Raising Cain: Collector’s Edition
DirectorBrian De Palma
Release Date(s)1992 (September 13, 2016)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
The following may contain spoilers.
Time is a luxury that good filmmakers have when some of their various works are lost or overlooked when they’re originally released. This seems to be what happened with Brian De Palma’s 1992 psychological thriller Raising Cain. Even though the movie did about three times its budget at the box office, it received a mostly mixed reception from critics and audiences, with others downright hating it. The people who appreciated it, or even loved it, were few and far between, but thanks to time, that particular number of people has grown. Not in large numbers, per se, but film fans, especially De Palma fans, have shed a more favorable light on it since its original release.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the film, here is a quick rundown of the plot. After discovering that his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) has had an affair with an old flame named Jack (Steve Bauer), Dr. Carter Nix (John Lithgow) begins having a mental breakdown. He suddenly starts exhibiting multiple personalities from his dark past, carrying out sinister plans with Jenny and Jack caught in the middle of it all. As it turns out, some of these plot elements ultimately didn’t really have much to do with each other, and they don’t really act as the main catalyst for the events that play out, specifically the affair. The way the film begins, which follows Dr. Nix before the affair happens, makes Jenny seem like less of a character and the focus is shifted so strongly to Dr. Nix’s point of view. Because of this, her character is less interesting and you think less of her in the story as a whole. Problems such as these were attributed to much of Raising Cain’s flaws and why so many people were turned off or didn’t care much for it upon release.
Eventually, the word spread that there was a reason for this backlash, which was the fact that the film wasn’t the exact version that De Palma had originally envisioned once he sat down to cut it together, using at least three different editors in the process, including the great Paul Hirsch. After reviewing his original cut of the movie, De Palma began to get cold feet about its structure and decided to rearrange scenes in a different order, fearing that audiences wouldn’t be able to follow along with the story and its characters in the way that he had intended. He has long since regretted that decision, especially after the lukewarm reception. Thankfully, all is not lost though, as there is an alternative.
In 2012, a filmmaker from the Netherlands named Peet Gelderblom, who was an enormous fan of De Palma and Raising Cain, took it upon himself to re-edit the film, using nothing more than over the counter software and a DVD copy of the movie. It was posted to Indiewire, along with a video essay about the project, and was met with much approval. The most surprising aspect for Gelderblom though was the fact that De Palma himself actually watched this re-edited version and was pleased with the results, going so far as to say that it was closer to what he had originally envisioned. Thanks to Shout! Factory and De Palma’s insistence, that version of the film has been included in this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.
With this new Director’s Cut, Jenny’s scenes with her in the clock shop and eventually having the affair with Steve now open the film, giving her character some meaning and allowing us to understand and relate to her through her eyes, much more than we did originally before the Carter/Cain situation kicks in. Others fixes in this regard include the scene of Cain attempting to sleep with Carter’s wife. In the context of the Theatrical Cut, it has no real meaning because we, as an audience, haven’t been attuned to much of what’s going on in the story yet and we aren’t prepared to feel any particular way about it. It feels like something that would happen later in a movie, which in this version, it does. With the reordering of the scenes, it gives this particular moment more meaning for Jenny’s character and more menace for Cain. Despite the improvements, the new Director’s Cut does leave one flaw from shifting these events around. Since the film’s two major sequences, the affair of Jenny and the reveal of Cain, have been reversed, Jenny referring to events that occur in the scene with Cain hasn’t happened in this new ordering of the scenes, leaving a bit of a lapse. One could argue that those events likely happened more than once between the two of them, but that’s a bit of a stretch. It’s not a major flaw, but it definitely stood out on the first viewing.
I think it’s safe to say by now that Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain is a bit of a misunderstood and underappreciated film in his filmography. There’s so much about the film that’s inherently him, carrying many of his trademarks, including references to Hitchcock which he is very well known for. Aspects of the script and some of the performances may leave a little to be desired, but it’s a gem of a film if you give it a another chance, especially with the new Director’s Cut. It makes it a much, much better film, as well as a different experience. To be completely honest, I no longer have any interest in watching the Theatrical Cut because the Director’s Cut is so much better. But no matter which version you choose, it’s a film well-worth your time and possibly one of the more interesting films De Palma has ever made.
For the film’s Blu-ray release, Scream Factory appears to have used the same elements to present both the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut. Both presentations feature minor grain variations, but they appear to be from the same source. In both versions, the grain levels are a bit uneven, sometimes even a bit chunky, with some softness appearing between shots. Fine detail is still very good in certain scenes, particularly in close-ups, and the overall appearance is very organic. Colors are quite strong without being overly popping, while skin tones are excellent. Black levels are fairly deep, although shadow detail suffers a bit, but brightness and contrast levels are very good. It’s a very clean and clear transfer as well, with no signs of digital enhancement. There are some minor film artifacts leftover, mainly speckling, and the opening titles are a little unstable, but the rest of the movie is fine. For both versions, English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD audio tracks are available. Again, they’re so similar that they’re likely from the same source. The 5.1 track is not all that aggressive as it’s essentially a very centered presentation, nor is there much in terms of directionality. There is some occasional ambience and rear speaker activity from time to time, as well strong output from Pino Donaggio’s beautiful score. Dialogue is always very clear and precise, while sound effects are better than average. The 2.0 track is probably more attuned to the presentation overall, as it’s not a film that requires a lot of surround sound activity, but the choice is yours. Both are fine tracks. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the extras selection, there’s a nice little bounty of interviews and other material to sort through. Unfortunately, none of it is with the director himself, but he’s well-spoken for. On the first disc, which contains the original Theatrical Cut, there are six separate interviews (Not One to Hold a Grudge: An Interview with John Lithgow, The Man in My Life: An Interview with Steven Bauer, Have You Talked to the Others?: An Interview with Paul Hirsch, Three Faces of Cain: An Interview with Gregg Henry, The Cat’s in the Bag: An Interview with Tom Bower, and A Little Too Late for That: An Interview with Mel Harris); the original theatrical trailer; and a still gallery. On the second disc, which contains the Director’s Cut, there’s a brief interview with the aforementioned Peet Gelderblom entitled Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored, as well as Raising Cain Re-Cut: A Video Essay by Gelderblom himself. Unfortunately, deleted scenes were unable to be unearthed, but the extra material that has been provided is excellent nonetheless.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release of Raising Cain is a more than welcome upgrade from the previous bare bones DVD from Universal, which, other than Laserdisc, was the only way to see the movie. A high definition upgrade was sorely needed, and now with the second cut of the movie, as well as the bounty of extras, genre fans are bound to embrace it, and De Palma fans are bound to rediscover it in a new light.
- Tim Salmons