The Mark of Cain (1985) poster

The Mark of Cain (1985)


Canada. 1985.


Director – Bruce Pittman, Screenplay – Peter Colley, Bruce Pittman & John Sheppard, Based on the Play by Peter Colley, Producer – Tony Kramreither, Photography – John Herzog, Music – Bruce Ley, Art Direction – Rob Bartman. Production Company – Brightstar Pictures, Inc.


Robin Ward (Michael O’Neil/Sean O’Neil), Wendy Crewson (Dale O’Neil), Anthony Parr (Dr Clifford), August Schellenberg (Otto), Deborah Grover (Molly)


Michael O’Neil has been incarcerated in an asylum ever since he murdered his mother as a child. His twin brother Sean regularly comes to visit him. Sean now informs Michael that he and his wife Dale are being forced to sell the family home because they need the money. This news greatly upsets Michael. As Sean and Dale go to clean the house up before selling it, Michael breaks out of the asylum. Michael’s psychiatrist Dr Clifford travels to the house to inform Sean and Dale of what has happened. Michael breaks in that night but Sean overcomes him in the basement. Michael is shipped back to the asylum and the others relax. However, once back at the asylum, Clifford does not know whether to believe Michael’s insistent claim that he is Sean and that Michael has taken his place.

The Mark of Cain is an obscure Canadian-made psycho-thriller. The film received a negligible video release when it first came out and its profile has not improved any since then.

The Mark of Cain is one of those films where you can see the way the plot is going to play out from virtually the first scene. The story seems a variant on Halloween (1978) – psychopathic brother escapes incarceration in an asylum and returns to his home pursued by his psychiatrist – that has been combined with the evil twin plot of films like The Black Room (1935), Among the Living (1941), The Dark Mirror (1946), Dead Ringer (1964) and a host of others. (For a more detailed listing see my essay Twins in Fantastic Cinema). The film’s twin plot becomes extremely tired and hackneyed in its play on the confusions between which brother is which. It becomes obvious from about the point that the escaped twin brother is overcome and returned to the asylum – which all happens off-screen and with a complete lack of moment – that a substitution has occurred and the evil twin is impersonating the good brother.

The main problem with The Mark of Cain is not even so much one of eminent predictability when it comes to the plot but of directorial inertia. The film is incredibly dully directed – nothing much happens for a substantial part of the first half at least. It is hard to believe that The Mark of Cain was made by the same Bruce Pittman who a couple of years later made the appealingly quirky Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987).

Pittman delivers cliche horror shots – an empty swing ominously left swinging, Wendy Crewson spooked by a falling mannequin, a crucifix turning upside with ominously loaded symbolism. All the scares, pursuits and returns from the dead at the last moment come wholly by the numbers. This produces a film that feels either indifferently made or conducted by people who are amateurs and lacking in any basic skill. The results are dull and tiresome.

Canadian director Bruce Pittman has mostly worked in Canadian-shot US tv series and tv movies. His other genre works include the Kurt Vonnegut adaptation Harrison Bergeron (1995), Alien Tracker (2003) about alien prison escapees and the film set thriller The Last Movie (2012).

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