A blond Valerie Bertinelli limns arrogant state investigation agent Megan O'Malley, who's hit the presumably ideal town of Deer Park, where Harry Hamlin's Mitch Holt is police chief. Burg's loaded with liars, bed-jumpers, kidnappings, suicide, psychos, murderers and other bizarre hangers-on, but it's no Peyton Place --- it's a tiresome Looneyville. John Leekley's script under Robert Allan Ackerman's uneven direction coughs up a few good scares, but the narrative's otherwise too loose-fitting. The plot, wherever it is, backs and fills while characters take turns playing sinister; the game soon tires.
Town’s doctor, Hannah Garrison (Karen Sillas in a rich study), failing to pick up son Josh at the ice rink, learns he’s disappeared. Her husband, Paul (Martin Donovan), salving his ego during the kidnapping with good-looking Karen (Olivia Birkelund), acts disagreeable. Chief Mitch, whose background is suspect — his own wife and son were murdered, and he looks wobbly when the subject’s broached — has a previous Deer Park boy’s abduction on the police record, and nothing looks sensible.
Best bet for scariest suspect would be ice-rink janitor Olie Swain (a terrif Pruitt Taylor Vince in eerie makeup helped by an oversize glass eye). Megan (accompanied only by Mark Snow’s good old-fashioned scare score and Sandi Sissel’s splendid lensing) dumbly goes alone to Olie’s shanty to pump up the fright level.
The script scrambles characters and relationships, indicates just about everyone’s having an affair with everyone else (even Megan and Mitch and Holt display a hackneyed bed-writhing sequence). There’s a priest (David Marshall Grant) who’s too solicitous; an unstable, zealous church deacon (Colm Feore); psychology professor Garrett (Michael Cumpsty), married to wandering Karen; the embittered sheriff (William Russ), even Janie-at-the-rat-hole TV reporter Paige Price (gorgeous Mariska Hargitay, daughter of Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay).
Under Robert Allan Ackerman’s stop-and-go direction the four-hour saga hits dead spots — O’Malley’s trashing, Mitch telling Megan about his late wife and son, cast members’ insinuating looks amounting to nothing — then spurts into horror bits like the sight of a hanged man, desiccated corpses, deliberately solo trips down dark passages, closeups of the kidnapper’s lips spitting out verse.
Somehow the search continues for the lost Josh, whom mother Hannah sees in visions. Thanks to Megan’s detective work — Mitch hovers, and that’s about that — an inkling of a far-fetched conspiracy seeps out. The guilty aren’t interesting, the denouement doesn’t do much. What might have been Grace Metaliousland, fertile, amusing, entertaining, bores itself into banality.
Bertinelli turns in another of her labored acting pitches despite amusing attempts at playing tough; Hamlin doesn’t have much to do but look handsome and virile, which he manages; Sillas’ way-out physician has an interesting aspect, and Donovan as her husband, Tim DeKay as dogooder Chris, Grant’s priest, Hargitay’s forceful news broadcaster to add individualism to the silly stew.
But it’s Vince’s worrisome Olie Swain over at the ice rink and later in prison who, for bad or good, stands out.
Snow’s score, helpful in the nail-biting segs, is otherwise flat. Sissel’s creative camerawork and Charles Bornstein’s customary pro editing build suspense. Barbara Dunphy’s production design quite simply overwhelms. Anyone heading for Deer Park should insist on a round-trip ducat.