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Cape Fear’s title credits are evocative of two of Bass’ prior works. Most notable are the insertions of footage - that of a distorted, sinister male face - from the title sequence of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. In that film, the strained countenance was scrutinized by the camera’s gaze, as the identity of the figure is robbed by the sequence’s end. Here, the face has a less figurative utility, and is used to forward threat. Simply, it is the visage of an anonymous boogeyman. Appropriate, as Robert DeNiro’s tattooed villain has yet to be seen in the film, and once he is his threat has already been established in these titles.
The type is set in a customized, condensed Helvetica italic. It is offset across the midsection—it doesn’t look fragile, but harmed, the result of a slashing that breaks the director’s and cast’s names in Bass’ titles for Psycho. These names bear scars, and forward urgency. These titles fade in over close-up, abstracted shots of rippling water, which reflects a brighter, warmer color (like that of an off-shore fire). The viewer is nearly submerged, made claustrophobic, and by the sequence’s end is drowned in blood.
Cape Fear marks the final, even if indirect pairing of Saul Bass and composer Bernard Herrmann (whose original score was "adapted" by Elmer Bernstein). The two's collaborations are definite climaxes in each's career, in which Cape Fear may not be the most notable collaboration (which is generally contested between Vertigo and Psycho), but the most jarring coda.