When director Martin Scorsese signed a deal with Universal Pictures in the late 1980s to release his passion project “The Last Temptation of Christ,” I’m fairly certain he was required to deliver a commercial film in exchange for Universal releasing such a polarizing personal film. Well, in 1991, Scorsese delivered in spades.
Forget “Boxcar Bertha” (the exploitation film Scorsese made for Roger Corman in the early 1970s), “Cape Fear” is Scorsese’s ultimate balls-to-the-wall exploitation film. Granted, it wasn’t seen that way given the large budget and stellar acting cast (Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis), but make no mistake, Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 shocker with Robert Mitchum is the ultimate Freddy-Jason stalker/slasher film.
Many Scorsese purists detest this film. To whom I say, f–k you! Scorsese loves ALL films, including the sleazy ones that used to play Forty Deuce. Legend has it that he got into a fight with one of his girlfriends, studio executive Dawn Steel, over the merits of the classic 1982 exploitation film “Vice Squad” (Scorsese angrily argued that it should have been up for Best Picture at that year’s Oscars).
Despite its disreputable pedigree, it did win Oscar nominations for DeNiro and Lewis. And it was Scorsese’s biggest box-office success until the release of “The Aviator” in 2004. I’m docking the accompanying trailer MAJOR points for NOT including the music from “Cape Fear” and substituting generic music instead. The music from Cape Fear (originally composed by Bernard Herrmann, but adapted for the remake by Elmer Bernstein) is one of the scariest scores ever composed for a motion picture. I’ve included a link to this score here:
Scorsese has always used music … especially pop music … effectively in his films. I wish I had a clip I could link to, but the use of Guns N’ Roses “Patience” during a vicious verbal fight between Nolte and Lange, while their daughter played by Lewis tearfully locks herself into her room, is brilliantly edited and shot.