In 1992, I was working as a dish washer at a summer camp. I was too young to have a car, so I glommed on to whichever older counselor with wheels made plans to drive to the nearest town on days off. One break, a group of us decided to go to the movies. Most everyone wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. I lobbied to see Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain, based solely on the commercials I had seen on the communal TV the staff lounge. I was outvoted, and probably for the best. Unforgiven went on to redefine modern westerns and win Best Picture. Raising Cain fell into relative obscurity for all but diehard De Palma fans and it would be 25 years before I got around to seeing the film that had tickled by early teenage imagination.
Scream Factory released Raising Cain earlier this Fall in one of their deluxe 2-disc “Collector’s Editions.” The main draw of this new set, beside the audiovisual upgrade that comes with the Blu-ray treatment, is the inclusion of the so-called “Director’s Cut” of the film. Although Brian De Palma wrote and directed Raising Cain, he was not entirely happy with the version that was released in theaters. Watching that cut of the film, it’s easy to see why.
The best things about Raising Cain are the best things about any of the director’s films. De Palma knows how to build tension in the disconnect between what the characters and audience know, and the dreamlike way he doles out that information. There are twists and shocking revelations. Bits of backstory come to light as the stakes ramp up to a corker of a finale. That story is brought to life by the performances of Davidovich, Bauer, Frances Sternhagen, and a host of character actors playing people who, though flawed, fit into a recognizable cinematic representation of reality. The wild card here is John Lithgow’s Carter Nix, aka. Cain, whose hidden split personality and tragic history amplify the human drama of his wife’s romantic entanglement, turning it into something even darker.
Raising Cain comes together by the end into a tight thriller, but the journey is fractured. The biggest problem with the theatrical cut of the film is that it reveals Lithgow’s character as psycho killer from nearly the opening scene. There’s no mystery, no ramp up. It focuses on Carter, Cain, and their father’s scheme first, with the more relatable stuff about his wife relegated to B-plot. We know he’s a troubled guy well before she does, and it makes her emotional struggle less impactful as a result. Who cares that an old flame is back on the scene when her husband is cracked and stealing babies?
Whichever version of Raising Cain you prefer, Scream Factory delivers a gorgeous 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The film has a purposely hazy look that doesn’t detract from fine detail and rich color. Given the standard-def roots of Gelderblom’s cut, I assume whoever prepared it for Scream Factory re-cut it from better source materials. Whatever the process, there’s no difference in quality between the two versions. Both cuts have the same audio options: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, both crisp with clear dialogue and ample power behind the Pino Donaggio score.
The “Director’s Cut” on Disc Two is the most substantial bonus feature included in the Raising Cain: Collector’s Edition, but there is plenty more to enjoy. Disc One has interviews with John Lithgow, Steven Bauer, editor Paul Hirsch, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, and Mel Harris that add up to more than an hour and half in total; along with the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery. Disc Two has two short featurettes focused on the Director’s Cut. In “Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored” (2:25), Gelderblom talks about the inspiration behind his re-edit and reactions to his work, while the longer, standard def “Raising Cain Re-Cut: A Video Essay” (13:02) gives the fan editor the space to discuss the film, and detailed differences between the two versions. The set also comes with a slip cover and reversible cover art if you prefer the original poster to the new design.