” ‘Raising Cain’ doesn’t belong in ‘Straight to Video Classics.’ ‘Raising Cain’ was in theaters; it’s not staying true to VHS!” These are some of the responses I got when people heard I was going to feature “Raising Cain” in this section.
I have only one thing to say those people: Don’t hate. “Straight to Video” is more a movement than an actual rule. And “Raising Cain” embodies everything that a “Straight to Video Classic” should. Silly plot? Yes. Quirky acting? Yes. Poor directorial vision? Yes. Classic movie? Yes. Wait, let me think about it … YES!
“Raising Cain” is directed by Brian De Palma, by far the most famous director to grace this column. But don’t ever confuse the fact that the strong point of any “Classic” is its lead actor, and “Raising Cain’s” man is none other than John Lithgow. That’s right, THE John Lithgow.
Lithgow plays Carter Nix, a child psychologist, wonderful father and loving husband. His dad (also played by Lithgow) has been in town, and Carter is stressed out. He needs kids to volunteer for his father’s evil child experiments, and he is ready to do what it takes to get them. The only problem is that Carter is a wimp. That’s where Carter’s “cool” twin brother comes in – Cain Nix (played by Lithgow, once again). This guy is much more street smart than Carter, as evidenced by his sunglasses. Cain backs up his shades too. Carter’s female friend doesn’t want to send her kid to be a guinea pig? Cain throws her ass in the trunk and takes the baby. After that little job he rolls to Carter’s pad, where Carter’s wife Jenny is watching TV in a sweater and panties. Cain starts groping his clueless sister-in-law’s chest before he gets interrupted and has to leave. That’s what Cain is all about.
Everything is going smoothly until Carter sees Jenny getting poked in the woods by her ex-fling Jack. Carter doesn’t know what to do, so Cain offers to handle the situation. Cain hangs out and watches a little, then decides to kill a local babysitter and steal the kid she’s watching. But he hasn’t forgotten about that slut Jenny. He waits for her to get home, pretends to be Carter again, and suffocates her with a pillow. The only thing left to do is to take Carter’s daughter to their father. Eventually the cops catch up with Cain and Carter, but that’s no big deal. The Nixes have a little saying: “Hickory dickory dock, Cain has picked his lock!” No jail cell can hold Cain. What’s left is a wacky, over-dramatic climax that you need to see for yourself.
“Raising Cain” is really just a Lithgow highlight reel. The man stretches the boundaries of thespianism. He plays all these different characters flawlessly: Carter always looks nervous because he is the “wimpy” brother; Cain always looks cool because he “wears sunglasses.” The bottom line is that Lithgow has the art of acting totally figured out.
So to all you purists out there: Stop frontin’. “Raising Cain” is no sell-out. It is a “Straight to Video” film that just happened to get play in the theaters. Someday, when the rest of the world catches up with us, theaters will only play “Straight to Video Classics.” So let’s recognize “Raising Cain” for what it is: a daring innovation.