“Cape Fear” (1991) dir. Martin Scorsese

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.

“I Ain’t Superstitious” – Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart on vocals)

Video

Slammin’, concussion-producing, metallic blues one year before Led Zeppelin’s debut. It’s songs like this that make you lament the direction Rod Stewart went from the mid-1970s until today. Until that time, Stewart was one of the finest (if not THE finest) rock vocalist of the era. This cover of Willie Dixon’s blues classic was also put to great use in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” when the casino boss played by Robert DeNiro and his crew zero in on a scam taking place out at the tables.

“The King of Comedy” (1982) dir. Martin Scorsese

Video

“The King of Comedy” was Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to his legendary Jake LaMotta biopic “Raging Bull.” “King” flopped with audiences and got mixed reviews from critics. However, I think it’s one of Scorsese’s best films and as I much as I admire “Raging Bull,” I would watch “King” before “Bull” any day.

This movie seriously rubbed many the wrong way, because “King” did not resemble the typical Scorsese film. (There’s no gangsters, rat-a-tat dialogue and editing, or violence.) And star Robert DeNiro, as obnoxious autograph hound and wanna-be comedian Rupert Pupkin, likely really repulsed people. Granted, Jake LaMotta and Travis Bickle were scary characters, but let’s be honest, people love scary characters. Pupkin is the delusional loudmouth that most people go out of their way to avoid, let alone avoid seeing a movie about.  But DeNiro really brings it in this role, as well as Jerry Lewis as talk show host Jerry Langford and Sandra Bernhard as DeNiro’s arguably more demented cohort Masha.  Berhnard’s “seduction” of Lewis’s character is absolutely hilarious and frightening.

But I think time has been really kind to “King.” Uncomfortable, queasy comedy (i.e. “Curb Your Enthusiam,” “Louis”) has attained a certain kind of cache and if you like Larry David and Louis C.K., you should really give “King” a chance. “King” is one of the most brutal critiques of celebrity culture / worship ever created. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, but also very darkly funny.

8. “The Stunt Man” (1980) dir. Richard Rush

Video

Number 8 on Dave’s Strange World’s list of 10 favorite films comes Richard Rush’s bats–t crazy masterpiece from 1980, “The Stunt Man.” I saw this when it was in theaters in the fall of 1980, thanks to my Dad. Back in the day, my Dad was an avid “New Yorker” reader and likely wanted to see this based on Pauline Kael’s rave review of this film. Granted, this film was grossly inappropriate for a 10-year old to see, but I respect my Dad for trusting my intelligence and good taste in letting me see this.

Like “Pulp Fiction,” this is quite possibly the perfect film: action, suspense, comedy, violence, sex, and plot twists that seriously f–k with your brain and make you question reality. It’s cerebral, but ridiculously entertaining at the lowest common denominator as well. It’s what every Hollywood film should be like, but isn’t. Richly deserving of its 3 Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for Peter O’Toole’s turn as the Satanic director. O’Toole could have easily walked off with the Best Actor Oscar that year, had it not been for DeNiro’s turn in “Raging Bull.” (Shaking fist in the air, Stephen Colbert-style: “DENIRO!!!!!!!”)

I think this is still available on Netflix instant and if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for one of the greatest treats of your life.