MPI // 1990 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 28th, 2005
This is the chilling account of a horrific and violent axe murder.
This is the chilling account of a horrific and violent DVD I had to review.
Candy (Barbara Hershey) is your average God-fearing small-town southern wife: she loves her husband, she goes to church, she takes the kids to swimming practice, and she never ever complains about anything. In her secret heart, she seems to yearn for more, but is careful to never let those around her know of her desires, especially when she finds solace in the arms of a local man, Scott Blankenship. She is sweet, demure, and beautiful, exactly the kind of woman you would never suspect of any wrongdoings.
So when Scott's wife ends up brutally murdered, hacked to pieces by repeated blows from an axe, the town is rocked to its foundations, shocked by the brutality of the crime. And even more unbelievably, the police blame Candy with the crime, having learned of the affair through interviews and believing her to have motive.
Suddenly, a young woman is on the stands for murder, ostracized by a community looking for justice, for a crime she did not commit. Her lawyer (Brian Dennehy) tries to convince the community that she could not be capable of such a heinous crime. Or could she? For Candy has darker secrets than she lets the world see, secrets that, if released, could drive her to the brink of madness...
A Killing In A Small Town originally was broadcast on television in 1990 under the title Evidence Of Love, replacing a terrible title with an even worse one. This, I fear, can be no coincidence, and speaks volumes to the movie as a whole.
How good can a fifteen-year old made-for-TV drama be? Not very. The plot is transparent, the dialogue is inane, and the acting is simply frightening. Entire sequences of the film are totally disposable, laugh-out-loud, and over-the-top, complete and utter ham where characters serve ham to one another and feast upon its delicious honey-glaze, enjoying its many hammy delights. In particular, the sequence where Candy goes under hypnosis has more ham in it than the Trigg County Country Annual Ham Festival in Cadiz-Trigg County, Kentucky. I ham you not.
Add to the ham a camp value that approaches Twin Peaks levels, but not in a good way, and you have the makings of a small cinematic disaster. This particular revelation actually makes a small semblance of sense considering director Stephen Gyllenhaal's previous film credit was directing an episode of Twin Peaks. The show must have rubbed off on Gyllenhaal (who, by the by, is the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal). A Killing In A Small Town has more than a few similarities to Lynch's esoteric soap opera: the enigmatic murder in a small town, the sense of normality smashed open by the misdeeds and the infidelities of seemingly innocent townsfolk, and a pervasive oddball sense of disorientation, as if the entire world has been rotated a few degrees to the left. Of course, these are all surface elements; rest assured, all the things that make Twin Peaks a good show have been thoughtfully omitted here. It takes style to pull these elements off, and A Killing In A Small Town has little style of any kind.
Plus, instead of Brian Dennehy, I would have rather seen Brian Boitano, but oh, well.
Ugly on the eyes, A Killing In A Small Town is a mess of browns, ugly browns, and even uglier browns, and the film is grainy and damaged. Not a very nice-looking presentation, but I suppose it gets the job done; I can actually see the actors on the screen. That's something, I suppose. Audio is a little kinder on the senses, a simple stereo track that keeps dialogue clear throughout. The score is minimalist, choosing to create dramatic tension through long awkward sequences of silence, which would be much more effective were it not for the constant analog hiss emanating from the channels.
And as for extra materials, you can forget it; unless you count "scene index" as a special feature. This DVD has nothing, in more ways than one.
The irritating thing about A Killing In A Small Town is the occasional flashes of genuine emotion, competency, and humor that spring out of nowhere and prevent the ship from smashing against the rocks completely. You want to hate this level of misanthropic and plodding cinema so badly that it hurts, and it is irritating to find these small, isolated, and grace-saving moments where the film actually does come together, albeit minutely, where the acting does become cohesive, and the directing actually finds a rhythm.
Blink and you can miss these moments, but rest assured, they are there; knowing this makes it all the harder to crap all over this made-for-TV film. It may be terrible, but it tries hard.
A Killing In A Small Town is terrible, but for a made-for-TV movie from the 1990s, it is at least digestible. And that, I fear, is all we can expect from such B-grade DVDs. The story is flat, the acting is atrocious, the dialogue is campy, and the film fails to grasp any semblance of dramatic tension or intellectual interest of any kind. But, and this is to the film's credit, it is not for lack of trying.
Purchasing this DVD is absolutely out of the question, but if you were really, really, really drunk, I could see renting this one night. That's okay. Chemical reactions in the brain make people do strange things when inebriated. It's not your fault.
Despite occasionally provoking this court's sympathies, the verdict is guilty, and the film is sentenced to forty whacks with a wet DVD.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated