To paraphrase my co-Goblin Dan, “Brian De Palma totally kisses Alfred Hitchcock’s butt”. I said in my recent review of Dressed to Kill that it was in many ways an extension of Hitchcock’s themes and ideas, and Raising Cain continues in this vein.
It follows Carter (John Lithgow), the son of a famous child psychologist (also Lithgow), whose identical twin brother, Cain (Lithgow again), is involved in a series of child kidnappings. The police investigate the disappearances as Carter’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic.
Like Dressed to Kill this is an often absurd psychological thriller that works because of the style with which it is told. The plot is certainly gripping and tense, with the unrelenting surprise and energy typical of the director, but demands a suspension of disbelief that exceeds better written films. Yet De Palma’s mesmerising control of the camera and understanding of the visual nature of cinematic storytelling is utterly first rate.
Very little of this film is set at night, which is unusual for dark psychological thrillers, and lends this a distinctive style. It also shows De Palma’s skill as a director that he doesn’t rely on fear lurking in the darkness to make his film unsettling. But what his knowledge of the medium can’t compensate for is the aforementioned absurdity. A couple of moments designed to be chilling are simply comical in their silliness and Lithgow’s performace, while showing versatility in his many roles, often goes too far.
Where Dressed to Kill is psychosexual, Cain is more psychoscientific, with the involvement of scientific investigation making it almost like a psychological Frankenstein. What results is an immensely enjoyable thriller which, like Dressed to Kill, shows Brian De Palma’s skills as a director rather than a story writer.