First came "The Bad Seed," then "The Good Son" and now "Relative Fear," a Canadian-produced knockoff of last year's Macaulay Culkin pic that was a studio knockoff of the '50s Patty McCormack vehicle. Those in search of killer pix featuring kiddies with angelic faces and homicidal souls won't be disappointed.

First came “The Bad Seed,” then “The Good Son” and now “Relative Fear,” a Canadian-produced knockoff of last year’s Macaulay Culkin pic that was a studio knockoff of the ’50s Patty McCormack vehicle. Those in search of killer pix featuring kiddies with angelic faces and homicidal souls won’t be disappointed.

If the material this time around is essentially routine, there’s still fun to be had with “Fear.” Video-friendly cast names mean big theatrical bucks are unlikely, but small-screen future should be strong, as the filmmakers deliver a classy, involving domestic drama with some good creepy moments.

Pic kicks into gear when two mothers-to-be, Connie (Denise Crosby) and Linda (Darlanne Fluegel), give birth in the same hospital at the same time. The old switcheroo occurs, and Linda senses there’s a problem when her newborn babe gives her a sock on the cheek. The tale’s central intrigues kick off right away. Maybe the frightful little tyke’s a beast because his real mom, Connie, is a homicidal maniac. And whatever happened to Linda’s real son?

Four years later, we meet the mean little guy Linda took home following the switch, Adam (Matthew Dupuis), an autistic child who doesn’t speak but glowers impressively when things don’t go his way. He’s especially unhappy with Grandpa Earl (M. Emmet Walsh), a disabled crank who criticizes Adam for being “dumb as a stump.”

His loving daddy, Peter (Martin Neufeld), goes from dreaming of having a rocket scientist son to having a kid “who just says mommy or daddy,” but Adam’s verbal deficiencies become the least of the family’s problems.

Soon people are dropping dead left and right around the house, a circumstance unchanged by the arrival of special education tutor Clive (Bruce Dinsmore), a loving hands-on therapist whom the family hopes will get Adam chattering. Det. Atwater (James Brolin), the local gendarme, starts to get suspicious of the boy, and even mom starts to wonder if her little man is a little monster.

Fluegel stands out in the cast, the members of which, for the most part, deliver serviceable performances.

Film’s main disappointment is its inability to rise above average plotting, and Crosby, as a big, bad mama, needs more screen time to get her lethal attitude up to a Hannibal Lecter level. When the two moms finally clash in a prison encounter payoff with Crosby in chains, the opportunity for high-voltage thrills is never realized.

Before fadeout, Linda’s real son’s whereabouts are worked out, along with a few tasty twists, and film transcends what looks like exploitation of the mentally handicapped to become a sharp comment on prejudice and the fact that psycho-kid genre assumptions can be misleading.

Relative Fear

Production

A Norstar Entertainment, Allegro and Westwind presentation. Produced by Tom Berry, Stefan Wodoslawsky. Executive producer, William Webb. Co-producer, Franco Battista. Directed by George Mihalka. Screenplay, Kurt Wimmer.

Crew

Camera (color), Rodney Gibbons; editor, Ion Webster; production design, Patricia Christie; costume design, Trixi Rittenhouse; sound, Richard Nichol; assistant director, John Bradshaw. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 17, 1994. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Linda ... Darlanne Fluegel Peter ... Martin Neufeld Earl ... M. Emmet Walsh Adam ... Matthew Dupuis Det. Atwater ... James Brolin Clive ... Bruce Dinsmore Connie ...Denise Crosby Margaret ... Linda Sorensen
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