Martin Scorsese’s surprising remake of the 1962 Cape Fear affords a masterly demonstration of his technical virtuosity but eschews the creepy realism of the original to play to contemporary taste for overwrought horror. The result is stylistically brilliant and harrowing.
The basic plot remains the same: vengeful ex-con Max Cady (Robert De Niro) mounts a terror campaign against the lawyer (Nick Nolte) he blames for his 14-year imprisonment for rape, targeting the man’s graphic artist wife, Leigh (Jessica Lange) and nubile 15-year-old daughter, Danny (remarkable newcomer Juliette Lewis) at their rambling North Carolina home.
At first, Cady operates within the bounds of the law, threatening the Bowden family with his presence alone – his overbearing physicality, loud Hawaiian shirts and those suggestive draws on his cigar are warning enough of the coming threat.
But such restraint was never going to last, and the Cady-Bowden showdown becomes a destructive battle of wills, as the white-collar father struggles to fend off Cady’s relentless campaign of terror.
J. Lee Thompson’s original film was simple good vs. bad, but Scorsese opts for more complex themes of guilt and sin, with a dysfunctional family playing into the con’s hands.
De Niro’s tattooed wacko, in contrast to Robert Mitchum’s easy menace, goes spectacularly over the top en route to the finale. Scorsese unleashes a series of shocks that will leave you breathless but the performances and psychology are as mesmerising as they are repugnant.
Nice touches are cameos from the original stars, Mitchum (as a cop) and Gregory Peck (as Cady’s new lawyer), and Bernard Hermann’s memorable score, rearranged by Elmer Bernstein.
Robert De Niro
Joe Don Baker
Fred Dalton Thompson