'Cape Fear': Scorsese has a turn at horror

On movies

November 15, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

DIRECTOR Martin Scorsese, who has tried just about every film genre and done well with them, goes for the horror film this time with ''Cape Fear.''

He does rather well with it, too, but "Cape Fear" is still a horror film. It isn't in the same category as the ''Friday the 13'' or the ''Elm Street'' movies, but at times it's close enough.

A remake of the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (who do small roles in the remake), ''Cape Fear'' takes place in Florida where an attorney is menaced by a former client, a man who has served 14 years for rape and battery.

The attorney (Nick Nolte) had withheld a bit of evidence during the trail, evidence that might have lessened the man's sentence. The parolee, Max Cady (Robert De Niro), knows that and wants to even the score.

At first, he is brazen in his behavior, and because the law can do nothing to stop him, continues to menace the lawyer, his wife and their 15-year old daughter.

The girl plays an important part in the film, and here, we get very close to child molestation, something from which Scorsese does not shrink.

Juliette Lewis, as the girl, comes on like a mannered nymphet, but her performance becomes stronger and stronger and more legitimate.

De Niro, of course, is superb. The character may become tiring, but the actor makes us forget that, to a point.

The film's ending is typical horror -- it goes on and on. And in the end, we are left wondering if there is going to be a sequel.

Scorsese's cameras are a bit too frantic when the film begins. He is so busy swirling, switching and zooming that we become more conscious of the camera than we are of the actors.

The camera does settle down after a time, and when it does, the movie improves. It is still, however, a horror film, and one scene in particular just about goes the limit.

Because ''Cape Fear'' is a horror movie, it includes most of the cliches of that cycle. We know who is going to die here, so we just wait for it to happen.

Scorsese might have spared us that, but then he probably chose to be true to the horror form.

Jessica Lange is the wife of the lawyer. She is mannered but not enough to mar the performance, which is quite good. Joe Don Baker is a detective hired by the lawyer, Mitchum is a police lieutenant who offers the lawyer a suggestion as to what to do, and Peck is a lawyer who defends the killer, a turnabout for the veteran actor; it was Peck who was the mouse in the first version. Mitchum was the cat, the bad guy.

That's another thing that takes away from the film, the cat-and-mouse business. In this instance, the mouse should turn on the cat long before he does, but Scorsese allows the game to continue, one-sided, almost to conclusion, one that is not all that acceptable.

This guy isn't normal. He's a brother to Jason, the undying fiend in the ''Friday, the 13th'' movies.

''Cape Fear'' opens today at local houses. Scorsese proves he can do this sort of film. Let's hope that it is now out of his system.

''Cape Fear'' ** A paroled rapist menaces the lawyer who defended him at his trial, one that landed him in prison for 14 years.

CAST: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

RATING: R (language, sex, violence)

) RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

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