorized Whitechapel roughly a century prior (for those who are interested, check out our review of Murder by Decree, a flick which features Christopher Plummer hot on the tail of Saucy Jack).

In a nod to the Vigilance Committee leader of  the era, headed by captain of industry George Lusk, the killer here is…Rusk. And in a tribute to Hitch’s father (a grocery man), this film’s set in Covent Gardens.

In a change of pace, here Hitch tips off viewers as to who’s done the dirty deeds. So Frenzy is not a suspense film in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a depiction of how uber-red herring Blaney, a down-on-his-luck drinker, degenerate gambler and ex-barman, has to clear his name when his estranged missus ends up strangled in her place of business.

Without being strangled by the censors, Hitchcock is able to go all out here, and the influence of violent spectacles like The Last House on the Left no doubt left their mark. The result: more violence and mayhem then we’d seen, but still intact…Hitchcock’s incomparable visual style.

***3/4 (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of Frenzy on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]