It's hard to think of a director with more divisive films under their belt than Brian De Palma, and Raising Cain (1992) is just one of them. A return to his horror/suspense roots after the box office flop Bonfire of the Vanities, Raising Cain offers no shortage of shocking twists, sleazy characters, jump scares, nesting dream sequences, and the visual flair of a director almost 25 years into a career that's still chugging along. (I'd say "still going strong", but De Palma's last film to turn a substantial profit and please the critics was released over 20 years ago.) Although Raising Cain eventually took in more than triple its modest budget and received decent reviews, it's rarely mentioned alongside more enduring efforts like Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables, or even Carlito's Way.
Part of the reason for this is because, structurally, Raising Cain is kind of a mess. Not that it shouldn't be, of course: it stars John Lithgow in five separate roles, four of which are multiple personalities stemming from his main identity as "Dr. Carter Nix", an increasingly obsessive child psychologist whose marriage to Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) is slowly breaking apart. She's got her own issues, too: after* a chance encounter with ex-flame Jack Dante (Steven Bauer) leads to an affair---incidentally, they first hooked up while Jack's late wife lay dying ten feet away in a cancer ward, because Raising Cain is that kind of movie---all hell breaks loose, and whatever sense of sanity Carter had left goes right out the window. Running alongside this domestic drama is a subplot involving kidnapped children...which may or may not be at the hands of Nix's father, who supposedly committed suicide and, years earlier, co-wrote a psychology text with Dr. Lynn Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen). Without venturing any further down the rabbit hole---for fear of spoiling the plot and driving myself batty---let's just say that Raising Cain has a full plate.
* Carter was psychotic well before the affair, but details like this are ambiguous due to the film's unusual structure. Originally envisioned as a Psycho bait-and-switch placing Jenny's romantic odyssey up front before going completely over the falls, poor test screenings and interference led to De Palma rearranging the film in more of a chronological order. Raising Cain is still a riddle wrapped inside a mystery during several stretches (not the least of which are those pesky stand-alone and nesting dream sequences along the way), with the end result being a twisted, occasionally frustrating tale that forces viewers to pay attention and hopefully not get lost during the ride.
In 2012, Dutch artist and writer Peet Gelderblom assembled what's now called the "Director's Cut" of Raising Cain: as a long-time De Palma enthusiast with the hardware and creative capabilities, he used the original script and a DVD to reorder a handful of scenes as the director originally intended. De Palma was never a part of the process (hence the quotation marks), although he eventually watched and approved of Gelderblom's efforts; even more, the director lobbied for its inclusion in Shout Factory's new Collector's Edition Blu-ray of Raising Cain (albeit in full 1080p resolution with lossless audio, using a new and improved transfer). The result is even more confusing at times: the trade-off for Jenny's story being placed up front is that her affair takes place before we see any obvious signs of Carter's insanity. This subverts our expectations even further...but it's more bewildering than logical once we untwist the pretzel, even within Raising Cain's gnarled boundaries. Other layers have shifted and a few scenes are now blended with different transitions, but the second half of the film runs essentially the same in both versions.
Die-hard fans may see this "Director's Cut" as an improvement or, at the very least, a new interpretation of something they've seen dozens of times before. I wasn't as impressed with the changes...but since both versions are included here on separate discs, who can complain either way? Combined with a fresh A/V presentation and a handful of other brand new extras, this is a exemplary treatment of a catalog title that's an exception to the rule these days.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Raising Cain is obviously a marked improvement over Universal's non-anamorphic 1998 DVD. Image detail and textures are quite good---keeping in mind that its slightly glossy and soft appearance falls perfectly in line with De Palma's other films from the era---with excellent color reproduction and very little dirt and debris along the way. Natural grain is evident from start to finish, with no signs of excessive noise reduction or other digital manipulation (edge enhancement) or encoding issues. It's also worth noting that both versions of the film---Disc 1's theatrical cut and Disc 2's "Director's Cut"---use identical source material, so the latter is anything but a rough-looking workprint edition of the film. This is a great presentation on all counts...and though Arrow's forthcoming Region B Blu-ray advertises a "brand new 2K restoration from original film materials" (Shout's packaging is vague), this looks quite strong and fans should be pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional stills and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Both audio options (a tasteful English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and the original 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix) sound as good as expected. Dialogue is clear from start to finish, while channel separation is quite noticeable at times and the terrific score by Pino Donaggio (a long-time contributor to De Palma's films) is very strong and often spills into the rear channels. Purists might favor the two-channel mix, yet I think Raising Cain's loopy atmosphere almost demands the extra four. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface is presented in Shout's typical no-frills style and features smooth, simple navigation and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. Separate options are provided for chapter selection, subtitle setup, and additional bonus features on both discs. This release is packaged in a dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive reversible cover designs featuring new and vintage artwork promoting the film, plus a matching slipcover to boot.
Bonus Features Disc 1
serves up several traditional extras, leading off with six new Interviews
featuring key cast and crew members. John Lithgow (30 minutes) speaks at length about his work with De Palma and his experiences on-set; Steven Bauer (24 minutes) discusses his limited instructions from the director - "Be handsome and make women fall in love with you!"
; and editor Paul Hirsch (11 minutes) briefly talks about his career and admittedly confusing introduction to the film's script. The other three feature much smaller supporting characters, but they're no less interesting: Gregg Henry (16 minutes) discusses playing "Lieutenant Terri" and filling in for Lithgow's multiple personalities; Tom Bower (8 minutes) talks about his role as "Sergeant Cully" and the film's reception; while Mel Harris (9 minutes) reminisces playing "Sarah" (Jenny's friend) and her transition from Thirtysomething
to the big screen.
Also included on the first disc are two smaller nuggets: the film's spoiler-heavy Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes) and a decent Still Gallery featuring just over two dozen stills, head shots, international posters, and more.
Disc 2, of course, contains the previously mentioned "Director's Cut" of the film (92 minutes) with a handful of scenes reordered as originally intended according to De Palma's script. Also included is an introduction from Peet Gelderblom titled "Changing Cain: De Palma's Cult Classic Restored" (2 minutes) and a Video Essay (13 minutes) by the artist and writer, which is apparently a longer version of one originally created in 2012. Unlike "the finished product" on this same disc, it includes letterboxed clips from the director's cut in 480p resolution. I'd have much preferred an audio commentary, and the lack of participation by De Palma and Lolita Davidovich is disappointing...but given the last-minute inclusion of this second disc, there's still a great deal for fans to be happy about.
24 years after its theatrical release, Brian De Palma's Raising Cain is still pretty much a mess...but it's an entertaining mess with enjoyable performances, no shortage of twists and turns, a terrific score, and the director's specific brand of style and visual artistry on display at every turn. I'd imagine only die-hard fans of De Palma will remember this one vividly, but it's the kind of film that makes an immediate impression with a handful of scenes that will linger in the back of your imagination for days afterward. Gleefully subversive and extremely shocking at times, Raising Cain's main drawbacks are a lack of likable characters and a few too many dips into the "jump scare" well. But for those who enjoy the ride from start to finish, Shout Factory's new Blu-ray package might be "release of the year" material: featuring a terrific A/V presentation and plenty of brand new bonus features (including an HD-sourced "Director's Cut" first created in 2012 and approved by De Palma), it's obvious that this two-disc Collector's Edition was created with fans in mind. Highly Recommended, but new fans may want to rent this one first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.