The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) was an unpopular thriller with a clever premise. Laura would have visions whenever a killer attacked someone, and she witnessed the murders through his eyes. Naturally, TV had to take a crack at the premise, which brought us Mind Over Murder (1979), a thriller that adds a few wrinkles to the basic premise and ends up being the more enjoyable of the two.
Originally airing on October 23rd as part of The CBS Tuesday Night Movies, Mind Over Murder bore down against NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies and ABC’s Three’s Company/Taxi/Hart to Hart lineup. Not hard to tell where the majority of viewers planted their eyeballs this night, but those who stayed with “the eye” were treated to a mostly effective thriller with some genuinely unsettling moments. You shouldn’t have too much Tripper in your diet, after all.
Let’s psychically (or manually if you have no powers) open our TV GUIDE and see what’s what:
MIND OVER MURDER (Tuesday, 9:00pm, CBS)
A dancer has strange visions of a mysterious man committing murder, which leads to her own life being in danger. Deborah Raffin, Andrew Prine star.
Suzy (Raffin – God Told Me To) is a dancer shooting a TV commercial. After the day’s work, she goes out for a drink to unwind with her friend. While sitting in the bar, everything around her starts to slow down and then stop; the music, the other patrons, her friend. Everything. Except… there’s a bald man (Prine – Grizzly) smoking at a table across the room and he turns to her. And then he’s gone. The room goes back to normal and life goes on. However, Suzy continues to experience this time stoppage, and events lead her to Ben Kushing (David Ackroyd – Dark Angel), in charge of aviation safety and damsel saving, who takes a keen interest in Suzy after she hears a pilot’s frantic final transmission in her head and in her kitchen.
Suzy’s psychic connection to the bald man intensifies as his activities start to pop up in her mirror and windows, Suzy getting a front row view of his skin-tight jeans and sweaty torso (he likes to go topless, so enjoy, I guess?) as he abducts, tortures, and kills yet another victim. Will Suzy and Ben be able to stop the bald stranger before he kills again, or does his special connection with her mean she’s next on his list?
Honestly, I haven’t a clue. Mind Over Murder is overflowing with ideas that don’t always connect or make sense, but it certainly gets points for ambition. Other than a visit to an unexplained phenomena "expert," the connection between heroine and villain is used only to forward the story, which is fine, but perhaps it may have given a touch more gravitas to her peril if we knew why they were linked. Regardless of the reason (or lack thereof), Mind Over Murder adds unique touches that keep it just left of the normal “women in peril” potboiler.
Suzy’s time freezes are a fascinating way to display her mental trauma, a combination of cheesy yet surreal green screen and conventional freeze framing giving the telefilm an eerie quality that pushes it closer to horror than thriller. Writer Robert Carrington also penned 1967’s Wait Until Dark, and he imbues a real sense of fear and loneliness into Suzy, and holds off on the traditional tropes until the disappointing third act, which eschews the paranormal angle for a standard stalk and slash. But there’s certainly enough weirdness and good will accumulated to pull the viewer through to the end credits.
Any terror generated comes from the thousand-yard stare and crooked smile of genre legend Prine, whose bald pate and nut-crunching denim are really the only characteristics we’re proffered until that third act. He doesn’t really speak until then, and once he starts, he doesn’t shut up. It’s just a shame that he’s painted as a rather standard issue misogynistic psychopath (although blowing up a plane because he was jilted by one of the stewardesses is an interesting character touch). But Prine sells the hell out of “Bald Man” (as he’s listed in the credits—however, his name is Steve, and maybe if he was shown a modicum of respect, he wouldn’t have gone through the lengths he did. Or he could have grown some hair, I suppose?), as befitting a quirky genre legend.
Speaking of, how about Robert Englund as Ben’s assistant? Could I interest you in Bruce Davison as Suzy’s jerkface boyfriend? All of these and more are ably directed by Ivan Nagy, a lifetime before becoming the auteur behind such classics as An American Pimp and Izzy Sleeze’s Casting Couch Cuties. (If only I were making those up.) It’s a very solid cast, but Raffin more than carries her weight against all of them, especially Prine in the final act.
Anytime a typical stalker scenario is injected with a dash of the absurd immediately makes it stand out from a blasé programmer. Between Prine’s oiled pecs and Raffin’s proto-Final Destination inclinations, Mind Over Murder has a good portion of odd to entice the horror viewer. I will leave you with a final warning though: beware the Bald Man. If you see him in your mirror, run. Because if he does catch you, he’ll talk you to death.