Raising Cain

Like the character John Lithgow plays, this movie is fucking nuts. From the very beginning, you don’t know where RAISING CAIN is going, or why, or how. Maybe it’s headed in a straight path, maybe it’s about to spin out on the side of the road, toss you out the window and back over you a couple times, then take off laughing. Or maybe it will go right to your house and drop you off just like you asked, but later you’ll think you hear it jerking off outside your window. You’ll take a deep breathe and you’ll toss open the curtains but it will turn out RAISING CAIN is not there, instead there’s some guy you’ve never seen before riding a unicycle, sporting a beard made of bees. Anything could happen. You don’t really know.

Earlier in his career, Brian DePalma did a lot of “Hitchcockian thrillers.” Yeah there were surprises and plot twists, and little tricks that he played on you, trying to get you to attach your sympathy to one character only to later find yourself lost and not knowing which one to follow. But it must not have been until RAISING CAIN that he decided to take that into overdrive. Take all the techniques and structures of your standard formulas, chop them all up and tape them back together William S. Burroughs style. Now there is no rhyme or reason to it and you get all confused and surprised and god damn if this isn’t a great movie.

Raising CainI mean this is a movie that really fucks with the audience. It’s a kamikaze thriller. It is willing to be ludicrous just to get a reaction out of you. Just to see the look on your face. In the opening scene, John Lithgow is getting a ride somewhere from a lady friend, and there’s two little kids asleep in the backseat. And Lithgow is saying how his father has this facility in Europe or somewhere and they are looking for gifted children to live there and be studied so that they can figure out how a child’s personality is formed. The lady laughs in disbelief that this nut is trying to convince her to give up her child for scientific research, and Lithgow gets all upset trying to explain how important it is to science.

So you’re thinking okay, this is one of these overeager scientist movies, the guy is a little too dedicated to his research, something is gonna push him over the edge and later in the movie he’s gonna kidnap this kid and in his mind it will be justified but, you know, etc. etc.

What you’re not thinking is that right now in the middle of this conversation Lithgow is gonna suddenly sneeze a big load of poison into the woman’s face, chloroform her and then pretend to be making out with her to avoid the suspicion of joggers. And even if you did suspect that (you fuckin sicko pervert) you probaly didn’t guess that another John Lithgow, one that smokes cigarettes and thinks he’s a tough guy, would be the one to suddenly appear at the window to suggest the make-out maneuver, point out flaws in the other Lithgow’s plan and offer to take care of the killing and disposal of the woman himself.

So it’s like 2 minutes into the movie and you’re already being tossed around but DePalma goes the extra mile, he has this Evil John Lithgow character, the Cain of the title, make some comment about them being twins. Just to fuck with you. Just to make you think wait a minute, does DePalma seriously expect me to believe that these are twins? Am I supposed to drop my drink later on when they reveal that they are actually split personalities? But a scene like that never comes. Of course you knew it. And he knew you knew it. But he didn’t want you to know if he knew you knew it or not, just to make you squirm.

So the regular John Lithgow goes home, parks in the garage, leaves one kid in the backseat and brings the other one inside. His wife is laying in bed looking sexy and they have a conversation and you realize wait a minute, this nutball has a wife? And one of those was his kid? This guy passes for a regular family man but he has an imaginary evil twin brother and he has a dead woman in his trunk and a kidnapped kid locked in the backseat and he goes around sneezing in people’s faces and shit. This is fucked up.

He gets turned on seeing his wife laying there and starts to get it on with her, but his daughter wakes up and starts crying. He says he’ll take care of it so he pulls his pants up, then instead of doing what he said he would, he goes out to the car and drives off with the kidnapped kid.

Next day the family goes in town together and the wife happens to bump into her ex-lover. Next thing you know she’s reviving her old affair and the movie shifts to being completely about her. How she sneaks out to her lover’s hotel room. And bad things keep happening but then she keeps waking up and discovering its a dream. (Oh we’re gonna go there are we DePalma? You tricky bastard.) The dreams start to blur the lines between reality and not reality so she’s not really sure, did she really accidentally switch her husband and her lover’s Valentine’s Day gifts or was that a dream? And you really start to side with this gal because her husband is a fruitcake kidnapper and murderer so what’s the big deal if she cheats on him. But then you find out that she was a nurse who was treating her lover’s wife for terminal cancer and the poor gal died when she happened to wake up and see the nurse kissing her husband on New Year’s Eve. Well, it’s a long story I guess. And then all the sudden Lithgow smothers her with a pillow.

Before you know it he’s apparently killed Gabrielle Carteris in a public restroom and a little boy comes out and tells him in an obviously dubbed adult voice, “I know what you’re going to do and it’s bad and I’m telling!” I couldn’t fucking believe it. I haven’t seen anything so freaky since that movie BURIAL GROUND where they have a grown man named Peter Bark playing a little kid and sucking on his mom’s tit.

One thing I like about DePalma, he’s willing to introduce you to a whole new set of characters when you’re already halfway through the movie. It’s a long story but soon after the pillow smothering, Lithgow has managed to frame his wife’s lover for all his murders and kidnapping including the disappearance of his wife. So now we’re in the police headquarters and all the sudden the main characters are the cops investigating the case, including Gregg Henry (Mal from PAYBACK) and his partner and some retired old guy that still hangs around and tells a crazy story about 20 years ago and Lithgow’s father who looked EXACTLY like him. And that guy brings in an old lady psychiatrist who used to be Lithgow’s father’s partner and who we heard earlier had cancer and complains now about her wig and you have to just smile because you know that’s gonna be important.

I won’t give away anything else. Well, maybe one thing. Earlier in the movie, when the wife kept having dreams, one of them she was driving and talking on a cell phone about how she was going to lie to cover up that she spent the night with her lover. And all the sudden some bicyclists are in the road and she swerves and crashes into a statue of a knight, whose lance goes right through the windshield and impales her. Much later, during the classic DePalmian climax, where various factors are set up so that you can watch them slowly march toward each other until they inevitably intersect and cause horrible things to happen, there are these guys moving a pickup truck full of junk with part of a sundial pointing out the back. And one of the guy says, “You’re gonna kill somebody with that sun dial!”

And what’s so great is, they ALMOST kill somebody with the sundial, but ultimately they DON’T. Because DePalma was just fucking with you. He got you thinking about impalement in a meaningless dream sequence at least an hour earlier in the movie, just so you would expect somebody to get impaled on the sundial. And then nobody would get impaled on the sundial. And that’s why it’s so great.

Of course, DePalma is widely known for ripping off Hitchcock. Here there are obvious nods to Psycho but more than that to Peeping Tom (by Michael Powell, who is not Hitchcock). And the most obvious lift is actually a scene from Dressed to Kill, by Brian DePalma.

When I saw Femme Fatale I hadn’t seen this one, so I had no idea that DePalma had already set a precedent for such a berserk thriller. I think that one’s even better, and probaly a little more palatable to mainstream audiences. But this one’s a keeper too. Good job DePalma. Way to fuck with us.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 25th, 2004 at 7:01 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “Raising Cain”

  1. I heard a great story about this from some journalist friends. Apparently back at the press junket for this in 1992, the screening induced laughter from all the press. Quick thinking, the studio put together some press notes to hand out before the interviews the next day, describing the film as a dark comedy.

    When De Palma came in to do his interviews, the reporters asked him about making a dark comedy and he was furious. That was not what he thought he made and he didn’t even know the studio made that line up!

  2. I have to think De Palma knew. I mean there is an obvious playful tone. Tarantino said he thought it was De Palma bored with thrillers, so he made one but subverted the form. The dramatic push in to the newly awake wife in the hospital. Steadi-cam scene breaking the fourth wall. The sundial scene. I do think he was shell-shocked from the Bonfire episode but I think he’s always aware of what he’s doing. I could be wrong.

  3. Thanks for the insightful article

  4. Watched this movie earlier today for the first time and it was an instant love affair. Especially the reveal at the end of the long tracking shot was one of the greatest things I’ve seen in a while.

    Let’s be honest, the only reason why John Lithgow is an acclaimed character actor, but Nic Cage is a punchline*, must be the internet. If most of Lithgow’s craziest movies had come out in the age of YouTube snarkers and Reddit memes, people would laugh at him too. I’m glad they don’t. He is one of the greatest mega actors in history. Maybe even THE greatest (sorry, Nic), mostly because he can use his mega powers to creep us out and make us laugh tears.

    *(For the rest of the world, not the cool people here, who appreciate his acting style for non-ironic reasons)

  5. You are actually comparing Cage to John Lithgow? That makes no sense.

  6. Well, Cage obviously brings more personal ticks and touches to his roles, but you can’t deny that Lithgow often seems like a guy, who is completely unable of any form of subtlety (Althought he is, just like Cage) and that’s what makes him awesome. They both have different styles of mega acting, but they go MEGA mega. Personally I think the comparison is justified. (Especially in the context of “Snarky internet assholes would hate him too if they were around in the 80s or early 90s and wouldn’T love him from 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN.)

  7. John Lithgow always seem to convey a character, whereas Cage always conveys Cage. I think that is the difference. You almost always are aware that you are watching Nicolas Cage when he is in it.

  8. Just saw this for the first time myself yesterday. Really liked but I watched that Director’s Cut on the new release from Shout! Factory. Should I watch the (somewhat) infamous theatrical cut?

    I’ve always loved John Lithgow. One of those great reliable actors who always seems to give his all. Since he’s not a big actor, news site don’t report every movie he’s going to appear in so I always get that pleasant surprise when he randomly pops up in a movie I’m watching.

  9. There’s a directors cut? I’m ordering that Shout edition right the fuck now.

  10. John Lithgow is the man. He’s such a unique and memorable screen presence that he pretty much commands any scene he’s in, and no one can do icy or unhinged (or icy-unhinged) quite like he can. He’s tailor-made for DePalma, and there’s just so many weird and memorable personas that Lithgow gets to play here. It’s a lot of fun. I think this film could have benefited from a more compelling, Hitchcock-esque setting: It’s a pretty bland mid-1990s, mid-sized, vaguely suburban locale, and this seems like a missed opportunity to create an atmosphere that is truly fitting for the fairly broad, throwbacky, almost burlesque Lithgow personalities that populate this town.

    I’ve seen this, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, and Femme Fatale. They’re all interesting films, oozing with lust and aggression, and full of memorable, carefully crafted set pieces and inspired camera angles and related maneuvers. The endings always seem a bit forced, rushed, and disappointing. DePalma does great, beautiful shots, introduces memorable and compelling characters, and gives us lots of bizarre, original, transgressive themes and images. He just can’t seem to stick the landing for me. That said, I dig all four of these films and expect I’ll return to each of them from time to time.

  11. One exception to “Lithgow commands every scene he’s in” is the Zack Galifinakis film the Candidate. I enjoyed that film, but Lithgow’s role is a huge waste of his Lithgow-ness.

  12. Poeface, it’s that reordered version that was online a few years ago but now in blu Ray quality. No additional footage, but it is a drastically different experience.

  13. Thanks for the heads up, Fred!

  14. I had not heard of this other cut. Will have to check it out.

  15. Is it only Blu Ray? Can’t seem to find DVD or VOD?

  16. I second the recommendation for the re-edit. I was skeptical at first, because the herky-jerkiness of the theatrical cut was always something I appreciated. But it really does play better this way. You don’t just leap right into Lithgow weirdness, which makes the ultimate reveal of it much more effective. And the re-edit’s first shot is so much more worthy of opening a De Palma film, both thematically and aesthetically, than the boring establishing shot that opens the theatrical version. But even if you disagree, the new Blu-ray has both versions. With some excellent interviews giving insight into De Palma’s methods and some cool behind-the-scenes trivia (Did you know that, whenever there were supposed to be two Lithgows in a scene, the offscreen one was always played by Gregg Henry on the set?), it’s a solid package for De Palmaniacs such as myself.

  17. I wait for Arrows release of RAINING CAIN here in Europe. Hopefully it contains both versions as well

  18. Obviously I meant RAISING CAIN. But RAINING CAIN is a good name for a sequel.



    I think this is legit.

  20. Skani: If you want it legit, Blu-ray only sadly.

    Shoot: trailer desciption: Brian DePalma strolls up looks at the camera (like Hitchcock in his trailers) and says “This summer… A STORM IS COMING!!” logo for RAINING CAIN splashes across the screen (with cheesy sound effect). Coming Soon.” Let’s pitch this!


  22. The movie that stole every A,I and N in existence.

  23. Damn, the director’s cut is not available at all over here.

  24. The movie is at the link I shared. I don’t think this qualifies as piracy, as the Indie Wire piece (including the embedded Peet Gelderblom recut and video essay) pre-dates the Scream Factory Blu-Ray that incorporates them both as features. If the rights holders objected to the movie being accessed from the Indie Wire piece or the embedded Vimeo upload, it’s hard to see why they would have incorporated the Gelderblom features in their official Blu-Ray release, and it is likewise probable that they would have requested that Gelderblom/Indie Wire take down the video. It seems to have their blessing or at least their non-opposition.

  25. It was actually De Palma himself who insisted that guy’s cut and his video essay explaining his methodology be on the Blu-ray, so I assume watching it in its original Web form is cool with the maestro.

  26. It seems the version you linked to is a fanmade cut, but then later DePalma made an official cut. Don’t know if they are any different.

  27. That’s not what happened. The fan cut IS the cut on the Blu-ray. De Palma thought it restored his original intent enough that he asked Shout Factory to include it.

  28. They appear to be virtually identical, though perhaps the Blu Ray cleaned up some rough edges.

    Peet Gelderblom on Twitter

    “September 13 is coming! Get the Scream Factory blu-ray with the Director's Cut I supervised. Watch the trailer here: https://t.co/W0EfRPbbcH”

    Split Personality: Two Cuts of "Raising Cain" Come to Blu-ray | Demanders | Roger Ebert

    A celebration of Brian De Palma's audacious "Raising Cain" on occasion of a new Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory.

  29. Well, that’s aweseome. Not sure if it’s a wise idea to give fan editors all over the world the hope that their cut will at some point become official, but it’s cool that it happened in this one case.

  30. I’m sure they used their own restored hi-def footage for it, which he wouldn’t have had at the time, but they replicated his edits, including some fades, a reused establishing shot, and a repeated scene from earlier in the film that he used as transitions.

  31. Good news! Arrows January release of RAISING CAIN will feature the two different versions

  32. Fuck, I already ordered the Shout one. Arrow put out some fine editions. Oh well.

  33. Pre-ordered my copy of RAISING CAIN. Can´t wait for it. I also watched SISTERS on YT for the first time and you can certainly see the themes of the disassociative double identity themes in this one as well. Great fucking early DePalma in my humble opinion.

  34. Watching the re-edit. I think the plot unfolds itself in a more natural way than the convoluted, schizo structure of the theatrical release. Instead of opening with Carters split personality disorder and jumping between Jenny/Carter it focuses on one story at a time, and makes more sense plotwise between all the dream sequences and flashbacks.

    Weirdly enough, according to the video essay on the disc , the audience after test screenings were confused by the version this re-edit tries to present. Which led to the recut theatrical version. I don´t really understand how the theatrical version is less confusing.

    Thematically perhaps, the structure of the theatrical version fits a story about a psycho with a split personality disorder by being disorganized. Watching it I almost feel like having a dissociative disorder. But I feel more like a sane person while watching the re-edit.

  35. That’s funny, Shoot, I just rewatched Raising Cain (theatrical) the other day – I absolutely loved it this time and even knowing there’s a re-edit out there, I didn’t find the theatrical’s structure to be particularly disorganized or confusing – it definitely does feel “off”, but I guess I chalked that up to De Palma at the peak of his nutty powers. I mean, who else would have the wife suddenly start narrating the movie halfway in, and for one scene only? Who else would even attempt that Rube Goldbergian ending with like 20 different moving parts all coming together in the most ridiculous way possible?

    As a straight thriller, a la Seven or Silence of the Lambs, this is pretty much a failure. You can’t take anything you see seriously and it’s not really scary. But I think De Palma’s not aiming to scare, he’s aiming to be put a big smile on your face, and in that regard, this movie is absolutely delightful – it has no social message or big statement, it only exists to allow De Palma to indulge in his obsessions (again). Seriously, this and Dressed to Kill share so much DNA (split personality, giant men in women disguises, elevators, cheating wives who keep forgetting things, nightmare sequences, voyeurism, police psychiatrists, etc. etc.. ), it’s like De Palma himself has a split personality, and both of those personalities were tasked by a studio to make competing Psycho ripoffs. It’s just fascinating how he homages, remixes, inverts, and subverts random pieces of Psycho and cobbles together these ridiculous movies, held together by next-level filmatism (the continuous take down the stairs and that 4th wall-breaking spinning shot with Lithgow are all-time classics). This currently ranks as my favorite De Palma and I hope he has one more Psycho ripoff left in him.

  36. I love the theatrical cut too, but that first act is a mess when you´ve seen the re-edit. But I am glad to have both versions at my disposal. It is arazy fucking movie regardless. It is an exercise in style an cinematic goodness to be enjoyed no matter what version you watch. I do think as a reworking of PSYCHO the re-edit rings stronger with its reveals. I highly suggest you get either the Shout Factory version or Arrow to compare. The difference in that first act do make a difference.

  37. Also that fourth wall breaking shot you mention seems like an homage of a shot Dario Argento made in DEEP RED, when you are led to believe a shot that is in first person actually was not.

    There is a lot of weird shit to discuss in this movie. A lot of inconsistancies. Why is Josh a different actor (obviously of age differences, but why does DePalma insist of us seeing him as a kid with Lithgows voice) And why do we never get to see Margo, in that same Argento-esque shot? And why oh why, do we get to see him talking to his father like he is his own personality even though it is revealed it isn´t ( a technical reason apparently, they could never make twin shots of Lithgow, even though the Van Damme production DOUBLE IMPACT at the same time could). Carter and Cain are the only personalities talking to each other in the same scene as split personalities and it is setup as we are supposed to take whenever Lithgow talk to a character played by him as apart of his personality.

    Great fucking film with a lot of weird shit. Than Lord for it.

  38. I love RAISING CAIN even more now after watching the film for the first time in almost twenty years. It is this demented madhouse delirium of a movie that intrigues me. The re-edit adds to that fascination.

  39. BODY DOUBLE was kind of DePalmas penultimate postmodernistic take on fake imagery and in that context RAISING CAIN stands as his ultimate. There is a lot of shenanigans in M.I and other later DePalmas but I don´t think to this complete thematic extent.

  40. Shoot – maybe because I was high as hell when I saw Raising Cain right after Body Double, but i was convinced the two male joggers at the beginning of Raising Cain (theatrical) who don’t save the girl getting kidnapped, are the same two male joggers who don’t save the girl getting power-drilled in Body Double. You know what that means, right?? SHARED BRIAN DE PALMA UNIVERSE. Can you imagine a universe full of cheating wives, voyeurs, over-the-top gore, nudity, split personalities, split screens, split diopter shots (holy crap I just realized the joke of him using those shots all the time), bad wigs, straight razors, and endless nightmare sequences, with everything scored to 50s-style melodramatic music? With two hapless joggers forever running in circles, never QUITE seeing the crimes around them? Where everyone looks like either Dennis Franz or Gregg Henry? (Or John Lithgow or Nancy Allen?) I would totally want to live there, Last Action Hero-style, I’m serious.


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