Retrospective: Lynda Carter’s Circle of Terror

039_149672Lynda Carter’s Circle of Terror By Brian Kirst

From 1980 to 1982, our amazing Wonder Woman and frequent Las Vegas lounge act Lynda Carter (who also appears in the recent Sci Fi Network Slayer about a group of vampire hunting commandos) committed herself to three television films with some horrifying plotlines. Yes, ultimately these films ranged from the outrageously bad to the gaspingly mediocre, but at least a couple moments of intensely perverted enjoyment are sustained (resulting in true pleasure) in all of them.

23494411980. In The Last Song, Carter is a singer whose sound engineer husband captures a conversation about a terrible environmental plot when he is out recording sound samples one night. Soon, a group of volatile men have broken into Carter’s home and brutally beat (especially for Movie of the Week standards) her unknowing husband to death. While this scene has its uncommonly intense moments, it is the scene when Carter is visited by a concerned ‘priest’ after her husband’s funeral that the giggly ‘gruesomes’ truly occur. Almost immediately Nicholas Pryor (Damian: Omen 2) allows his character to go from glazed benevolence to wide-eyed craziness. In a truly sadistically frightening performance, Pryor forces Carter to suck frantically from a gas mask in an effort to kill her. Carter’s terror filled eyes and Pryor’s sweaty leering are reminiscent of Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet and the scene is truly a sickly sweet wonder making the rest of the often earnest, vaguely ending production a true joy to watch.

1981. Born to be Sold is more of a ridiculously over-intentioned message picture, but there are a couple segments that amuse. Carter, playing social worker Kate Carlin, actually delivers teenage Donna Wilke’s (Angel, Blood Song, Schizoid, Grotesque) baby in her bedroom in a satisfying moment of hair flopping, over the top exhaustion – and Carter is eventually leered at in a bathroom mirror in the film’s penultimate ‘shock from behind’ moment by a greasy, typically sleazy Dean Stockwell. Overall this film (which also features genre favorite, It’s Alive heroine Sharon Farrell) is just too shockingly heavy handed (taking its message of teenage mothers and black market babies to after school special extremes) to be much fun, though.

hotline_lynda_carter_steve_forrest_monte_markham_1982_pt_21982. Hotline is the best of the three in many ways- an adult slasher film, but unfortunately without a lot of premium slashing (though the film was released overseas with added nudity and gore and was recently reviewed in Slash Hits 2.) It also predates Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof with its focus on a (spoiler alert!) broken down psychotic former stunt man.

Carter’s Brianne (pronounced ‘Brian’) is a bartender, artist and hotline call center volunteer. Soon after starting her civic minded duties, she begins to get mysterious phone calls providing her with clues to a series of violent murders – all implicating a movie star acquaintance of hers. Of course, nothing is as it seems and in the final moments of this ‘TV movie gone chopping’, Carter finds herself hacked (the killer loves to give jaggedly possessed haircuts) and attacked. There are few genuinely chilling moments in this penultimate altercation – including the shady reveal of the killer decorated in mafia clown make-up (think Dennis Christopher in Fade to Black) as he works his way to Carter.

039_149671234944Hotline also affords meaty roles to some former Hollywood character actors including Steve Forrest (the supernaturally tinged The Hanged Man), Monte Markham and Granville Van Dusen. Nods to authenticity are also provided by featuring stuntman/actors such as Frank Stallone in a party sequence with Forrest and Markham making this a bit more than just a fond remembrance for those who caught it as freshmen in high school on CBS’ Saturday Night Movie. 

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