Showing posts with label gaslighting movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gaslighting movies. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Deadly Messages (1985 TV-movie), 2.5 of 4

Kathleen Beller has haunted me since 1980, when I saw the PBS film of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter."  (She plays the title character, left.)  Only recently, I recognized my avoidance of her other work.  Of course, I'd cherished the memory.

Beller's credits show an impressive run: for a decade, she was TV-movie royalty.  Granted, Deadly Messages is considered middle-of-the-pack (nor is it helped by the marginal dupe currently on YouTube).  It's a pleasantly wry DePalma pastiche, evoking Body Double especially.

The gaslighting subgenre is both timely and venerable, reaching back at least to the eponymous film (1940, and the Hollywood remake of 1944), Hitchcock's Rebecca, What Lies Beneath and others (and The Others).  In this form, the viewer guesses along with the female protagonist about who (if anyone) is menacing her, and why.  Here, the title alludes to a Ouija board which may or may not have supernatural powers.  The twisty ending comes somewhat abruptly, as it vaguely offers a sequel or series.

Thomas M. Sipos pans Deadly Messages as illogical, e.g., detective Dennis Franz discredits Beller's murder report only because she can't present a corpse.  This critique ignores the movie being an expressionist female nightmare, especially common in the era (The Stepford Wives, Demon Seed and many TV-movies, notably John Carpenter's Someone's Watching Me!).  Note that in Deadly Messages, the men all seem to resemble each other (variously ethnic-urban, proletarian).  Fraught as ever, Beller asks understanding, as she wonders about trusting any of them. 

in the 1981 TV-movie, No Place to Hide
The oddest thing about Deadly Messages is the way Beller is presented, almost as if to conceal her figure.  Was she hiding a pregnancy?  The choice may (also) reflect career anxiety.  Hers had depended on ingenues in hothouse romances, even in a feminist era.  By 1985, America had besmirched this baby-madonna with two years on the prime-time soap, Dynasty; there was no returning to the virginal victims of assault (as in Deadly Messages, and 1978's career-defining Are You in the House Alone?), stalking (No Place to Hide), or dying young (Mary White, Promises in the Dark).  Post-Deadly Messages, Beller made short-lived series and a few obscure features, before retirement in the early '90s.

In the fog that is fannish admiration, I imagined an exotic fate for Kathleen Beller, as in the decamp to Europe, or hie-to-a-nunnery like Dolores Hart.  Coincidentally, her last film, Legacy (1993, 55 minutes), was produced by the Mormon church, for internal use.  The actual bio is both appropriate and heartening: she married musician Thomas Dolby in 1988, they have three children.  (Dolby's 1982 hit "She Blinded Me with Science" is a gentle spoof of just such tales as Rappaccini's Daughter.)  Beller's IMDb page teases the cultist with a 2016 horror short, her first credit in 22 years.

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