Not diabolical in the least -- not even French -- the worst thing about Diabolique is that it is absolutely unnecessary.
If unnecessariness isn’t one of the Seven Deadly Sins, they should kick sloth out. There is no more grievous an offence to filmmaking than a movie that leaves no impression whatsoever. Diabolique isn’t bad, it just isn’t.
You see, there is a wonderful little French thriller of the same name that was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1954. Les Diaboliques didn’t need to be remade. In fact, the world would be a far better place had Hollywood not hacked this out. Now the mention of Diabolique is likely to elicit the response, “Oh, that boring thing that came out the same time as Bound but didn’t have nearly enough lesbian tongue-kissing,” rather than, “Oh, that cool French flick with Simone Signoret. Meow.”
The essential story is the same, but that is were any similarities begin and end. In this updated Diabolique, the cruel headmaster (Chazz Palminteri) runs a boarding school for wayward youths in front of whom he berates his childlike wife (Isabelle Adjani), who isn’t an invalid like Vera Clouzot in the ‘54 version, but is as crippled emotionally. Isabelle shares her husband with fellow teacher Sharon Stone, an ice queen in high heels, who hates Chazz with a passion. As contemptuous as they both are of Chazz, neither can seem to get enough of Chazz in bed, no matter how physically abusive or mentally cruel he is. Can you say, “Battered Wives Syndrome?”
Apparently, Chazz’s wand loses its magic because Sharon and Isabelle have had enough and plot to kill him. They succeed, but then the body goes missing and things get freaky just in time for retired cop Kathy Bates to show up, insert a reference to her mastectomy into every conversation, and investigate the whereabouts of missing person Chazz
Whereas Clouzot’s film is a dark, spooky and sexy crime story, the ’96 version is angry, eerie and stars Chazz Palminteri as a lothario who can score not just Isabelle Adjani, but Sharon Stone and Clea Lewis. No way. That’s not sexy, it’s dirty. And watching the two women take his abuse and kind of like it is just sad.
Stick to the ’54 version, or if you’re one of those people whose TVs can only play color, watch the movie with more lesbian tongue-kissing.