Body Language (1992, directed by Arthur Allen Seidelman)

Betsy (Heather Locklear) is a workaholic executive who has finally gotten the prize promotion at the Orpheus Capital Corporation.  Along with her new office, Betsy also gets a new assistant but when that assistant mysteriously disappears, she is replaced by Norma (Linda Purl).  Norma is just as ambitious as Betsy but she just can’t seem to make her way up the corporate ladder, no matter how hard she tries.  Norma soon grows indispensable to Betsy, comforting her when she breaks up with her boyfriend (James Acheson) and also supporting her when Betsy refuses to sleep with her sexist new boss (Edward Albert).  Before you can say “Single White Female,” Norma is dressing like Betsy, talking like Betsy, dating Betsy’s ex, and trying to take over Betsy’s life.  When Betsy eventually catches on, she discovers just how far Norma will go to be her.

It is easy to compare this film to Single White Female, though Body Language actually aired on the USA Network two months before Single White Female was released.  The main difference between the two films is that Single White Female was an R-rated theatrical release whereas Body Language is unmistakably a television production.  That means no bad language, no nudity, no graphic violence, only a little sex, and not a hint of psychological nuance beyond Norma being the type of girl who snuffs out candles with her fingers.  Single White Female‘s main strength was the effort that Jennifer Jason Leigh went to make her unstable stalker into a believable character who had more motivation than just being crazy.  The script for Body Language is less concerned with why Norma does what she does.  Betsy is glamorous and successful.  Norma is neither of those things and, in this film’s view of things, that is more than enough motivation for her to try to take over Betsy’s life.

Still, the underrated Linda Purl does the best that she can with the role of Norma and she has a few good moments where Norma lets the mask slip and reveals how unstable she actually is.  Heather Locklear matches her as the workaholic who learns that climbing the corporate ladder can be murder and she shows why she was so often cast in films like in-between appearing on shows like T.J. Hooker, Dynasty, and Melrose Place.  If you grew up in the 90s, it’s hard to watch any old Heather Locklear tv movie without feeling nostalgic.

Lifetime Movie Review: Doomsday Mom: The Lori Vallow Story (dir by Bradley Walsh)

Doomsday Mom is a Lifetime true crime film, based on the disappearance of 16 year-old Tylee Ryan and 7 year-old J.J. Vallow and the subsequent arrest of their mother, Lori Vallow, and her new husband, Chad Daybell. Both Lori and Chad were heavily involved in the Doomsday movement, the belief that the end times were quickly approaching and that only the righteous would be saved. (Hence the title, Doomsday Mom.) Apparently, before the children disappeared, Lori and Chad had said that they had become demonically-possessed zombies. While the police were investigating the disappearances of Tylee and J.J., they also uncovered evidence that suggested that Lori and Chad may have been involved in several more deaths and attempted murders, including those of Lori’s ex-husband and her brother and Chad’s first wife.

It’s a disturbing story but it’s also one that hasn’t been resolved yet. Both Lori and Chad are currently in prison, awaiting trial. While the state of Idaho has ruled the Lori is not mentally competent enough to stand trial for murdering her children, the state of Arizona has still indicted her for attempting to kill one of her ex-husbands. Meanwhile, Chad will be facing the death penalty when his trial finally begins. Because neither has been convicted of any crime, they are still considered to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If they are found guilty, there’s still the question of how many of the mysterious deaths that occurred within their orbit were the result of foul playe and how many were just coincidences. (Lori’s brother, for instance, died at a rather convenient time for Lori but everyone still seems to agree that he had been in poor health long before Lori even met Chad.) There’s also the question of whether or not Lori is actually legally insane or if she’s just faking it to get out of being sent to death row.

That proves to be a bit of a problem for Doomsday Mom, which is a film that suggests a lot of things but can’t actually come out and take a definite stand on anything, beyond the fact that Lori and Chad were a creepy couple who believed in some strange things. Though the film clearly believes that both Lori and Chad are guilty, it still has to try to maintain some sort of ambiguity. Hence, we learn that people have died but we never learn much about the circumstances of their death. We learn that Tylee was rebelling against her mother’s strict rules but we don’t learn much details about those rules, beyond Lori insisting that Tylee stay home to babysit so that Lori could go to church whenever she felt like it. We don’t see much of Chad’s first wife, nor do we learn much about his family.

Perhaps most importantly, we don’t really learn much about Lori and Chad’s doomsday beliefs, beyond the fact that they were convinced the world was ending and that the people around them were being possessed by demons. The film suggests that both of them were motivated by their own ego. Lori and Chad enjoyed being mini-celebs in the Doomsday movement. But, by not exploring how they came to have such beliefs in the first place, it’s hard not to feel that the film is refusing to give us some very important clues to understanding how all of these murders could have occurred in the first place. Presumably because the question of Lori’s mental competence is still in the air, the film cannot take a clear stand on whether Lori really believes all of the things that she says or if she’s just using all of the doomsday talk as a cover for her own selfishness. As often when happens when a film about a true crime case is rushed into production, Doomsday Mom often leaves the viewer with a number of unanswered questions.

On a positive note, both Lauren Lee Smith and Marc Blucas are chilling in the roles of Lori and Chad. Smith, in particular, is frightening as she switches from being a normal, overprotective mother to a wild-eyed religious fanatic, seemingly at random. Playing the role of the concerned grandparents of the missing children, Patrick Duffy and Linda Purl do a great job of capturing their desperation as they start to realize that, despite all of their hopes and efforts, they will probably never see their grandchildren again. The scene were they learn the fate of Tylee and J.J. is poignantly portrayed by both Duffy and Purl.

I always have a slightly problem with films like Doomsday Mom. I’m not a fan of rushing films into production to take advantage of a tragedy still being in the news. But Doomsday Mom is a well-acted and well-directed film, even if it can’t provide us with the answers that we may be looking for.