Face of Evil
In Face of Evil, Darcy Palmer (Tracey
Golds) is a good-looking, blonde psychopath who can charm any man (it seems)
into helping her – including the cop cabdriver in the final scene who is about
to let her out of her handcuffs. In the course of the story, she takes on
different identities (probably many, it is hinted, before the story begins),
and erases the lives of those she devours. Her whole life is a tissue of lies
and a closet full of corpses – as we get in Malicious (1996) and many such variations.
of Face of Evil has a telemovie
blandness of execution, but director Mary Lambert (whose career since early Madonna
videos and Siesta in 1987 is
intriguing from many angles) has some good gesture/action/visual-business
scenes to work with. Such as the prologue, where Darcy tempts a cat to eat a
bird she is feeding (much to the moral distress of a nearby little girl!). And
especially the elaborate passage where she breaks into the University’s
administration offices (an anti-heroine trait: she can get in anywhere –
somewhat Hitchockian, à la Marnie ),
replaces a woman’s eye-drop liquid with acid, and then waits around the next
day outside the building to reassure herself of the success of her plan – “It probably
ate straight through to her brain!”, as she chirps to her (again morally
horrified) classmates back in the dorm, watching the gruesome news on TV.
by the way, how absolutely bland/pretty and uninteresting the character of Darby’s
friend Jeanelle (Shawnee Smith) is, always moping about her somewhat sleazy Dad
(Perry King: perfect casting) who has neither time nor affection for her …
Smith, by the way, has subsequently shown up in many horror movies of the Saw/Grudge variety, as well as the TV
series Secret Life of the American
Teenager (2008-2013). While on the matter of credits, let us also note the
trajectory of writer Gregory Goodell, who has directed a bunch of telemovie
thillers, as well as the horror movie Human
Experiments (1980), and also wrote a guide to independent production.
One of the distinctive and intriguing elements of Face of Evil is the role played by art. At the start, about to marry some hick named Quinn (Don Harvey), Darcy claims to be giving up her interest in painting. He tries to persuade her not to do this. That night, when she clears out, she takes her paintings (including “his” one, a gift to him, cut right out of its frame) with her. At University, inspired by the heavenly vision of art class, she works her wiles to switch her enrolment.
Jeanelle’s Dad will help Darby get her first exhibition. And not only is her art
the explicit confession in surrealist-expressionist canvases of her actual
criminal deeds – like stuffing a dead girl in her suitcase! – it also furnishes
her with a kind of Nietzschean life-motto (shades of Rope ): the artist must be free, with no restraining limits.
Indeed, whenever Darcy psychotically cracks, it is precisely because someone,
in her mind, threatens to curtail her artistic freedom.
of the most basic structures bequeathed to the modern thriller by Hitchcock and
(before him) Patricia Highsmith in Strangers on a Train (novel 1950, film 1951) is the plot trope of “the fortuitously
encountered stranger who enacts your most secret wish”. Face of Evil, adopting the evil gal pal template of Single White Female (1992) and other contemporary 1990s
thrillers, takes this in an odd and highly perverse direction, which is in some
sense also a scrambled reworking of the “Mom really did it” displacement-logic
of Psycho (1960). In Darcy’s
romancing of Jeanelle’s Dad, she does not merely take her BFF’s place as the
beloved daughter – she does what the
daughter longs to do but cannot: make love to him! And then, just to top it
off, Darcy more-or-less throws exactly this wish-come-true in Jeanelle’s face.
logic also works, on a lesser but more humorous level, with the character of
Quinn – whom Darcy rudely jilts, but who then comes after her, until he is
trapped in a rolled-up car window and (discreetly) stabbed to death by her.
Back at the point of his post-jilt rage, he informs his
super-religious parents that he will return to the bar to once again take up
boozing – the very bar “where I met Darcy”!
MORE Lambert: Pet Sematary II
© Adrian Martin June 2012