Charles Bronson’s craggy mug and several flavorful supporting performances — including the cadavers — prop up this otherwise formulaic suspense thriller about a cop/daughter-led task force investigating a serial killer with a deadly thing for nuns.
Bronson may be a step slower, but his screen presence remains textured. As a veteran LAPD officer compelled to work on a serial murder case with his estranged police lieutenant daughter (Dana Delany), Bronson delivers his customary spare and sinewy style, tailored for TV.
Bronson and Delany bring bite to their strained familial relationship, and the plot derives extra mileage from the fact that the daughter’s weightier badge gives her bossing privileges over her once-demoted dad.
In light of the congressional brouhaha over television violence, production is notable for one bloody scene.
Shot with a long-focus lens from across a large bedroom, the killer (the unctuous Xander Berkeley) pins his wife’s neck to the wall with one arm and with the other pumps five knife jabs into her belly.
Heightening the terror is the lack of screams; there’s just the sound of silence and the sense of muffled horror.
However much some viewers will cringe, the scene is justified and not gratuitous, because it’s the only time viewers witness the murderer’s cool rage at work.
Location atmosphere in Robert Roy Pool’s script (adapted from a novel by Jack Early) is heavy on sky dome vistas of Los Angeles’ redeveloped downtown, and features a two-minute action sequence in which cameraman Thomas Del Ruth evokes much of the interior splendor of the Bradbury Building (for architecture buffs, the highlight of the movie).
Direction by Rod Holcomb veers from workmanlike to emotionally expressive closeups that include bit player Michael Cavanaugh’s squalid ex-priest/alcoholic drifter to Berkeley’s sicko/smooth nun-slayer to Bonnie Bartlett’s cliche-bending gem of a performance as Bronson’s long-suffering wife.
It’s these normally patented roles — including Marc Alaimo’s grinning, taciturn detective and Juliana McCarthy as the killer’s fierce, semi-crazed mother-protector — that blow wisps of air into the plot under the pressure of limited, tight screen time.