When Cady (Mitchum) slips into the water, it's like an alligator sneaking up on its prey. Except this is a houseboat with two vulnerable women in his sights. With those sleepy eyes, it's hard to know just what sadistic acts he's got in mind, but we know it's too grisly for the screen. Remember what he did to poor Diane (Chase), and he wasn't even mad at her. Cape Fear should have been named Cape Fear, Shudder and Sweat.
This is about the last word in stalker movies. More importantly, it shows how using less often produces more. Mitchum underplays the stalker role, but he also knows how to imply unspeakable evil, which is really more effective than blood splatter. It's what's in your imagination that's really scary. Ditto Peck, (Sam) whose on-screen reserve speaks volumes in grim determination-- he's got to protect his family. Only Bergen as the terrified wife gets to really cut loose. What a first-rate cast, plus expert pacing from director Thompson.
I guess the movie's moral is that if the law can't protect you, you've got to do it yourself. At that primitive level, there's no holds barred. So the tension really mounts as we discover Cady's animal cunning is too much for the law or even for hired thugs. In the end, then, it's going to have to be Cady vs. Sam, mano y mano. It's sort of like a modern morality tale of the nuclear family vs. a swamp beast. No doubt about it, the movie's a real nail-biter the whole way.
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