Saturday, May 15, 2021

Fatal Charm (1990)

... aka: Seduzione omicida (Murderous Seduction)
... aka: Tödlicher Charme (Deadly Charm)
... aka: Urok mordercy (Murderer's Charm)

Directed by:
"Alan Smithee" (Fritz Kiersch)
Peter Medak (uncredited; replaced)

Lots of tell tale signs this was a troubled production, beginning with the infamous "Alan Smithee" directorial pseudonym being used. According to the Turner Classic Movies website, filming began in early 1989 and, at some point, original director Peter Medak was replaced by Fritz Kiersch. I'd imagine there must have been problems if the director of The Changeling was swapped out for the director of Children of the Corn, though neither man wanted to take credit for the end results (it's also unclear whether Medak made it far enough into production to even direct any of the scenes). Bizarrely, Fatal Charm was released oversees several years before it was seen by American viewers. There's a VHS release in Germany dating back to 1990 but this didn't make its U. S. debut until the Showtime cable channel aired it in 1992 and wasn't released on home video until 1993 here. I've found no evidence this ever even played in theaters, though there's also no evidence this was made with cable TV specifically in mind, despite what several websites say.

Troubled high schooler Valerie Richter (Amanda Peterson) is having issues with both her police detective mother Susan (Mary Frann) and her mother's lover, Louis (James Remar). As far as mom is concerned, Valerie's mad that she's openly carrying on an affair with Louis, who has yet to divorce his wife and has thus become the subject of local gossip. As far as Louis is concerned, he has a tendency to get drunk, make passes at Val when her mom is away and occasionally makes out with her (he may have even slept with her a time or two - though it is left somewhat vague). Because of this, Val is understandably angry, bitter, confusedand vulnerable.

Meanwhile, clean cut Adam Brenner (Christopher Atkins) is accused of raping and murdering at least six women over a three month period of time. Part of his legal defense is that his former roommate (who's been missing since Adam's arrest) actually did it, but that claim is quickly dispelled once the roommate's dead body washes up on the beach and his death fits the same m.o. (crushed esophagus due to strangulation) of the other victims.

As a means of distraction from her own miserable life, Valerie has been obsessing over both the trial and Adam. She religiously watches news coverage on TV, saves newspaper clippings of him, has lens flare-y, hazy erotic dreams about him having strangle fetish doggy style sex with her and another woman (Tracy Dali) in a van, becomes pen pals with him, starts skipping school and taking a bus into the city so she can see the court proceedings in person and becomes completely convinced of his innocence ("Why would anybody that gorgeous need to rape someone?") Part of me wanted to laugh at all this until I realized there are currently millions of teenage girls all over social media as we speak making excuses for the bad, and frequently criminal, behavior of whatever scandal-plagued social media "influencer" they happen to like or think is cute, so this really isn't too far outside the realm of reality, is it?

The jury finds Adam guilty of all counts and sentence him to die in the gas chamber. He's shipped off to San Quentin to await execution. Being a celebrity killer, he immediately attracts the interest of the other inmates. On one hand, there's a black gang lead by Willy (Ken Foree) threatening to kill and castrate him ("I'm gonna cut your dick off and shove it down your throat!"). On the other, there's Adolph (Ned Romero), who offers him protection in exchange for him becoming his boy toy bitch. All the while, Adam continues his correspondence with Valerie. Valerie's best friend Sandy (Lar Park Lincoln) tries to set her up with a nice, non-convict boyfriend (Andrew Lowery) but she's only really interested in Adam. When her mom finds out she's been writing him, she drags her to the police station where the sheriff (Andrew Robinson) tries to scare her straight by showing her crime scene photos of Adam's victims. Not even that convinces her.

After a prison fight leaves several men dead, the authorities decide it best to move Adam elsewhere. While he's in a holding cell awaiting transfer, several other inmates fake illness so they can overwhelm an officer. And they're nice enough to unlock Adam's cell before taking off. Adam makes it to a bar, where any questions about whether or not he's actually a psycho are answered when he sneaks into the back of a couple's van, strangles the guy while he's getting a blowjob and then kills his girlfriend. From there, he decides to stalk Valerie and then kill off her friends and family.

Profanity and some brief nudity aside, this psycho-thriller comes off a lot like any number of very average made-for-TV movies. While it's not poorly made or acted, and it gets a little credit for covering a lot of bases, the dialogue is mediocre and the script has some VERY questionable story points, starting with the depiction of the protagonist's home life. When Val confesses to her mom that her boyfriend has been sexually abusing her, the mom (who works in law enforcement for Christ's sake!) refuses to believe her, slaps her in the face and, later, lets her daughter's molester babysit her while she's at work! In between those infuriating scenes, they then expect us to be moved by these "heartwarming" mother/daughter bits like them snuggling in bed and such, which are impossible to take seriously.

Providing the most interest here is the cast. I'm generally not a fan of the male star; a surfer-looking former teen heartthrob with a Cheshire Cat grin who has perhaps the worst filmography of the 80s. I'm not even joking when I say that with The Blue Lagoon, A Night in Heaven, The Pirate Movie, Beaks, Listen to Me and MORTUARY ACADEMY preceding, this 2 Star movie actually may be the best thing he'd done up to this point! Though he did nothing to change my opinion of him, to be fair, he's not embarrassingly bad here even though his performance is mostly bug eyes and intense camera stares. Peterson (who passed away in 2015 of a drug overdose) fairs a little better as the teen whose "youthful idealism" puts her life at risk but it's also kind of sad this is the best offer she netted just a few years after her appealing performance in the 80s teen comedy Can't Buy Me Love (1987).

The cast also includes Peggy Lipton and Robert Walker Jr. as opposing attorneys, singer and VENUS IN FURS star Barbara McNair as a teacher, Shelley Smith and Carol Higgins Clark (daughter of novelist Mary Higgins Clark) as reporters, Kevin Brophy (Hell Night) and J. Trevor Edmond (who later starred in Pumpkinhead 2 and Return of the Living Dead III).

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