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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 18.52%
Average: 14.81%
Pretty Bad: 7.41%
Total Crap59.26%

2 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Diabolique (1996)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Almost as stupid as the 'Psycho' remake."
1 stars

'Diabolique' is a great chiller that ranks with the best of Hitchcock. It draws you into its web of guilt and complicity, and it takes a long time to shake off. Now for the bad news: The 'Diabolique' I'm talking about is the 1955 French thriller by the ingenious director Henri-Georges Clouzot, a quiet master of the form. The 1996 remake bearing that title might as well be called 'Plastique.'

Director Jeremiah Chechik apparently got the job because of the flair for the macabre he showed in his previous work -- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Benny and Joon. Diabolique is another example of American non-entities being allowed to remake French classics (The Birdcage is an exception). To be fair, Chechik does try to make the movie look and feel European, and he and writer Don Roos (Single White Female) preserve Clouzot's plot twists (while adding some lame new ones).

But if you've seen the original -- well, it's like watching a remake of Psycho and waiting to see whether the new filmmakers will screw up the shower scene. Both versions of Diabolique hinge on a bathroom shock comparable to the one Janet Leigh got. In 1955, nobody saw it coming. In 1996, you've likely seen it imitated (if not duplicated) dozens of times even if you missed the original. Does Chechik screw it up? Not really, but he doesn't improve on it, either -- so why do it?

The story remains the same, though transplanting it from France to Pittsburgh seems pointless. (Maybe Chechik hoped some Night of the Living Dead vibes would rub off on him.) What we have now is just a movie about a jerk (Chazz Palminteri) and the two women -- his sickly wife (Isabelle Adjani) and his former mistress (Sharon Stone) -- who conspire to murder him and are taunted with hints that they botched the murder. The key phrase there is "just a movie"; Clouzot's film didn't feel like just a movie. He wasn't a droll trickster like Hitchcock: he grabbed you with cold hands and never let go, right up until that unforgettable final line, "I saw her. I know I saw her."

The new Diabolique mostly dispenses with subtlety, contenting itself with regularly scheduled cathartic jolts that pass for suspense in our degraded culture. Clouzot staged the bathroom scene with a nightmarish detachment, whereas Chechik's version is more like Night of the Living Dead Guy in the Tub. The actors are dead, too. We know Stone can play a cast-iron conniver, Palminteri a lout, and Adjani a vulnerable waif. They go through the motions here, and halfway through Diabolique I started thinking how much more intriguing it might have been if Stone's and Adjani's roles were reversed. As a rule, when you sit there mentally recasting a movie for lack of anything else to chew on, the movie is in trouble.

One welcome addition is a female detective, played by Kathy Bates apparently after she watched a Columbo marathon (Columbo, by the way, was inspired by the detective in the 1955 version); she wears a cruddy coat and actually says "Oh, one more thing..." Bates' no-nonsense performance rides right over the insipid climax, in which Sharon Stone gets funky with a rake.

Clouzot made you share the guilt of murderesses; Chechik makes you ponder the horrors of yard equipment. C'est Hollywood.

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originally posted: 01/12/07 13:45:20
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell not bad but nothing special 3 stars
3/24/13 gretag too conviniently set up, modest performances by some, thin performances by some 3 stars
10/31/09 Kariba I first saw it years ago I thought it was gret and still do.Never saw the original . 4 stars
1/11/07 Sepi53 A Film with Sharon can't be bad! 4 stars
12/01/06 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 4 stars
10/22/04 Daniel why is hollywood content with remaking the greatest films of all time? there is no point 1 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Quite suspenseful for a while, but the payoff is a major letdown. Stone is commanding. 4 stars
6/27/02 Monster W. Kung Not godawful, but still a crappy and very dumbed-down remake. 2 stars
5/17/02 Kelly Despite a weaker retelling of the original, Stone and Adjani pull off good performances. 4 stars
4/06/02 Veronica Tatterworth Name says it all. Don't take the Bate and don't get Stoned. 1 stars
11/12/01 Andrew Carden OK Movie Being A Remake, but Has Way Too Many Sub Plots. 3 stars
9/12/01 Butterbean Majority rules here. This is a piece of shit, avoid it at all cost 1 stars
11/12/99 Chris H Wouldn't be so bad, if the original wasn't so good. 3 stars
4/16/99 Clunker Totally defunct idea, but gave me wood. 2 stars
2/17/99 Maegs I'm so embarassed for Sharon...and anyone else associated with this trying movie 1 stars
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  22-Mar-1996 (R)



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