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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Diabolique (1996)
Diabolique (1996)
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Review by Chris Hughes | posted July 18, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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Features: Widescreen Anamorphic – (1.85:1). Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French. Subtitles: English, Spanish, French. Theatrical trailer. Making of Featurette. Bonus Trailers.

The Movie:
Rumor has it that in the early 1950s Alfred Hitchcock expressed interest in buying the rights to and adapting Pierre Boileau's suspense thriller Diabolique but French director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him to the punch and in the process created one of the most suspenseful and atmospheric films ever made. 1955's Les Diabolique is a classic of the genre that stands on the same level as Hitchcock's greatest work but the similarities don't end there.

Flash forward to the 1990's and you'll find two examples of Hollywood at its worst. The first case is the film under consideration in this review. Diabolique (1996) is a pale remake of the legendary Clouzot masterwork foisted upon us by director Jeremiah S. Chechik (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Benny and Joon, The Avengers.) His version of the film features beautiful cinematography and little else. The acting is as flat as a pancake, the rewritten script boring and the suspense all but completely lacking. The second example is Gus Van Saint's 1998 remake of Psycho and we all know how bad that was.

The plot of Chechik's version of Diabolique is basically the same as the original. Two women are involved with a tyrannical school head master, one his wife and the other his mistress. After enduring his abuse for years the two hatch a plot to kill him and dispose of the body. Subsequent to doing the deadly deed mysterious events begin occurring that seem to indicate that their victim has returned from the grave to haunt his killers. Or is some unknown party blackmailing them? Where Clouzot's film took this premise and flew to new heights, Chechik's falls flat on its face. The 1996 version features Sharon Stone in a performance she seems to have phoned in, Isabelle Adjani putting on her best 'deer in the headlights' face (and little more) and Kathy Bates in a role that nether carries any weight nor drives the plot forward. Even the Randy Edelman (My Cousin Vinny, The Mask) score with its copious Bernard Herrmann references falls flat on its face.

The Picture:
Diabolique is dark in tone and dark on screen as well. In fact, the transfer is so dark that it's almost unwatchable. The contrast is good but the overall brightness is so low that most of the scenes are nothing but a field of deep black with little shadow detail or definition. The film elements are pristine but since you can't pick out the action in all the murk that fact doesn't mean very much. Only in the bright outdoor scenes (there are only a handful) can you see that the color saturation is good and that there are no appreciable digital artifacts.

The Sound:
The sound track is much better than the picture. The Dolby 5.1 mix is very deep and broad. The surrounds offer a pleasant enveloping atmosphere and there's a good deal of front stage panning that enhances the on-screen action (well, it would if you could see it.) On the other hand I found the .1 channel to be over taxed and much too boomy. This thumping low end is more than a little distracting.

The Extras:
You have to hand it to Warner. They have a knack for defying expectations. On the one hand they release movie only versions of their classic titles and on the other they do a passable job of adding extra content to dogs like Diabolique. This disc contains an anamorphic version of the original theatrical trailer, a fairly extensive set of text screens covering the cast and crew and a short publicity featurette replete with clips of the primary actors gushing about how great the film is. In addition you'll find no less than fourteen anamorphic trailers for other Warner releases including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Pacific Heights and True Romance. This isn't a great set of extras but considering the vast number of movie only releases from Warner one has to both make note of them and question their inclusion on this particular disc.

Conclusion:
Well, I guess you've figured out by now how much I loathe this film. To my way of thinking both this movie and Van Saint's Psycho are the kind of trash that should be thrown out and forgotten forever. There may be one or two Sharon Stone completests out there who will want this disc on their collections but all others should avoid it like the plague. Save your money and buy (that's right, don't bother renting first) the original Clouzot version from Criterion. You'll be glad you did.
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