Valentine's Viewing:: Raising Cain (1992)

If RAISING CAIN (1992) does not register as premium De PALMA, please consider that ALL movies that fail to feature NANCY ALLEN are inherently flawed. Beyond that gross defect, CAIN, unsteady and riling though it may be, is thoroughly fascinating. So what if it loves leaving the audience in a lurch, how can anyone who adores film not recognize that same affection mirrored on the screen? Don't expect me to be one of those goofballs who whines about De PALMA's glorification of HITCHCOCK. First off, that's nothing to be ashamed of, secondly, I never get tired of directors unabashedly exploring what inspires them and thirdly, De PALMA brings more than enough of his own idiosyncratic voice to the table, thank you very much. His visual excesses, unfathomable choices and awkward self-awareness are exactly what curl my toes; if anything, I wish I could lure him even further out on his favorite limb. CAIN is completely oddball beneath its misleading suburban surface and somehow unique even while presenting an almost "greatest hits" version of the director's previous thrillers. It's exquisite, it's a mess, and it will make you wish you were provided a map or at least some post-it notes to identify what is dream, memory or hallucination. If you don't particularly take to this movie, I can't particularly blame you but here are five things that I love about RAISING CAIN...

1. The voice-over: De PALMA's original idea was to open CAIN focusing on the internal world of Jenny (LOLITA DAVIDOVICH) who is contemplating having an affair (a la DRESSED TO KILL). Only later did he plan to let the cat out of the bag that cuckold husband Carter (JOHN LITHGOW) was juggling an assortment of personalities, of which, at least one was homicidal. In a bout of charity toward the viewer, De PALMA re-cut the film in order to expedite the focus towards hubby Carter's madness. It does work in helping us understand Carter is bonkers from the get-go but we are left with Jenny's story floating in a bubble closer to the center of the film. The ripple effects of the switcheroo results in Jenny delivering a tardy, gawky voice-over exposition that discontinues as abruptly as it materializes. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe Jenny is loopier than her husband. When we shift to her perception, the whole world is fuzzy Valentines and her love interest Jack Dante (STEVEN BAUER) happens to be impossibly slick, ripped off the cover of a Harlequin romance. They even share a hospital-set soap opera-style kiss (she's a doctor) as his ailing wife watches, wails and politely drops dead. Jenny's screamingly artificial narration actually fits her gauzy, trapped in a daydream existence but yeah, I mostly love it because it's weird. The device follows her snapping out of a nightmare, as if she's woken up to find herself in a movie (and yet another dream). I'm not lost. I think I'm right right around the corner from MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

2. The creepy kid: So Carter is insane. I can safely tell you about at least three of his personalities. One is his twin brother Cain who is elected to do all the dirty work, one is his child self, "Josh" who gets to feel all the emotional pain and then there is "Margo" who should not be disturbed because she doesn't put up with nonsense. De PALMA certainly has PSYCHO on the mind (especially when it comes to victim disposal but let's submerge that vehicle later) and he's also eyeing that film's sibling flick, MICHAEL POWELL's PEEPING TOM. Both films are ostensibly about crazy people doing murderous things but at their core, if you ask me, they're really about shitty parents. Carter's dad was a child psychologist who tortured and traumatized him in order to record the results (much like PEEPING TOM) and tellingly, not one word is spoken about his mother. We know nothing about her except the primary knowledge that she clearly failed to protect him. This is perhaps why the shadow of the Margo personality looms so large; she is the protector Carter was denied (not to mention the protector he longs to become, our very first view of Carter is of him wrapped around his own child in a guarding maternal pose). Trickster De PALMA has a blast playing with different ways of presenting Carter's selves. One of the freakiest representations occurs when out of the blue, a curly headed, cherub looking tyke confronts Carter with a distorted, almost demonic, voice, "I know what you're going to do! It's a bad thing and I'm going to tell!" The viewer has no clue at the time that we are witnessing a projection of Carter's youngest identity (or that the person the kid is threatening to inform is Margo). It's out of left field, ELM STREET- level surreal and as bizarre as it is alarming.

3. Morning has broken: This tribute is a work of art. Carter/Cain, like Norman Bates before him, means to hide a dead body in a car and roll it into a lake. The water is black as tar and the car and all that floats atop the lake are ochre, copper and gold. But wait! The prey is not dead! As she screams, the accusing spotlight sun awakes, the curtain of night drops and gossiping birds shriek like alarm clocks. The morning light spreading over Cain's face is fantastic. It's played for suspense that his murderous crime might be exposed but it's also a clever portrait of Carter's eclipsing identities. I'm guessing De PALMA is less interested in mimicking a method of body disposal than he is giddy to duplicate HITCHCOCK's predilection for feeding the fires of viewer collusion.

4. The longest yard: PSYCHO doesn't get grief too often but when it does, it's typically over the way Norman's condition is (some say) heavy-handedly explained by a killjoy psychiatrist at the film's conclusion (De PALMA nabbed DENNIS FRANZ for a similar thankless job in DRESSED TO KILL). Personally, I don't mind a little post-trauma pow-wow and who takes one lone character's viewpoint as gospel anyway? De PALMA has loads of back story and clarification to get off his chest in CAIN and he kindly gets it out of the way relatively early and in a most entertaining way. Enter FRANCES STERNHAGEN as scene-stealer Dr. Waldheim who due to cancer wears a jet black wig which she claims makes her look like a transvestite. No need to pull up a chair! Dr. Waldheim is taking you for a little walk! There's nothing not to love as the good doctor fills us in on everything we need to know in an incredibly lengthy continuous shot while the camera spins around her and she is humorously yanked to stay on course down several floors and tilted flights of stairs toward the payoff of an almost comical screaming corpse. I like a show-off and this incredible scene has at least two...or three.

5. The closer: There is no way to fully explain the climax of RAISING CAIN. It's like a multi-layered clashing collage or a cinematic scrapbook of postcards from places the director has visited or conquered. Critics would walk away with boring accusations that De PALMA was cannibalizing himself but meanwhile dude was double dipping his corn chips in the meta mash-up bean dip years ahead of schedule. I can't explain it and I don't have to. It should be enough for you to know that the epic finale involves a cross-dresser, a mad doctor with a Norwegian (?) accent, a baby carriage, a tot in a red hoody, slow-mo spilling groceries, lightning flashes, a deadly sundial on a wayward truck and a couple unexplained belligerent drunks and that the entire concoction utilizes three floors of a neon lit motel. It's a symphony of insanity and wanton black humor and no other director in the world would dream it up. There's plenty to pick apart in RAISING CAIN but none of its foibles can overshadow the pure crazy brilliance pounding through its veins. To tell you the truth, I didn't think much of it when I saw it in the theater way back in 92'. I was riveted by some of what I saw but most of it turned to mush in my head. That's O.K., love at first sight is overrated anyway. Did I mention that the bulk of the movie takes place on Valentine's Day? Think of RAISING CAIN as a Valentine from De PALMA. It's not the sweetest chocolate from his heart shaped box but I reckon it's one of the chewiest. Hopefully you are not allergic to nuts.

Name That Trauma:: Reader Tom S. on a Candy Cavity Witch

Hello Kindertrauma. I was wondering if I might be able to tap your extended knowledge base in helping to find an old poster image.Here's what I can remember so any further details or better yet, the actual image would be super cool.

When I was in kindergarten, circa 1979, there was what I believe to be an educational poster for dental health. It featured a witch with gross rotten teeth behind a table piled with candy and sweets. My sister used to refer to it as the "candy cavity witch". As a young kid I found it disturbing but I couldn't not look at it. A few years later I saw the same image in a book but ever since then it has only been a distant memory. I've done image searches and checked eBay with no luck. Please tell me I'm not imagining this memory! Any of you or your readers' collective memory able to help out on this?


Tom S.

Sunday Streaming:: The Howling V: The Rebirth

JOE DANTE's THE HOWLING is one of the best werewolf movies ever made but the litter of disconnected sequels running around with its name on their collar are mostly runts. The possible lone exception is THE HOWLING 5: THE REBIRTH which has recently shown up on Netflix Streaming. I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to jump into the fifth installment of a notoriously lackluster series but this flick can stand alone and might be better thought of as a loose remake of THE BEAST MUST DIE!. The pacing can be sluggish and the acting can be woeful but you may find yourself happily looking past any and all faults in order to hang out in such a fantastic setting. THE HOWLING 5 takes place in a desolate castle in Budapest, full of secret passages and candle lit halls and best of all there is a impenetrable blizzard raging outside!

The set-up is akin to a classic whodunit mystery with a group of strangers receiving invitations to show up for an event only to be isolated and killed off one by one, in this case by a guest who happens to have fangs. Why, there's even a shady butler and creepy maid on board to fill out the suspect/victim list! On Netflix the movie is presented full screen and looks every inch a VHS rental or late night cable watch circa 1989. I should warn you in advance that there are no gooey transformation scenes and that our werewolf is only shown in the briefest of flashes. I know that's sad but it ultimately adds to the effect that you are watching something classier than you are. If it's any consolation, THE HOWLING 5 does sport a mean decapitation, it's not bloody but it's well staged and fiendishly cruel enough to get a thumbs up from me. Approach this one with an open mind, I have a feeling as soon as your ears catch the gloomy goth late-eighties score you'll want to save this puppy from the pound.

Name That Trauma:: Bud on a Santa Slaying, a Beheading Bed & a Traumafession on Aunt Ada

No one seems to have any recollection of two items from my childhood that have haunted me for years -- I have a fairly strong memory, so I'm certain I was exposed to these things, but I had a very vivid imagination as a child, and now wonder if I made up these things, but I digress...

The first item is an old comic book story, probably a DC Comic from the 1970s, perhaps one of their "House of..." titles -- "Mystery, Secrets," or possibly their "It's Midnight...THE WITCHING HOUR." I doubt it was "GHOSTS," but I read all of these titles. The story in question, if it ever existed, was probably printed around the time that the TV movie FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY aired...

Anyway, the story I'm dying to re-acquire is set during Christmas-time. Seems like it's about a thief who discovers Santa's workshop on Christmas Eve, and decides to steal Santa's sleigh with its loaded bag of goodies. It was played straight, and at the very end of the story, when the bad guy is about to steal the sleigh, something happens, and he ends up being strangled (I think by the rope around Santa's bag), and as Santa takes off to deliver the toys, he flies past a full moon, completely unaware that the thief is dead and dangling from behind the sleigh. The last panel of the story, if memory serves, is of a silhouette of Santa's sleigh, with the hanged man's corpse dangling behind. DID I DREAM THIS THING UP or was it a real comic?

The other item is a clip from an old Horror movie I saw either in the late 60s or early 70s, when I was a really small kid. I was a Hammer Horror movie fiend back then, but I also loved European Horror movies, and I'd watch them on the late show with family and friends in Newport News, Virginia, and we'd all get scared to death.

Don't know if this was the opening of the movie (seems like it was), or a later scene, but I have never stumbled onto this movie again, and I am a die-hard movie buff, and have been hunting this thing down forever. Anyway, this is what I remember:

A beautiful woman comes home late one night, and readies herself for bed; her room is shadowy, and seems like there's a large vanity mirror atop a dresser that she primps in just before she retires. She lies down in the bed, and we see that there's a mysterious figure underneath it who has tricked out her mattress in such a way that this mystery person is able to somehow saw this woman's head off at the neck; the shadow figure then stuffs her head into, I think, a doctor's bag, and as they flee the scene of the crime, a chambermaid or something walks in and screams -- then we see a ferris wheel and hear carnival music...and that's all I remember. DID IT EXIST, or did I dream it?

Oh, and for the record, I was horrified of CIRCLE OF FEAR and NIGHT GALLERY when I was a kid; the NIGHT GALLERY episode "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay" REALLY traumatized me: if my sister said, "Aunt Ada," I would be reduced to a mass of quivering, weeping jelly, begging for her to stop.

Love the site! Hope someone can help me out.


Name That Trauma:: Josh K. on Poison Injected Meat


Let me nerd out for a second and say "thank you" for this site. Besides being a lifelong horror fan, it's also helped me remember some great memories that I had associated with some of these films.

I'm trying to remember the name of a movie/show. I remember only two scenes. The first was a woman shopping in a grocery store and she walks away from her cart for a moment and a gloved hand (because every killer must wear gloves) with a syringe injects something into the meat thru it's package. The next scene is then the woman going home, eating and dying from being poisoned. ???

Thanks in advance,

Josh K.

Name That Trauma:: Reader Mr. Brown on a Hand in a Meat Grinder

I'm trying to figure out what movie from my childhood scarred me. Foggy memory, indeed. It was probably from the 70's and about the only scene I remember is a guy's hand gets put into a meat grinder. Did his arm fall in or was it forcibly pushed in? I don't know... I just remember the shot of the "meat" coming out of the grinder while the guy screamed. Possibly one of the "Omen" films? But I don't know.

Name That Trauma:: Goorlap on a Blood Drinking Cellar Dweller Countess

Ellow there Kindertrauma,

I'm looking for a movie and was hoping you guys can help me out once again!

I believe it's a movie from the 60's or 70's, probably a British one. It's about an old countess who has to drink the blood of young women to stay young. At the end of the movie, the countess is captured and locked up in a cellar, the camera zoom's in on her creepy old face, then the movie ends.

That's all I know about it.

Thanks in advance,


UNK SEZ: I hope I'm right on this! It sounds to me like you are looking for HAMMER's COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) which is based n the Eizabeth Bathory legend and stars INGRID PITT. Check out the trailer below and let us know if it rings any bloody bells! And if anybody has any other guesses make sure you leave them in the comments section!

Sunday Streaming:: Fragile (2005)

Hey it's Sunday Streaming time again! The movie I'm recommending today, FRAGILE (2005), certainly deserves a more in depth examination on this site but for now let me just say that if you are a fan of ghost stories, you'll want to see it. It's directed by the hugely talented JAUME BALAQUERO who delivered the horrifying adaptation of RAMSEY CAMPBELL's THE NAMELESS, the flawed but atmospheric DARKNESS and the instant classic [REC]. As is frequently the case with Netflix Streaming, you'll do yourself a favor by ignoring the advertising art supplied which consists of a floating, half space alien looking face and a sadly more meaningless by the minute FANGORIA FRIGHT FEST banner. Do not be worried that ubiquitous late nineties menace CALISTA (ALLIE MCBEAL) FLOCKHART stars, she's quite good in it and the more you think abut it, the more her brittle, twitchy presence makes sense.

FLOCKHART plays nurse Amy Nicholls who has recently started working the night shift at an unnervingly grim children's hospital that is in the midst of packing up and closing down. The children speak of a ghostly presence that lingers on the abandoned second floor named Charlotte who is creepily described as a "mechanical" girl. By all appearances this spirit seems to be raging against being left behind and has taken to smashing bones and throwing people out windows. Of course, nothing is as it seems, there is a mystery that must be solved and Amy must separate the hospital's woeful history from the guilty baggage she brought with her. FRAGILE goes to some seriously dank, dark and convincingly eerie, seriously scary places and like all the best ghost stories it has a tragic heart that plays with your sympathies as much as your fears. File this one right between HOUSE OF VOICES and THE ORPHANAGE. If it's not as well regarded as those two flicks it's only due to its willingness to dive further into unpleasantness.