Thursday, October 18, 2012

Graham Cracked: "Terrified" (1996)

Heather Graham turns in one of her strongest performances in an otherwise straight to video thriller.

Olive (Heather Graham) is a secretary who picks up guys in bars for sexual trysts in dark parking lots. She is a lonely and troubled widow, having witnessed her husband kill her lover before turning the gun on himself. By herself in a large L.A. apartment, Olive walks in on a mysterious man (Paul Herman), who punches her and flees.

Police detective Joe (Rustam Branaman) takes a romantic liking to Olive, as does her best friend Pearl (Lisa Zane). Olive is still terrorized by the mysterious man, who stalks her on the streets, and puts her in the hospital. Olive begins to withdraw into paranoia as the attacks increase, and the police's help decreases.

Graham is simply the best thing going here. While she goes through the motions of a woman stalked, she is in almost every scene and builds tension convincingly. Her excusing attitude of her lovers is restrained and believable. Her best scene involves a conversation with her dead husband's brother, who she suspects of being involved in the attacks.

The film is overloaded with peripheral characters who distract from the central, and obvious, plotline. The screenplay is sloppy about dropping clues to the ending, but Graham's energy keeps the viewer hooked.

Most of the film takes place in Olive's apartment, making me wonder if this began life as a failed stage play. Merendino's direction is fine, the technical aspects are unremarkable, and the supporting cast is full of familiar faces. Don't put too much stock in the DVD cover, Photoshop programs seem to be popular these days.

"Terrified" did not have me terrified, or even slightly concerned. It did have me remembering better suspense films, and admiring Graham's rose in a cinematic cesspool. (* * *) out of five stars.