Face of Evil (1996): How to Make Friends and Kill People

Matty tangles with Mary Lambert’s fabulous small screen thriller.

Produced by TV peddler Larry Thompson for Hallmark Entertainment, FACE OF EVIL is a gripping and wickedly entertaining spin on The Stepfather (1987) and Single White Female (1992) from Pet Sematary (1987) helmer Mary Lambert. A highlight of Lambert’s CV and quite possibly the finest film in a long line of TV movies for former child star Tracey Gold, Gold toplines as a twenty-ish year old serial killer who, it is revealed, drifts from city to city, assuming the identity of those she dispatches. When we meet her, she’s in the process of binning her unsuspecting fiancé: making a midnight flit the evening before their wedding, Gold goes to Chicago airport, befriends a girl moving away to college (Mireille Enos), bumps her off in the loos, stuffs her body in her own suitcase, and proceeds to New Hampshire (though the film was actually shot in Salt Lake City, Utah) to take advantage of her latest victim’s violin scholarship. 

It’s a cool albeit faintly ridiculous set-up — however, the pleasure of Face of Evil is that Lambert embraces the more logic-leaping passages of Gregory Goodell’s punchy script, using them to emphasise Gold’s skewed psychology and to hammer home a salient point about a murderer’s greatest weapons being opportunity and pure dumb luck (Enos’ character, for example, bears a passing resemblance to Gold’s). Lambert also plays the material straight, eschewing camp and giving it a real world footing augmented by tight, matter-of-fact framing and a chilly, autumn-to-winter vibe that reflects Gold’s icy core. The thrills are neat, too. While slightly hindered by the film’s made-for-TV trappings, Lambert fosters a palpably tense atmosphere and there’s a nastiness to the mostly implied bursts of violence that atone for their lack of explicitness. 

Cast-wise, performances are uniformly excellent. Seemingly sparked by Lambert’s fixated probing of her character’s complexities and contradictions, Gold submits a shaded turn that’s convincingly pitched somewhere between deceptive, apple pie wholesomeness; vulnerability; psychopathy; and fantasy-ticking sexpot, and it’s easy to see why Perry King’s college affiliate/pony-tailed rich guy would be lured in by her charm and lies. However, it’s Shawnee Smith who strikes a chord as King’s daughter/Gold’s shy college roommate. Smith is the one who finally smells a rat: her initial desire to be like the confident and outgoing Gold quickly gives way to suspicion, first because she’s furious her newfound pal is sinking her claws into her Dad, and then because she’s clever and resourceful enough to question the holes in Gold’s stories. Moreover, there’s an interesting symmetry to Smith’s entire relationship with Gold, Smith sinking her teeth into Lambert’s masterful suggestion that, for as wildly different as she and Gold are in terms of mental stability, both their parts share a commonality in that they just want to be accepted by those around them.

Face of Evil premiered on CBS at 9PM on Tuesday 9th April 1996.  

USA ● 1996 ● Thriller, TVM ● 91mins

Tracey Gold, Perry King, Shawnee Smith ● Dir. Mary Lambert Wri. Gregory Goodell

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