Picks and Pans Review: A Death in California

updated 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ABC (Sunday, May 12, 9 p.m. ET)

Watching a psychopath in action is a strange form of entertainment. Rape, shown and talked about too often, is stranger still. But once the gruesome, queasy details of this true story are out of the way, Death in California becomes a riveting tale. Sam (Murder in Texas) Elliott is a psychopath whose sick game is manipulating women. He comes across Cheryl Ladd as a beautiful Beverly Hillsian, murders her fiancé, rapes her, then convinces her that he is her protector. For criminals to use terror to befriend their victims is nothing new; call it the Patty Hearst Syndrome. Still, for Ladd to forget quickly that she was raped and victimized, that her boyfriend was shot to death a room away, and for her then to try to protect the man who terrorizes her, presents an unfortunate portrait of the woman as wimp. The show is rescued by its leading performances. Elliott is eerie and evil and even sexy; he's plain amazing in the role. And Ladd—like another Charlie's Angel, Farrah Fawcett—proves that she has something more to give the camera than long lashes; she does her best with a difficult role. As psychopath dramas go, Death is not up to the standards of Fatal Vision. But then again, after the first hour or so, it's hard to turn this one off. (Part Two airs Monday.)

From Our Partners