"Deadly Intentions," a four-hour ABC mini-series airing Sunday (8-10 p.m.) and Monday (9-11 p.m.) on Channel 7, is a disturbing look at mental illness couched in the trumped up, spine-tingling chills of a Saturday matinee squealer.
Based on the 1982 book of the same name by prosecutor William Randolph Stevens, the film traces the descent into madness of a mild-mannered doctor who psychologically tortures his young bride, then plots her grisly murder.
Unlike "Fatal Vision" a mini-series that also featured a menacing doc, "Deadly Intentions" never bothers to delve into the story any deeper than a flesh wound.
The director should be sued for malpractice.
There are hints of an unresolved Oedipus complex as well as dependency on unidentified drugs, but we never learn for sure what triggers the young man's violent outbursts or his wife's willingness to become the victim of his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. It's almost as if Castle Films remade "The Three Faces of Eve" and left out the psychiatrist.
The story opens with wimpy medical student Charles Raynor (played by Michael Biehn) -- the real names and locations have been changed -- shyly courting Katherine (Madolyn Smith), the daughter of his landlord. Charles is suspect from the start. He keeps his daily schedule on a chalkboard ("Call Mom"), wears Rorschach-test polyester shirts and abruptly leaves a birthday party thrown for him by Katherine and her parents to meet his kooky mother in a dingy bar, where they slow-dance like teen-agers in heat.
Cloris Leachman, camping it up as Charles' mother Charlotte in K mart jewelry and a platinum farmer's daughter braid, tells her son, "You're not equipped to deal with life without me, Charles."
Biehn, last seen in "The Terminator," is Norman Bates reincarnated, all innocence and shy-boots, his evil visible only in the sunken hollows of his eyes and the smirk on his lips. Almond-eyed Smith, last seen as John Travolta's uptown lover in "Urban Cowboy," does a credible job portraying Katherine, if only for her ability to register fear and revulsion, her peepers wider than Jerry Colonna, for four straight hours.
Charles and Katherine are married against the wishes of her best friend ("There's just something wrong with him") and his mother, who sneers at the bride, "You won't last three months."
They move to Florida, where Charles takes a post with a hospital. She wants to get a job. He disapproves ("I always want to know where I can find you"). He forbids her to purchase any item over $10, then brings home an expensive camera to snap her in horrified poses. He gets his chance when she is nearly ground into meat loaf by an alligator. For more kicks, he tosses spiders the size of small foreign cars at her and screams like a banshee in the middle of the night.
Like Charles Boyer in "Gaslight," he preys on his wife's unexplained low self-esteem, and it takes forever for poor, dumb Katherine to realize that this obsessive, antisocial creep who hurls the family cat against the wall ("I hate it when anything runs from me") is a certified nut case.
"It takes time for a marriage to work," deadpans her mother, played with portly somnolence by Morgana King.
Charles' psychopathic urges accelerate after his wife gives birth to their son, and she flees from his grip in a cuticle-chewing sequence worthy of "Night of the Living Dead."
Part Two opens three years later with the well-respected and recently remarried Dr. Raynor plotting his ex-wife's murder.
Will he succeed in his plan? Will he make sushi out of Katherine? Will he forget to call his mom? Will we care?
"Deadly Intentions" should raise a hair or two, and is definitely not intended for the recently betrothed. Or the recently estranged.