Scorsese cut and pasted the score from J. Lee Thompson's 1962 original as well as offering small roles to Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (who played the original Max Cady and Sam Bowden respectively), but this brash re-imagination is largely its own beast. And beast is the word: a snarling and visceral creature. It is also an exercise in sustained psychological horror, as Robert De Niro's fearsomely muscular, tattooed rapist is set free with a score to settle with his own defence lawyer (Nick Nolte).
Some have cited Scorsese's dizzying camera movements and Thelma Schoonmaker's zippy editing as crassly manipulative. But that's the point, for "manipulative" is the adjective that describes Cady best. He's a self-destructive psychotic for sure, but he intends to teach family man/adulterer Bowden a lesson about living by a principle before he goes down for good.
Scorsese's ability to wring breathless performances from his cast has rarely served him with such stark success: here we have career-best work from Nolte as well as Juliette Lewis as Bowden's teenage daughter. To coin a cringe-worthy phrase, she's a blossoming flower - the scene in which Cady lures the brace-wearing Danielle onto an eerie school theatre stage, decked out with a Hansel & Gretel set (no one claims the symbolism is subtle!), is a childhood rite of passage as seen in a nightmare; it's also very skilfully paced and played.
For all the fizz and suspense and manoeuvring, the climax, which takes place in the stormy waters off the titular cape, is somewhat disappointing. Where Lee Thompson's movie ended with a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse in the shadowy reeds, Wesley Strick's screenplay resorts to genre convention, stripping Cady down to a babbling monster. But what an exhilarating ride it is getting there, full of memorable set-pieces interspersed with striking dreamy images.