Raising Cain: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (10th October 2016).
The Film

Brian De Palma spent the formative years of his career jumping between genres before finally settling into a groove that would come to define his work: suspense. Specifically, psychological thrillers populated by expert direction, taut drama, and stylish flourishes – split-screen shots, long takes, unique camera angles – that are considered trademarks of his films. After directing “Body Double” (1984) De Palma took a break from making his signature pictures, opting to hop between genres once again with films in comedy (“Wise Guys” (1986)), war (“Casualties of War” (1989)), and crime (“The Untouchables” (1987)). After “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) turned into one of the biggest bombs in his career, De Palma made for safer ground by writing and directing a film back within his wheelhouse, “Raising Cain” (1992). While De Palma said he was worried this could be seen as a step backward, the resulting picture wound up being a decent success – especially when compared to what he had just done prior.

Dr. Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is a celebrated child psychologist who for all of his life has been struggling to suppress a dark secret. Well, secrets – his multiple personalities. His wife, Jenny (Lolita Davidovitch), grows concerned when Carter takes a year off from his practice to spend more time with their daughter, Amy (Amanda Pombo), because it seems like he’s less interested in being a doting father and more concerned with studying her for his own research. Carter’s father, Dr. Nix, was a notable figure in the field of child psychology before he killed himself years ago, leaving Carter to take up the mantle. Jenny’s concerns take a backseat, though, when she runs across Jack (Steven Bauer), an old flame that still holds a spark. Their rekindled friendship immediately blossoms back into love making, with one such encounter taking place in the woods behind a park - a park where Jenny and Carter take their daughter to play; a park where Carter happens to be that very day when he inadvertently stumbles upon the throes of their passion.

Deeply traumatized by his wife’s transgressions, Carter’s personalities begin to take further control over his mind – Cain, a street smart hustler; Josh, a meek little boy; and, Margot, a no-nonsense nanny. Unbeknownst to Jenny, Carter (as Cain) has been killing young mothers, absconding with their children to use in his experiments on child development. After seeing Jack and Jenny together he makes the decision to frame Jack for the murders and to kill Jenny. This plan goes poorly, however, when Jenny survives the attempt on her life and later confronts Carter. She stops short of killing him because Amy is missing, too. Now apprehended, Carter is questioned by Dr. Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen), a former associate of his father who quit abruptly after learning of Dr. Nix’s unorthodox methods for research. She deduces that Carter doesn’t know anything about the child abductions but another of his personalities might, and she has to get them to spill the crucial information if any of the kids are to be found alive.

De Palma digs back into his old bag of tricks here, stylizing this haphazard tale with artistic flourishes and signature moves that distract from the sometimes messy screenplay. In some ways it feels like De Palma is relying on his tried-and-true techniques to obscure what is clearly a convoluted plot marred by strained credibility and unclear motives. In a lesser director’s hand, this film could have been absolute dog sh*t. It is because De Palma is such a showman, capable of feats others only attempt to imitate, that he is able to remind viewers what made them fall in love with his style seen in earlier pictures. This is not to suggest that “Raising Cain” ranks among the director’s worst films; on the contrary, given the inconsistency of his filmography beginning in the late 80's and extending up through present day, this is a reasonably strong effort that works well because of his directorial style and ability to coax strong performances out of his actors.

Casting is typically rock solid in De Palma’s features, a trait that continues with “Raising Cain”. While it’s great to see some of his early stalwarts like Steven Bauer or Gregg Henry nab choice roles, the real standout here is John Lithgow, who is asked to play no less than five characters. Lithgow shows an incredible range, bringing each facet of Carter’s personality to distinct life. As Carter, he’s manic and harmless. As Cain, he’s devious and cunning. As Josh, he’s naïve and scared. As Margot, he’s controlling and cool. Lithgow doesn’t just act these roles out in pieces throughout the film, either. The showcase scene is the interrogation, when Carter rapidly shifts between all of his multiples under questioning. Impressive stuff. The only thing that isn’t impressive: Lithgow’s ability to do an accent. As Dr. Nix, he’s supposed to be Norwegian but his thick accent sounds more like a variation of his Dr. Lizardo from “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984).

Receiving a hi-def release isn’t the only first for “Raising Cain” thanks to Scream Factory. This disc was delayed for a few months after being announced – and for good reason: Dutch artist and writer Peet Gelderblom assembled his own version of the film years ago, using De Palma’s original script and a DVD copy of the feature to more closely approximate De Palma’s original intentions. When his fan edit was eventually seen by De Palma he agreed that Gelderblom’s cut more closely resembled what he sought to achieve. And so, a director’s cut (of sorts) was born. That cut has also been included here, on a second disc, featuring a rearrangement of scenes, an additional establishing shot and some other minor tweaks. Scream Factory’s willingness to hold off on their street date in order to provide a more comprehensive package is commendable, as is De Palma’s willingness to essentially label a fan edit as his new official cut of the movie.

There are plenty of messy moments and the plotting often gets lost within itself – don’t even get me going on the dreams-within-dreams – but “Raising Cain” manages to work despite these inconsistencies. De Palma’s sense of direction and visual flair elevates this material considerably, giving the legendary film veteran’s filmography just enough of a jolt when it was needed most.

Video

Transfers provided by Universal are always a crapshoot, and since Scream Factory’s press release made no mention of a new scan from the master I was a little nervous. Thankfully, the 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is nicely done and far from a nightmare. The print is very clean, with virtually no dirt or damage to be seen. Film grain looks cinematic though it does spike a bit when opticals are involved. Colors lack vibrancy but look very natural overall. The film’s palette is slightly drab and mostly accurate, save for a few sequences purposefully graded to different shades. Shadow detail is weak but hardly a major issue. It would appear both cuts were sourced from the exact same master, meaning there is no noticeable quality difference between the two. De Palma pumps some scenes with a smoky atmosphere, leading to a slight decrease in definition and overall clarity.

Audio

Scream Factory has provided an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 5.1 surround sound (48Khz/24-bit) and 2.0 stereo. Unsurprisingly, the multi-channel track wins out with a greater sense of immersion. Dialogue is very clear and almost overbearing at times, mostly the ADR lines. Pino Donaggio’s score perfectly complements the film, punctuating tense moments at the precise time. Rears are mainly used to fill out the score cues, though a few bigger moments – like a thunderstorm – sound very full. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

In addition to including the best bonus of all – a new, second cut of the film – Scream Factory has also packed this release with tons of interviews, promotional materials, and more.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY - "Theatrical Cut"

This disc includes the "Theatrical Cut" version of the film, along with the following supplements:

“Not One to Hold a Grudge – An Interview with John Lithgow” (1080p) featurette runs for 30 minutes. The veteran actor provides great, vivid recollections of his work on this film. He’s typically jovial, recounting how much he loved working with De Palma while giving some good insight into his character.

“The Man in My Life – An Interview with Steven Bauer” (1080p) featurette runs for 24 minutes. This sit-down is a little less focused than Lithgow’s but Bauer still has a fun time remembering his work here.

“Have You Talked to the Others? – An Interview with Paul Hirsch” (1080p) featurette runs for 10 minutes and 49 seconds. The films’ editor discusses cutting together the picture.

“Three Faces of Cain – An Interview with Gregg Henry” (1080p) featurette runs for 15 minutes and 47 seconds. Like many of the other actors before him, Henry talks about his first meeting with De Palma and their short string of pictures done together.

“The Cat’s in the Bag – An Interview with Tom Bower” (1080p) featurette runs for 8 minutes. They’re really getting everyone for this disc, aren’t they? Bower jogs his memory and comes up with a few fun memories.

“A Little Too Late for That – An Interview with Mel Harris” (1080p) featurette runs for 8 minutes and 43 seconds. Another minor character takes a trip down memory lane.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

There is also a still gallery (1080p) containing 26 images that runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds.

DISC TWO: BLU-RAY - "Director’s Cut"

This disc includes the "Director's Cut" version of the film, along with the following supplements:

“Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 2 minutes and 25 seconds. This is an all-too brief piece on Gelderblom, the man behind the film’s new version.

“Raising Cain Re-cut: A Video Essay” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 13 minutes and 2 seconds. Gelderblom explains the differences between the two cuts of the film.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible, showing either the new artwork of the original theatrical poster. A slip-cover featuring the new art is included on first pressings.

Overall

“Raising Cain” doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of De Palma’s earlier successes but for a director of his caliber, this late in the game? Even if this wasn’t a hit with the critics – and it wasn’t – fans of his work are sure to be satisfied with the twists and turns through another suspense romp.

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: B

 


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