The Hollywood remake is a murky and often controversial subject. The 1990s were certainly the decade when the dreaded remake really started to rear its head and it seemed that almost every other film was a remake of either an old classic or a foreign hit. The worst example of this trend was 1998's shot-for-shot remodelling, or "reimagining" as a lot of filmmakers like to say, of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. They did a great job of replicating every shot, no doubt about that, but it was merely visual, with all of the atmosphere and suspense completely gone; and the less said about Vince Vaughan as Norman Bates running around with a wig on, the better. The remake then, is nearly always a depressing situation.
One really interesting, yet vastly underrated "reimagining" came in 1996 with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani starring in the moody and genuinely thrilling remake of the 1955 French classic Les Diaboliques. With a script by Single White Female writer Dan Roos, co-credited with the first film's original director Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jeremiah S Chechnik behind the camera, it all gels together nicely; a perfect blend of mystery, twists and simmering tension. Chazz Palminteri plays Guy Baran, a nasty head teacher married to the meek Mia (Adjani) but also having an affair with fellow teacher Nicole (Stone). After getting together to plot his murder, they act it out with apparent success and dump his corpse. Strangely, the body vanishes and with cop Shirley Vogel (Kathy Bates) on the case, things become tense, especially when Guy is spotted walking around and various clues are left around the school that hint towards the fact that someone has been watching them; or indeed that Guy is alive and well.
Most cinema buffs will know of the original film and its classic moment where the "murdered" rises from the bathtub. It's a truly chilling scene and in this updated version it's similarly haunting, although the fact it's in colour and not black and white does soften the creepiness a little. There are some terrifically filmed sequences and genuinely exciting moments where you are on the edge of your seat. A completely different entity to the 1955 original, comparing the two is kind of pointless. You may prefer the original, but had you not seen the 55 version, you would still enjoy this one and be along for the ride.
Adjani gives a wonderful mouse like portrayal of the put upon wife who has had enough, perfectly embodying the desperation of a woman who feels she has no options left. Palminteri is fantastic too, nailing the nasty bastard to a tee. Stone herself gives what I feel to be the film's best and perhaps most multi layered performance. After all, she was seeing Adjani's husband, but builds up a friendship and closeness with her that often hints towards sexual tension but never quite gets going. Clearly, they are united in their hatred of the man and it brings them together, or so we think. Stone can be calm and collected one minute, then a complete bag of nerves the next. She gives a brilliant effort, perfectly measured and balanced, reflecting the situation she is in. In her outrageous comic book costumes, she looks great too, smoking endless cigarettes and constantly ensuring they have their stories straight. Of course, like all good femme fatales, she isn't at all what she seems.
Unfortunately, Diabolique was a massive flop, both critically and at the box office. With a large budget of 45 million, it only managed to claw back 17. This loss may have had something to do with the critics, who it has to be said, ripped the film apart. Remaking such a beloved classic was a bad idea in some respects and with film critics holding the original so dearly, it was only ever going to get bad notices. In effect, they killed the picture stone dead.
Mike Clark of USA Today was a voice against the picture, writing "The husband is still a brute, and the swimming pool is still moldy, but the new Diabolique fails to translate into anything more than the latest ham-handed Hollywood makeover of a European classic." The New York Times didn't like the picture much, but they at least enjoyed Stone's performance, although more ironically than in any other way. "If Diabolique no longer works as a thriller," they wrote, "it does offer the spectacle of Ms. Stone marching triumphantly toward the Dragon Lady stage of her career. There is no small entertainment value in this, not with the star playing schoolteacher while evidently in the throes of an intense love-hate relationship with her costume designer. Ms. Stone's over-the-top performance overshadows Ms. Adjani's more demure one... Ms. Stone, as the mistress, keeps busy delivering either menacing wisecracks or campy ones."
Roger Ebert, not exactly in love with the picture itself, for one seemed to appreciate her input, writing that Stone "walks around with a cigarette in her mug and makes biting remarks. The cast is not the problem... the acting would have distinguished a worthier screenplay. Stone finds an acid edge to Nicole."
"Sharon Stone, strutting around in leopard skin and angora, is the ice-blooded mistress who lures Adjani into joining in a payback homicide scheme," wrote Entertainment Weekly, adding "Sharon Stone, in a familiar role, hones her smirky, hostile hauteur to a witty edge. The biggest change in the new Diabolique is that it’s been recast as a feminist revenge tract. This means that there’s now an overtone of lesbian sisterhood between the two women, and that the big twist segues into a luridly cheesy exploitation climax."
In their review, titled "Diabolically Bad," SF Gate butchered the film, spitting out "Diabolique, starring Sharon Stone in a mannequin performance as a murderess, is a paint-by-numbers, implausible remake of one of the great thrillers of all time."
Despite what I feel to be a good effort from Stone, it was met with almost mocking contempt. Once again, her old friends at the Razzie Awards nominated her for Worst New Star, a joint nomination with her role in Last Dance, released the same year. Of course, this was a joke, as the "new" was what they called "the new serious Sharon Stone." It was a mocking and nasty put down, but at least she lost to Pamela Anderson for her cardboard acting in Barb Wire. Still, it was unfair for a talented actress like Stone to be seen as something of a joke. Of all the thrillers she's made- Scissors, Basic Instinct, Sliver, the later Cold Creek Manor - Diabolique is the best of the lot. Definitely worth a re investigation.
This article appeared in Chris Wade's 2017 book SHARON STONE ON SCREEN, available on Amazon