Plot: What’s it about?
Shout Factory is one of my very favorite film distributors. Their Scream Factory line is absolutely top-notch, focusing in on well-loved but unheralded films by directors like DePalma and Carpenter. When I saw that they would be releasing the DePalma film, Raising Cain on Blu-Ray, I didn’t hesitate to put down my cold hard cash to check it out even though I had never seen the movie. DePalma is a director that some people love, and some people can not fathom. For my personal tastes, I think he is a consistently engaging director that has a great cinematic eye. His movie Blow-Out is one of my favorite thrillers, and he has had a series of other great films (Carlito’s Way, Scarface, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible – to name a few.) Even with those great films to his name, DePalma has always had a bit of stigma as being a bit sleazy in his filmmaking. For myself, that has not stood in the way of enjoying his movies, and I was excited to watch this one sight unseen.
The central premise of the movie is that Carter Nix, a child psychologist, is having a mental breakdown. When his wife, Jenny, cheats on him with Jack ( Steven Bauer,) Carter’s split personalities are released. The most prominent split personality is Cain, a cigarette smoking vicious serial killer. Carter and Cain begin to abduct children for his Norwegian doctor father that needs to children for some child therapy experiments. At the same time, Cain begins to murder women and try to pin the murders on Jack. As the police draw in closer on Cain, Carter’s wife begins to desperately search for her child.
So, did the plot sound convoluted above? That has been considered the central flaw of the film. Essentially, the film takes a long time before everything makes sense, and even then it feels like a couple of movies got jammed into this one. There is the love story between Jack and Jenny. The story of child abductions. The multiple personality serial killer story. It has so much going on it is just a bit muddled. That said, this collector’s edition has attempted to remedy some of the confusion. DePalma has always talked about how he felt like this movie would have been better if he had edited it the way it was originally written. A loyal fan of the movie, Peet Gelderblom, assembled the footage together in the order that the original script had laid out and DePalma signed off on it for the “Director’s Cut” included on the second disk.
My opinion of the film, to be fair, is that Raising Cain is not on the same level as any of DePalma’s best work, but it has sequences that I enjoyed so much that I still found myself with a stupid grin on my face for the duration of the movie. The final sequence of the film involves a set-piece that I think is as good as any that I have seen. That scene alone was worth the ticket price for me.
On top of that, the acting is campy and enjoyable with John Lithgow chewing the scenery like nobody’s business. The score by Pino Donaggio is excellent. If you go in with low expectations it may become a guilty pleasure for you like it did for me. – This part of the review was written before I watched the Director’s Cut. I sat down the next night and watched the retooled version of the film.
So, it is not a perfect film, even in the reworked version, but all the confusion that the viewer feels in the first version is essentially eliminated. The film comes together in a much more natural fashion and has a more surprising trajectory that does not play its hands of cards so early in the film. I would highly recommend watching this version first if you are interested in the film. Time will only tell, but I can definitely see myself watching this version again in the future.
Video: How’s it look?
The 2K transfer is another strong effort by Shout Factory and the image looks natural and good, retaining most of the grain. Blu-ray makes the movie look particularly great in certain scenes (like the final set-piece) even though the film bears some of the normal visual inadequacies of that time period. The film displays occasional softness, but I believe that is more a product of the time in which it was filmed than in the handling of the transfer. This is another great effort by Shout Factory. Fans will be pleased, and newcomers will enjoy what they see. DePalma is a visual artist and the end set-piece and the long walking shot in the hospital really benefit from the new presentation.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Shout Factory has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds very good. The score from Pino Donnagio is really enjoyable. This may not be the most immersive surround track that you will ever hear, but it absolutely gets the job done. The dialogue is crisp and clear and I did not notice much hiss. This is a solid effort.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Version (1080p; 1:31:31)
- Not One to Hold a Grudge: An Interview with John Lithgow (1080p; 30:00) – an enjoyable interview with one of DePalma’s frequent collaborators and the star of the film. Great information and anecdotes in this piece.
- The Man in My Life: An Interview with Steven Bauer (1080p; 24:00) – an in-depth interview that I thought went a little too long for my taste.
- Have You Talked to the Others?: An Interview with Paul Hirsch (1080p; 10:49) – an interesting interview with the editor, who was brought on to help with some areas where they had issues on the film.
- Three Faces of Henry: An Interview with Gregg Henry (1080p; 15:47) a solid interview with the great character actor.
- The Cat’s in the Bag: An Interview with Tom Bower (1080p; 8:00) – a smaller role gets to remember his time on the film.
- A Little Too Late for That: An Interview with Mel Harris (1080p; 8:43) another very minor role gets a short interview.
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:05)
- Still Gallery (1080p; 2:09)
- Director’s Cut (1080p; 1:31:58)- this is an amazing special feature. Read more below.
- Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored (1080p; 2:25) is a brief profile of the work done by Peet Gelderblom that also shows that DePalma endorsed the new cut and requested it be in lauded by a Shout Factory.
- Raising Cain Re-cut: A Video Essay (480i; 13:02) Gelderblom’s original video essay that he released with his recut version online.
The Bottom Line
Raising Cain is one of DePalma’s most interesting and most flawed films. I think of DePalma as the closest that our generation has to a Hitchcock. This movie would not be his Vertigo but might be his Frenzy. It tries to accomplish too much at one time and makes the viewer feel confused for about a third of the film. That said, the Director’s Cut that changes the chronology of the film actually does improve the film’s comprehensibility and the film overall. Kudos to Shout Factory for making a guilty pleasure more pleasurable and less guilty. I would recommend watching this version over the Theatrical if you want to see the version that was closer to DePalma’s original vision. Both transfers are good looking and sound great. The special features are excellent, with the star of the show being the new cut of the movie.