Thursday, October 4, 2012

Unremarkable: "The Mark of Cain" (1986)



At an isolated house in Canada, Otto (August Schellenberg) and Sean pull up in a car in time to discover Sean's twin Michael has brutally murdered a young woman and crucified her on a tree in the backyard.

Fifteen years later, Michael (Robin Ward) is safely locked away in the local sanitarium under the care of Dr. Clifford (Antony Parr). Michael's twin Sean (also Robin Ward) is married to beautiful Dale (Wendy Crewson) but the couple is broke. Michael is completely insane, insisting to a visiting Sean that he will someday be free. Sean decides to sell the house where the murder occurred, and he and Dale go there to clean it up. Otto stops by with his mouthy wife Molly (Deborah Grover).

As Sean lies in bed, he "sees" his brother kill a sanitarium nurse by stabbing her with a crucifix. Dr. Clifford comes out to the house and warns Dale and Sean that Michael has indeed escaped. Michael heads for the house, murdering a man who picks him up along the way. The police arrive for ineffective protection, and the group board themselves in the house.

A big flaming clue about the difference between the identical twins is dropped in the meantime. Sean is right handed, and Michael is left handed.

Dr. Clifford attributes Sean's insanity to satanic ritual...never offering anything more concrete than that. Michael gets to the house, attacks Sean in the basement, and gets knocked out. A woozy Michael is hauled off by the unhelpful cops, and everything is a-okay...but wait! Michael awakens at the police station and insists he is Sean. Sean starts acting a little weird around Dale, and Dr. Clifford uses the obvious clue reported earlier and figures out Michael switched places with his brother. The climax involves a shotgun armed Otto, and Dale fighting off her brother-in-law's advances while Clifford and Sean come riding to the rescue.

Being a transplanted Texan to North Dakota, I have come to appreciate a good driving snowstorm and how it can play on film. Just look at films like "Fargo" and "The Thing" (1982), where the wintry weather is a character all its own. "The Mark of Cain" has creepy cold Canadian landscapes that isolate characters and bring about suspense through the constant sound of wind at the abandoned house.

Director Pittman does not do well with his characters. The character of Otto is assumed to be the twins' father, until we find out otherwise. The original murdered girl is never identified. Where are the boys' parents? There is a whole religious angle here that does not work at all. The boys were devout Catholics, and we know from movies that all Christians are sexually repressed wackos who are either looking for sinful nookie or fighting the devil. This unabashed bigotry is played out here as well. Michael might be the devil? Dr. Clifford comes off as nuttier than his patient. Cross and crucifixion imagery abound, and it all signifies nothing.

Pittman also drags out all the horror and suspense cliches. The obvious clue about the twins' difference, and the climax involves a character thought dead magically coming back to life. Even the lone shooting in the film makes no sense. Ward is better as the good Sean than the wild eyed Michael. Crewson is pretty as Dale, but you wish she would just find the front door and leave the damn house.

"The Mark of Cain" is based on a stage play of all things, and does not open up to film well. The setting aside, it is another slasher film that tries to be more with religious imagery and pop psychology.

My younger brothers are identical twins, and they were more interesting when I had to change their diapers. Sean and Michael deserve each other, and no viewer deserves this film. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Mark of Cain [VHS]