Even horror’s most notorious femmes seem to have motivations that revolve around men. Friday the 13th’s Mrs. Voorhees killed for the love of her son while Hellraiser’s Julia succumbed to the depths for her lover Frank.
This phenomenon is precisely what makes the character of Darcy Palmer in 1996 television terror Face of Evil so engaging. Every betrayal she enacts and every murder that she viciously engages in is done in the sole pursuit of her own artistic agenda.
After stealing his money and skipping town on her shady, but totally devoted fiancée, Palmer accidentally kills and then takes over the identity of Brianne, a soon-to-be college freshman and musician. Planning to immediately disappear, Darcy is waylaid by the sweet, well off Jeanelle Polk, Brianne’s dorm mate. Determined to rob Jeanelle and escape at her first chance, Darcy/Brianne soon becomes enraptured with the university’s art program and decides to stay.
Of course, to do so, she must brutally injure her own hand (thus avoiding the real Brianne’s music classes) and permanently blind the counselor who, initially, interviewed Brianne and would recognize her ruse. Darcy/Brianne then sets about seducing Jeanelle’s lonely father Russell in hopes that his wealth will further her success as a painter. Indeed, just as she is granted her own show, Jeanelle’s suspicions warp into overdrive and Quinn, her very angry ex, shows up. Naturally, further murder and sexual manipulation are soon placed, fully, on Darcy/Brianne’s plate, once again!
Directed with skill by Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, The In Crowd, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary) who surely must have understood the main character’s frustrations and ambitions, if not her mania, Face of Evil is perhaps best recommended for the zeal with which the two female leads attack their roles. Best known for being a television darling, Growing Pains’ Tracey Gold attacks the role of Darcy with a slow burning ferocity. The calculation in her eyes is truly chilling, at times, and watching her go for broke as a performer is truly entertaining. Shawnee Smith, who would go on to play Saw’s demented Amanda, also shines as she expertly conveys Jeanelle’s exuberant awkwardness and her eventual retaliation.
Screenwriter Gregory Goodell (Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive, Human Experiments), meanwhile, deliciously revels in Palmer’s lurid activities. His set-up is great, but things, ultimately, do rush too quickly (and simply) to their conclusion here, making the absurdity of the plotline all the more apparent. Still, the zeal with which Lambert and her performers attack these circumstances makes Face of Evil a true un-guilty pleasure!
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!