Castor’s Underrated Gems: Raising Cain (1992)

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This review is based on the newly assembled director’s cut of Brian DePalma’s black sheep Raising Cain. In full disclosure, I haven’t completely seen the studio-tampered theatrical cut so my only opinion is predicated on this version. In symmetry with DePalma’s clockwork handling of psychosexual sleaze, married couple Carter (John Lithgow) and Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) are wandering through a timepiece store when she is ambushed by her ex-boyfriend Jack Dante (a smoldering Steven Bauer).

Apparently, Universal Pictures objected to the frontloaded focus on Davidovich over Lithgow and they bastardized it with a jigsaw structure. In this rendition, we sympathize with Lithgow because of his cuckolded relegation to being a babysitter while Jenny is conducting an extramarital affair behind his back. Pino Donaggio’s score is less like Bernard Hermann and more like a cherubic lullaby.

Told from Jenny’s point-of-view, the film is a twisted parody of Fatal Attraction liaisons (with moaning dream sequences and soft-core moonlight lighting) as evinced in a luridly campy scene where Jenny is blithely kissing Jack in his dying wife’s hospital room as the New Year’s ball drops.

DePalma is the mischievous Loki in this by flippantly juxtaposing several nightmares next to each other to point where the reality fades into foggy oblivion. Once Carter smothers Jenny with a pillow, the film retracts back to a Rashomon retelling of the past few days from his askew perspective after he has murdered a mother for her child to be an experimental patient.

This is where the diabolical side of Lithgow truly bleeds through. Carter is a sufferer of multiple personality disorder and therefore, Lithgow embarks on the jaunty task of playing Carter, his chain-smoking twin brother, Cain (“The cat’s in the bag. And the bag is in the river.”) and his sinister, Jungian father. The playground atmosphere is infectious as he chats back and forth in winking Dutch angles.

Along with the scalene angles, DePalma embellishes the cinematography with oversized furniture and wide-angle lens for a funhouse-mirror effect such as the infernal motel confrontation between Carter Nix Sr. and Cain. Although it was maligned upon its 1992 release for general choppiness, this latest rendering of Raising Cain is DePalma’s last tongue-in-cheek guilty pleasure with Hitchcockian satire (a car drowning is eerily reminiscent of 1960’s Psycho) and an unbridled, self-aware performance from Lithgow in specious hairpieces.

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