While Shout Factory has done outstanding work in the past to deliver quality releases of often overlooked classics, there’s something different and exciting about their latest. Raising Cain has often been regarded by its writer/director as a compromised vision. Dissatisfied with its structure, he reordered the film just prior to theatrical release, giving it a more chronological and logical narrative, but sacrificing some of the tone and mystery. After a “fan-edit” caught the director’s eye online, it was approved and after legal wrangling included in this new Blu-ray.
John Lithgow plays Dr. Carter Nix, a doting husband and father. His wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) finds him a considerate and gentle man, but their relationship lacks excitement, while his interest in their daughter Amy verges on obsession. After reconnecting with an old flame, Jenny begins an affair, and when Carter discovers her indiscretions it further deepens a psychological break in Carter, his emerging personalities leading to erratic behavior, child abduction, and even murder. As the police investigate, they begin to uncover evidence connecting Carter’s actions toward his father, a renowned child psychologist whose own work during Carter’s childhood could well be responsible for his current mental state and actions.
“He didn’t just leave…he split” is a tagline of utter brilliance and one that clearly you can build a movie around. De Palma’s film is a quirky thriller that flirts with melodramatic soap opera and veers into psychological horror. A Hitchcockian influence, notably Psycho, is apparent, as are shades of Dario Argento’s Tenebre. Dreams and flashbacks woven throughout give it Lynchian elements, nightmarish sequences as a man’s psyche tears itself apart. It’s a curious thriller, one really devoid of mystery. Despite schemes, switch-ups, and disguises, there is no real effort or success in misleading the viewer. It’s like Columbo in a way: you know who did it, but there is a artistry and intrigue in the way the film is constructed and filmed that is so admirable you become engrossed. It’s this technical aspect that makes is so distinctly a De Palma film.
Lithgow basically has an actor’s dream role here, veering from restraint to excess and never skipping a beat. He embodies a childhood of trauma in his multitude of performances, ranging from a sociopathic murderer to a nurturing mother. Fractured elements of one man are brought to life after the deranged experiments of Nix Sr. during Carter’s childhood. The whole film is built up around the roles and influences of parents, notably fatherhood. It feels even therapeutic in parts; people more familiar than I with the personal life of De Palma may be privy to explanations for many of the themes and moments in the film, but they remain fascinating even without the added context.
THE PACKAGEThe Blu-ray transfer is of great quality. Good detail and contrast, but maintaining the grain inherent to an older title, something that enhances the “feel” of the film. No artifacts are noticeable. The release includes two discs, each containing one version of the film and associated special features.
Disc 1 is the theatrical cut of the film. Special features include the original trailer and a host of new interviews with numerous cast members including John Lithgow, Steven Bauer, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, Mel Harris, and editor Paul Hirsch. A nice series of reflections and insights on filming the movie.
Disc 2 is the Director’s Edition of the film, which is likely of most significance to many purchasing this release. This version stems from Dutch filmmaker Peet Gelderblom who, after noting De Palma’s “issues” with the theatrical version of his film, recut the picture to better reflect the director’s uncompromised intent. No scenes were removed, no cut footage added, just a reordering based on the original script. After De Palma saw the version online, he reached out to offer compliments on the effort, and subsequently Shout Factory were brought in to incorporate the reworked version with their upcoming release. For a far more in depth look at the circumstances behind, and changes in, this “Director’s Cut,” check out this article. This version moves away from the more chronological approach, which unsurprisingly adds a layer of intrigue. It requires a little more effort to follow but pays off in terms of plot and pacing. Personally, I think it is a improvement over the theatrical version. In addition to this new version of the film, there are two featurettes, Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored and Raising Cain Re-Cut – A Video Essay By Peet Gelderblom. Both provide plenty of information into the reasoning and process of re-cutting the film. It’s rare for a director’s cut to be so comprehensive in a theatrical release and Shout Factory cover all bases in bringing this version to home video.
THE BOTTOM LINEShout Factory has outdone themselves with this release, satisfying both director and fans alike in recognizing a desire to see this “recut” version of Raising Cain hit the market and delivering it. With both versions of the film and a wealth of extras, it’s a fine release. The film may not rank as De Palma’s most accomplished piece, but it is a great example of his approach to filmmaking and gleefully entertaining throughout.
Raising Cain The Director’s Cut is released on September 13 and is available from Shout Factory.