Mark of Cain 1985 Review
Mark of Cain 1985
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Starring: Robin Ward, Wendy Crewson, Anthony Parr
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Brothers and sisters have played a big part in the slasher category ever since its launch. Starting with The Communion in 1976, the number of titles that have incorporated sibling rivalry and mistaken identity into their plots is almost vast enough to warrant a specific sub genre. Attempts such as Just Before Dawn, Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Happy Birthday to Me, The Initiation and Blood Link have all interwoven family bonds to boost their plot lines. Mark of Cain was one of the last cycle entries to use that structure and somewhat bizarrely, it’s also one of the least recognised. Released in 1985 this Canadian thriller never gained much exposure and despite an inviting premise, it rapidly disappeared.
For a thespian, one of the greatest challenges is playing two separate personalities in the same feature. Jeremy Irons and Nicholas Cage were excellent in Dead Ringers and Adaptation respectively, whilst John Lithgow boosted his status after his outstanding quadruple-faced portrayal in Raising Cain. Here Canadian character actor Robin Ward plays two identical twins; one good and the other is dangerously insane.
The plot takes place predominantly around an old and eerie mansion in the Canadian wilderness. It opens with a female searching the snow-laden surroundings for either of the twins that occupy the creepy abode. As she turns a corner, she is suddenly grabbed by an unseen menace and dragged inside the house. She screams and struggles, but the violent aggressor repeatedly stabs her, spraying her blood over the room’s décor. Sean, who we later find out to be the sane member of the siblings, arrives in a car with his neighbour and hears the commotion from inside the mansion. He frantically breaks open the door and follows the blood stains out into the backyard, where he discovers the woman’s mutilated corpse nailed to a tree.
Fifteen years later and Michael is still locked in an asylum for the murder in the opening scenes. His brother Sean comes to see him regularly, but since marrying his girlfriend, the visits have decreased, much to Michael’s anger. Sean finally arrives and informs his brother that he needs to sell the mansion, simply because he doesn’t have the funds to keep it. Michael reacts angrily and brutally escapes the institution, with the intent of reaping revenge on his more fortuitous twin.
It took a long time for me to track down a copy of Mark of Cain, simply because it has never been re-released since its initial VHS outing in 1986. Usually when a movie disappears, it’s never without a good reason, but fortunately that isn’t the case with this taut psycho thriller. Cain opens with some impressive vigour and in places the film builds a credibly suspenseful atmosphere. Bruce Pittman’s energetic direction consistently shines; and mixed with some impressive cinematography from John Herzog, the scenes flow fluidly throughout. Although Robin Ward can never be credited in the same bracket as Nicholas Cage, Jeremy Irons or even John Lithgow, here he delivers a decent performance and Wendy Crewson is impressive by his side.
Michael is viciously malevolent as the psychopath and there’s a hint of ritualistic evil to his murders, which is never thoroughly explained. Satanic imagery is strewn subtly throughout the feature without verification, but the movie never digresses into anti-religious melodrama. In one scene he murders an unfortunate extra and then places his body under the wheels of a vehicle before driving over the corpse and then reversing continuously. Despite the fact that Mark of Cain doesn’t boast the hugest of body counts, the grim and macabre flair of the murders is satisfying enough for all blood fiends.
The film’s only problems lie in its failure to take advantage of the benefits of an ambitious plot. An excellent opening eventually gives way to a mixed and bland conclusion and it seems that when the inevitable plot twist arrives, it’s handled somewhat clumsily. The flamboyant direction is hindered by an inane musical accompaniment and at times there’s an obvious lack of lighting.
It’s somewhat refreshing to finally view a rare slasher movie that doesn’t thoroughly disappoint. Mark of Cain may not be an excellent film, but as far as obscurities go, it’s definitely better than the usual plop that lands on my doorstep. Energetic, well-acted and engaging, I recommend that true genre fans track this one down.
Final Girl √√√