Diabolique (1996)recommended viewing

The bitch-off national finals
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1996
Director: 
Jeremiah S. Chechik
Starring: 
Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates
The Setup: 
A wife and her husband’s mistress plot the murder of the husband.
Discussion: 

I wish I could recall the circumstances surrounding the moment when I suddenly got possessed to see this, but those memories are lost to time. I had seen the original a few years back [and been un-thrilled, probably due to the fact that we’ve seen a million Hitchcocks and other dilutions during the intervening years]. I knew I should watch it again before settling down to watch the remake—but fuck it, I wanted to see this one, and see it NOW.

This is directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, best-known for Benny & Joon, and with no known experience in directing a thriller. Interestingly, however, the screenplay is by Don Roos, who went on to become the writer-director of the hilarious and delightful The Opposite of Sex, among lesser successes. So for that reason you might think that there would be a highly-developed gay sensibility of a certain type—the type that highly values trashy women being BITCHES—and you’d be right.

So within four minutes Isabelle Adjani as Mia is naked and having convulsions in the bathroom, observed by a peeping boy across the way. Chazz Palminteri as her husband Guy wakes up and finds her there. The boy, who we understand has an adolescent attraction to Mia, runs over to save her, but is stopped by Sharon Stone as Nicole, all ruby lipstick, cigarettes and animal patterns. They open the door and see Mia laying there naked, and the kid stands staring at her, even after Nicole tells him to go get another teacher. So far I was totally into the hothouse atmosphere of violence and barely-repressed lust.

So we’re at this boys school that is owned by Mia and run by Guy. The promotional video for the school says that it enforces strict discipline. The food they are forcing the kids to eat is treated as something it is cruel and unusual to make even a dog eat, and Nicole sends hers away. Guy forces Mia to eat some, and she struggles to put even a dollop in her mouth. Thing is, to me it looked utterly delicious—a thick chicken stew, like pot pie filling, over white toast. It looked like the kind of thing a French chef could whip together if they were stranded in the Midwest, but here it’s treated like dog barf. We see that Guy is hideously [and very publicly] abusive to Mia as he forces her to eat, saying “Swallow it. Swallow it for once in your life.” I know it’s horribly wrong and politically incorrect, but with Chazz being all dominant and arrogant, I couldn’t help imagining him gripping my neck and sneering these words to me. I know, I need help. Chazz, please help.

So we see Guy go after Mia, and we see that Mia actually gets quite aroused by his evil nature. Dissolve to a couple having sex and, surprise, it’s Nicole. Because Guy does it with Mia and then goes to Nicole, having arranged a sort of Madonna / Whore thing right in the convenience of his own home. The next day Sharon is wearing bright red and yellow [her outfits throughout are a HOOT] and wearing giant Bee Girl glasses. She says that after Guy was with Mia he vas violent in his doings with Nicole. We’re supposed to be shocked by the fact that the wife and mistress know about each other. But I was too busy noticing that Stone lights a cigarette at 8:03, then walks outside, and lights another cigarette at 8:45, a mere 42 seconds later. Talk about a chain smoker. This cigarette is observed by this SHAMELESSLY caricatured Jew who does nothing but whine and complain whenever he appears, leading to the first flashes of Stone’s astonishingly hilarious bitchiness in this movie. The Jew asks her if there’s something wrong with her eyes and her immediate, dismissive delivery of the word “allergies,” cracked me up. He then blames her cigarette and says second-hand smoke kills. She blows smoke in his face and says “not reliably.”

We then have Donal Logue and J.J. Abrams—yes, THAT J.J. Abrams—as a video team there to make a promotional short about the school. They are amusingly trite and seen-it-all in a way that has been parodied a million times, but still remains amusing.

So the two women go to Nicole’s house in Pittsburgh, the lower level of which Nicole rents to this amusingly horrible overweight Midwestern couple. The idea is that this couple is their alibi, although I don’t quite get that. Nicole and Mia share some talk and semi-lesbian kisses and caresses [meant to draw out the implied lesbianism of the original and make the whole thing a ‘hot’ Sharon Stone vehicle], in which we see that Nicole’s relationship to Mia is much like Guy’s; she considers her stupid and orders her around. Anyway, Nicole has poured some poison into Guy’s booze, and Mia gets the task of serving it to him while Nicole goes downstairs and watches some TV with her tenants. One interesting thing about the script is that the characters never announce their plan to kill Guy, they just do it.

So Guy is being all mean and asking for his drink, and he downs two before getting pissed at Mia and abusing her. They have great struggles upstairs, at one point crashing a bucket of ice onto the floor, causing the people downstairs to ask “What was that?” and Nicole to dismissively say “Something on TV,” which is immediately followed by the corpulent wife, who dotes over her little yippy dog, to say “Oh, did you hear that? That’s his ‘alarm bark,’ which is kind of like his ‘hello bark,’ only higher.” That whole thing of populating a movie with fabulous BITCHES in outrageous outfits and sucking on cigarettes while treating Middle Americans as fat, utter fools… you see what I mean about this film’s gay sensibility? I should also mention that in this scene and the next, Nicole is wearing skin tight shiny red hot pants and a tight white leopard-print shirt.

Sharon goes upstairs and they drag the body into the bathtub. He wakes up, there’s a big struggle, blah, blah, he finally dies. The next morning they load him in a big basket [talk about Basket Case 2] and take him to Nicole’s [rather sensible] car, then switch it to Guy’s car, then Nicole gets a flat, and the troopers help move the basket back to Mia’s car. Mia is turning into a bit of a basket case herself, feeling all guilty and stuff, and Nicole is hilariously icy to her, responding to her offers to help with a dripping, snide “Thanks a lot.”

Then they’re back at the school trying to dump the body into the dirty swimming pool. Their plan is to make it look like he was drunk and slipped, and his body will be found when they drain the pool a few days later. Mia is such a bumbling idiot she turns the floodlights on when she means to turn the pool lights off—and she’s only getting worse. They dump the body into the pool.

Then it’s up to them to just act normal, which Mia finds herself virtually unable to do. She keeps staring out the window at the pool during her classes and fainting and this and that until you just want to bludgeon her. In order to force the pool to be drained, Nicole “accidentally” tosses the keys into it, whereupon a boy volunteers to swim in and find them. Mia freaks out at the prospect that this tender boy might be traumatized by finding a dead body, which Nicole dismisses with an impatient “He’s a child.”

SPOILERS > > >
The kid comes up, having found nothing but Mia’s sunglasses, which she stupidly had around her neck when dumping the body. At night. The pool is drained, and no body, causing Mia to freak. I should mention that this is the second movie, after Zardoz, that features a woman standing next to a projected diagram of an erect penis. It doesn’t mean anything, but I just thought I’d note it in case someone wants to write a list of movies with that theme.

So then Kathy Bates shows up as investigator Shirley Vogel. She initially tells Mia that she wants to investigate the case only to give herself “something to do,” because she’s on a trip across the country trying to reconnect with men she had one date with ten years prior. She has also lost a breast to cancer. And, as will become more and more apparent, she’s a little bitter about men.

So she shows up at the school and questions the two women, noting that Nicole does all the talking for Mia. She asks Mia to show her where she lives, and when Nicole starts to follow them, she turns around and says “So nice meeting you, Ms. Horner,” i.e. you stay here. Nicole has a great reaction as she realizes that she has been out-bitched! Later, when Nicole and Mia are alone, Nicole says of Shirley’s missing breast: “That woman should wear a prosthesis. I hate all that in-your-face survivor crap.”

Now it’s starting to get a little boring. Mia vacillates between being a nervous wreck and seeming coolly calculating, and they start to get indications that either Guy is still alive or someone knows what they did. There’s an amusing scene with this trollop that Guy impregnated, and she wants money for abortion. “But abortion is murder,” Mia says. “Well I’m gonna have an anaesthetic, for God’s sake!” the woman replies.

More clues, more intimidation, more investigation, boring, boring, until we come to the climax. Now, from here to the end I’m going to spoil the climax, which will also SPOIL THE ENDING OF THE ORIGINAL FILM, so think before you continue.

Mia goes upstairs and guy is in the tub. He immediately rises and gets out, his eyes all white and dead-looking. I thought it was a mistake for them not to include a shot of him in the tub first, so we the audience can know he’s there, then cut away and back, then he can come out of the tub. Here it cheats itself of the impact because when you’re supposed to be freaked that he’s rising from the dead, instead you’re thinking “Oh, he’s there?”

Okay, last spoiler warning! This is it! So, wrap your motherfucking mind around THIS: You remember that Mia has a weak heart [or maybe I didn’t tell you that, but she does]. This whole thing was actually a plot between Nicole and GUY to rid themselves of Mia [and with good reason, too, she was SO tedious]. This is the ending of the French version, and it blew a lot of people’s minds, and is why this remake had a bit of nerve in existing at all. But they changed the ending. I have not yet been able to have direct evidence of this, but my suspicion is that this is a movie about abused women and the studio could NOT let themselves release a movie in which the husband offs the mousy wife for the sizzlin’ mistress. So they thought it would be okay to make a movie in which an abusive husband is killed by his wife, and the audience is given explicit acknowledgement that this situation is FINE. Because men are such pigs, you know.

So what happens is that Nicole sees that Mia is still alive, and bids her to play dead so Guy won’t know. Because Nicole, you see, has grown a heart over the course of this film, and cannot stand to see poor Mia, whom she loves so very much, die. But eventually he sees that she's alive and he moves to beat her and there’s a big scene, during which Mia alternates between horror movie stalker and naïve waif. Eventually they end up out by the pool, with Guy trying to drown Mia, when Nicole says “I shoulda done this a week ago,” and imbeds an iron rake in his temple. This made me question how much pressure it would actually take to imbed a rake like that I a person’s cranium—I mean to the point that it kind of sticks out straight. You see? Movies CAN inspire wonder.

So Guy dies and Nicole rescues Mia, because sisters are doin’ it for THEMSELVES. Then Investigator Shirley Vogel shows up and socks Mia—because that way it’ll look like self-defense, and she’ll get off for murder. Because killing your abusive husband is like a right-on thing. Shirley also indicates that she’ll look the other way and won’t investigate the matter any further, because those bastards got what’s comin’ to ‘em. The final shot is of Shirley triumphantly smoking a cigarette, as she gazes at the pool, as though she too had scored a victory.

I mentioned this at the ending of my review of Enough, another movie of about the same time as this one, which floated the idea at the end that it is not only fine, but morally laudatory to kill an abusive husband. I was surprised to find another movie like it.  < < < SPOILERS END

The changing of the ending is what it is. It does kind of ruin the aftertaste of the movie, because for the first 40 minutes I found it delicious, then it starts to drag on a bit, but still amusing, but the last ten minutes really make you feel jerked-around. I wish I knew whether they shot the ending and then were forced to add a tacked-on twist, or whether they wrote the change in at the beginning.

Word on the IMDb is that Sharon Stone thought they were making a black comedy [and there are certainly many indications to support that], but the director wanted more of a thriller. But Sharon was the big cheese. So you have this misbegotten thing that’s like a lame thriller with some humor thrown on when the director wasn’t looking.

So that’s about the deal. It’s not as bad as you think, I just think it offends people that they went and remade it at all, then changed the ending. If you are gay and like bitchy, chain smoking women in animal patterNs, though, you really should consider getting some friends together and checking this out.

Should you watch it: 

If you find trashy bitchiness amusing or will watch anything with suspense. It could be worse.

RELATED FILMS:
LES DIABOLIQUES the French original is less trashy, has some wondeful suspense sequences, and is, you know, French.