The original Diabolique was a coldly morbid thriller that left a lingering air of suspense and, for a while, the remade version seems determined to do the same.
The film centers on a rural boarding school where the headmaster’s mistress and wife conspire to kill him off.
Director Jeremiah Chechik begins the movie with a homage to his 1955 counterpart, Henri-Georges Clouzot. He opens with the same shot as the original: the school’s stagnant, fetid, outdoor pool, a fitting image for the moral decay all around.
Clouzot had an eye for such loaded images, but Chechik hasn’t the time; he’s too busy shooting close-ups of Sharon Stone as she puffs on an endless stream of cigarettes.
Clouzot had an eye for such loaded images, but Chechik hasn’t the time.
In the role of the brutal and icily calculating mistress, Stone rips through her scenes with unabashed villainy. Wearing flashy, form-fitting outfits and delivering almost all the best lines, she commands every frame she’s in.
The movie’s other compelling performance comes courtesy of Kathy Bates. As a clever and inquisitive detective, Bates sparkles with humorous bite and delivers some of the movie’s most searing feminist jabs.
Clouzot meant the 1955 film to do nothing more than give its audience a good scare, something he achieved with ghoulish delight. But with his feminist underscoring and ridiculous finale, Chechik seems to want more.
Some may argue that Chechik has ruined a classic work of cinematic art. Others will be disappointed when the film’s final “Boo!” isn’t scary in the least, but just an obvious prank we’ve all seen before. Once again, the cliche for remakes rings true: There’s only one Diabolique worthy of its name, and it’s waiting for you at the video store.