Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn) is the assistant district attorney in charge of the major crimes division and is handed a grisly murder case by his boss with orders to go for the death penalty. The case involves a psychopath named Charles Reece (Alex McArthur) who has killed five people, mutilating four of them and drinking their blood. Fraser doesn’t want the case because he’s against the death penalty.
Writer-director William Friedkin [adapting the novel by William P. Wood] elects to explore the frustration of the legal system’s insanity defense. He refuses to present an easy out to the dilemma. Even Dr Keddie (John Harkins), as the defense’s chief psychiatrist, is given his moment to defend his position.
The cast is top notch all around with Biehn (once cast as a crazed killer in The Fan) suggesting the anguish beneath the cool exterior of his prosecutor. Deborah Van Valkenburgh brings some depth to the supporting role of Biehn’s wife. As Reece, McArthur appears dangerous and unstable but remains opaque, so we – like the lawyers and the doctors – can never be completely sure if he knew what he was doing when he committed the murders.