Directed by Curtis Hanson, who would later go on to helm critically-acclaimed dramas like L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and In Her Shoes, the film starred Rebecca De Mornay as Peyton Flanders, a vengeful widow who infiltrates a happy Seattle family in order to wreak havoc on Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra), the woman responsible for ruining her husband's life (he was a gynecologist molesting his patients, so he had it coming). And to make matters worse, Peyton suffers a miscarriage and goes off the deep end, becoming hellbent on making Claire's family hers.
Fans of Julianne Moore will be happy to see the redheaded actress in her early years - before she became Julianne Freakin' Moore - playing the role of Marlene Craven, Friend Who Learns A Deadly Secret And Pays The Price. The feisty, chain-smoking real estate agent, who also gets the titular line in a dinner scene ("The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world"), has an unfortunate run-in with several panes of glass in a greenhouse halfway through the film, a booby-trap intended for the asthmatic Claire. However, Psycho Nanny's got a conveniently wicked back-up plan: she empties all of the medicated inhalers in the house, so when Claire finds Marlene's bloody body, she nearly suffocates and dies herself. Peyton's got all the bases covered. *PS - check out that car phone!
I first saw the movie with my father during a weekend matinee at Bay Plaza in the Bronx when I was 11. It was the second R-rated film I ever saw in a theater, and the audience couldn't have made it a more memorable experience. When Solomon (Ernie Hudson, finally getting some work after Ghostbusters 2), returns in the end to rescue little Emma from the delusional nanny from hell, a man sitting in our row jumped up and hollered at the screen. And when Peyton finally gets her due (SPOILER ALERT) and is pushed out the attic window, falling onto the family's white picket fence, the theater erupted in cheers. It was as if we were watching a ballgame over at Shea Stadium. *Remember: this was the Bronx.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle was produced on a budget of $7 million and went on to gross over $88 million at the U.S. box office. If you ask me, that buys a lot of baby food and breast pumps.
And my favorite scene? Peyton goes up to a 5-year-old bully in a playground, twists his arm, and snarls, "Leave Emma alone. If you don't, I'm gonna rip your fucking head off."
Now there's something you won't see in an anti-bullying PSA.