Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are: Authentic Terror in Both Versions of ‘Cape Fear’

You leave the movie but the movie never leaves you.
By  · Published on August 16th, 2017

If you were to ask me to name the best remake ever, chances are the first film out of my mouth would be Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, the 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 original, both based on the novel by John D. MacDonald. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Thompson’s version, it is an excellent, insidious, and atmospheric country-noir bolstered by bravado performances from Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum.

But Scorsese ups the ante in every regard. He makes Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) more devious and deviant, he makes attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) less honorable and more culpable in the terror befallen his family. Motivations are dirtier, as are the means to execute and deflect them, and all around the director produces an even darker rendition of an already-obsidian storyline.

But without a doubt, what Scorsese improves upon most from the original is how the film, its story, and characters, invoke actual fear from an audience, not fabricated, momentary emotion that fades with the scene or lingers until the final credits then dissipates when the real world returns to our senses. I’m talking about real, hair-raising, goosebump-inducing, pulse-quickening, stomach-churning fear that doesn’t leave us when we leave the theater, it remains inside us, a now permanent-fixture in our paranoid pantheon of nefarious possibilities.

In the latest video essay from Jack’s Movie Reviews, just how Scorsese creates this kind of fear through the cinematic and storytelling techniques he employs are examined, as well of those of Thompson, for comparison’s sake. And though the men and their means differ, their result are parallel. This is a fascinating look at a remake done right, something every contemporary film fan – and filmmaker – needs to know.

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