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Raising Cain (1992)

Days of De Palma (Part 11): Raising Cain (1992)

Slowly but surely, my journey through the films of Brian De Palma continues!  (If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you’ll find links to all the other Brian De Palma films I have watched!)

Sandwiched in between two high-profile Brian De Palma films that I had never before seen, The Bonfire of the Vanities and Carlito’s Way, was this film that I had never heard of.  A horror film directed by De Palma and starring John Lithgow?  I was intrigued!

At the start of Raising Cain we meet Dr. Carter Nix (John Lithgow), who is at a playground with his daughter, Amy.  When his wife, Jenny (Lolita Davodovich) is late to pick them up, Carter and Amy accept a ride home from another mom at the playground.  On the ride home, when the mom laughs at one of Carter’s suggestions regarding child-rearing, Carter loses control and murders her!  Yikes, this film doesn’t take long before taking a sharp turn into weirdness.  Things get far nuttier from there.  Carter’s wife, Jenny, begins to suspect something is amiss with him and, meanwhile, resumes an affair with a hunky former patient, Jack (Steven Bauer).  This turns her into a target for Carter, who we (and Jenny) discover has been twisted by the psychological experiments of his father into a creature with multiple personalities, many of them violent and disturbed.

There’s a core of a good idea for a horror film at the heart of that story, but I found Raising Cain to be pretty terrible.  It’s stunning to me how Brian De Palma seems to bounce from crafting truly excellent, masterful films (Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables) to such horrendous, amateurish misfires (Wise Guys, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and now this).  It’s fascinating!  I am not sure I have an explanation for this inconsistency in Mr. De Palma’s work.  I will say that I think he is much better off directing scripts written by other, stronger writers.  Mr. De Palma wrote the script for Raising Cain himself, and I think that is part of the problem with this film.

There is not much that I found to be good in Raising Cain.  The story is mostly laughable, rather than scary.  John Lithgow is a great actor, but he is entirely stranded by the script and direction.  His portrayal of Carter’s multiple personalities didn’t work for me at all.  I found it all to be incredibly silly as Mr. Lithgow would adopt different accents and costumes to portray the different sides of Carter’s broken mind.  Again, I can see this working in theory, but the execution fails.  It’s surprising, because John Lithgow is … [continued]