By Kirsten Moana Thompson
The ability and presence of dread in fresh American cinema.
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Additional info for Apocalyptic Dread: American Film at the Turn of the Millennium
6 Upstanding Sam Bowden in the original, Peck now plays Cady’s ingratiating and pompous Southern lawyer, Lee Heller; Mitchum, the original Max Cady, is now a genial yet dodgy detective, only just this side of the law,7 and Martin Balsam moves from being a police chief to being a sanctimonious Southern judge who quotes Booker T. Washington. The sexual violence hinted at in the purring physicality of Robert Mitchum becomes baroque in the sexual sadism of Robert De Niro’s Max Cady, whose intense performance style and 34 Apocalyptic Dread violent psychotic roles in Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976) offered additional menace to his star persona.
Cady has a prior relationship with the father and lawyer, Samuel Bowden, who either as witness or negligent defense attorney in the respective ﬁlm adaptations is responsible for Cady’s imprisonment. Upon his release from jail Cady is determined to take his revenge on Bowden’s family. Cady stalks, harasses, and threatens the family, and in both screen versions presents a particular sexual threat to the Bowden daughter. The story climaxes with a ﬁnal battle between Cady and the family, which in two of the versions ends in Cady’s death.
Lee Thompson’s 1962 classic Cape Fear and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake, chapter 2, “Cape Fear and Trembling: Familial Dread,” considers the ways in which these ﬁlms were a dialogue with their different cultural and historical production contexts. It understands the second ﬁlm as the monstrous return of the repressed desires, fears, and violence in the family, whose threat was contained in the original. Both ﬁlms deal with historical memory and sexual dread that, in displaced form, become mediated and embodied in the ﬁgure of Max Cady, a predator who vows revenge against the Bowden family.