blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987, Richard Lang)

The Case of the Sinister Spirit has some problems. Mostly in the cast, some in the story. And cinematographer Arch Bryant really doesn’t make the haunted hotel sequences scary. There’s some okay lighting at times too–in the haunted hotel–but it’s never scary. Lang’s direction is trying for scary, Dick DeBenedictis’s music is going for scary. Even David Solomon’s editing is going for scary. But it doesn’t come off well enough.

It does, however, come off as unsettling. Unsettling isn’t bad for a TV movie, especially not as genial a TV movie as Sinister Spirit. There’s not a lot of danger in it, just supernatural intrigue. It opens with Raymond Burr having a nightmare because of some novel he’s reading by a Stephen King type. Turns out someone kills the author. Burr’s got to defend his old pal, Robert Stack, and all the other suspects are staying in the haunted hotel. It’s a great–completely absurd–plot device from writer Anne Collins. Sinister Spirit spends at least the first half constantly putting one character or another in danger, though it’s usually Kim Delaney, which is fine because she’s good.

So the good supporting performances–Kim Delaney, Leigh Taylor-Young. The bad one is Dwight Schultz. No one else is particularly good–I mean, Stack is phoning it in so much he’d probably give a better read for a Mentos commercial, but he’s not terrible. Schultz is terrible. He sometimes affects an accent, then changes it, then drops it. It’s a bad performance. The other performances are about par for a TV movie.

As far as the regulars go, Burr’s got quite a bit to do since he, Barbara Hale and William Katt are all staying at the haunted hotel too. Burr does all the investigative interviews while Katt flirts with Delaney. While she’s good and he’s amiable, Katt looks bored. And, as usual, Hale doesn’t get anything to do. She and Burr have a couple nice moments together but she does absolutely nothing except tell him what’s what when they’re getting ready for court.

Everything gets rocky in the second half, then worse in the courtroom reveal. It’s a little much, but there’s enough goodwill–and a last minute restock of Delaney likability–to get Sinister Spirit to a satisfactory conclusion.

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