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Diabolique Review

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The wife and mistress of a cruel school headmaster unite to bump him off. All goes well - until the body disappears, a retired cop begins investigating the case, and one of the pupils sees their victim alive and well.

★★★★★

Finally appearing after its original May 31 release date came and went, Diabolique shows Hollywood at it again - remaking classic French movies with name stars, incompetent directors and Neanderthal scriptwriters.

This time it's Les Diaboliques, the excellent 1955 psychological shocker in which the mistress (Simone Signoret) and timid wife with a suspect ticker (Vera Clouzot) of a cruel headmaster (Paul Meurisse) conspire to poison the git and deposit his body in the disused school pool. Things get squiffy in the mind department when the pool is drained and said body is conspicuously absent. The resulting series of tortuous plot developments add up to a whole lot of nerve-jangling suspense.

In now time-honoured fashion, director Chechik, with Stone as the ice-queen mistress and Adjani as a goggle-eyed wife, introduces mundanity, obviousness and a sacrilegiously happy revamp of the shock ending. Yet the story, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, is too good to give up the ghost completely, and for those who haven't sampled the original there is a modicum of popcorn pleasure here.

The school has been transported from suburban Paris to an old building outside Pittsburgh, the self-centred headmaster given shape by the thick-set Palminteri, and no sooner have we discovered his ritual abuse of his frail spouse than the conniving women have laced his whisky, finished him in a bath (a pretty effective murder sequence) and disposed of the body. The majority of the film is concerned with the ladies keeping their fragile heads while events grow increasingly insane with tell-tale signs that a supposedly mortal coil-free husband is, in fact, alive and kicking and very near. Then sassy private detective Kathy Bates arrives to tie up the loose ends.

As all this transpires - to a chronically bad score - the film seems trapped in a mire of TV movie scripting and well-rehearsed twists. The actors are reduced to single dimensions: Stone does a unconvincing downmarket Catherine Tremell; Adjani spends the entire movie ridiculously agog with horror; Palminteri - no matter how hard he tries - remains the New York hood.

Where the original grabbed you by the synapses and shook hard, this amounts to watchable nonsense enacted by unbelievable people in a preposterous scenario. By the cranky finale, involving much splashing about in the refilled pool, the likely response will be sniggers rather than gasps.

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