For reasons that probably have more to do with money than art,
Hollywood has decided to remake the 1954 French thriller LES
DIABOLIQUES. This time it is a hopelessly muddled mess called simply
DIABOLIQUE, which isn't very simple at all for American audiences I
guess since the guy in front of me at the box office at local multiplex
said "give me two tickets to that show with the strange name."
In this remake by director Jeremiah Chechik, he got himself some
big box office stars, but skimped on the best part of the original
movie which was the elaborate and well constructed script. In this
disastrous version, written by Don Roos, most of the motivational
scenes that set up the character's later actions have been excised from
the original script and the time filled out with scenes of meaningless
The plot for the movie is that Guy (Chazz Palminteri) runs a boys'
boarding school that is actually owned by his wife Mia (Isabelle
Adjani). He is having one of his many affairs, this time with a
teacher named Nicole (Sharon Stone). This much you can figure out if
you listen carefully. Harder to see is that Guy is supposed to be a
sadist and that Mia and Nicole are in love with each other. We have a
scene where Guy forces Mia to eat some food she does not like, and then
she is off to kill him with Nicole's help. This is all laid out in
much more detail in the original so you can understand better what the
characters' motivations are. When all of a sudden she is killing him
early on in this version, the audience is needlessly confused. Yes,
maybe she should divorce him, but why does she have to kill him? The
movie plays like a Readers Digest version of the original. Eventually,
Kathy Bates (Shirley) is added as a wisecracking detective that Mia
hires. Ultimately the movie is about who actually killed whom and who
will be caught.
The script is a travesty and features dialog that is so trite as
to be silly. After Mia calls Guy, Nicole says, "Why don't you take him
off speed dial?" When Mia decides to divorce Guy and give him the
school, Nicole advises her, "If you give him the school, he'll just
sell it, and then where would all the future Lee Harvey Oswalds come
from?" When the script does not have characters uttering inanities, it
relies on classic cliches like lots of thunder and lighting to provide
the right atmosphere, and it mimics many of the low budget horror shows
that are on late night cable. It is so poor it may put you to sleep so
I would avoid going to the evening show if you feel you just have to
see this remake for some reason.
Ignoring for a minute the poor direction and the hacked up script,
how is the acting you ask? Well, Sharon Stone's make up by Tricia
Sawyer turns her into a harsh caricature. She has a tube full of red
lipstick on in every scene and with bright red nails to match. She
chain-smokes, frowns constantly, and is an extremely unsympathetic
character. You keep hoping that someone will knock her off or maybe
she will fall in the swimming pool and drown. You never believe for a
moment that Guy or Mia could in love with her or could have a affair
with her. Who could stand this mean rock of a woman.
I usually like Chazz Palminteri, although he has been bad in some
movies like MULHOLLAND FALLS, but here he is simply miscast. He is
never convincing as a sadist. The only characters with any appeal in
the film are Adjani and Bates. Parts of Adjani's character make the
audience care about her, but her performance is frequently wooden.
Bates is good only for a little comic relief and has several funny
lines, but I did not buy her as a detective.
The cinematography by Peter James is too didactic for my taste.
Items like ice buckets will crash to the floor and the camera with zoom
in tight to overemphasize its importance in the plot. There was one
part of the movie I totally loved and that was the overboard, but fun,
old fashioned dramatic movie music by Randy Edelman. Hey, if we have
to sit through this mess, lets at least have something exhilarating to
which to listen.
DIABOLIQUE runs a long 1:48 which is amazing since so many key
developmental scenes were either deleted by editor Carol Littleton or
more likely judged not important for American audiences and so were
never in the script in the first place. The film is correctly rated R
and has bad language, sex, full frontal nudity, gratuitous violence
copied straight from low grade horror flicks, and heavy smoking. I
suppose it will be okay for most teenagers, but I hope they do not
bother with this one and rent the much better original instead. Even
with subtitles, the original is a much easier film to follow. I give
thumbs way down to DIABOLIQUE and award it a single *. Finally, to be
fair, I should point out my wife liked it, flaws and all.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes