Taking the plot of every episode of Dateline NBC, but draining all the mystery and tension from it with its painfully bland story and gussied up with a literal “dark and stormy night”, The Victim (or Out of Contention as it is even more absurdly called on the print I saw) is highlighted mostly by Elizabeth Montgomery and her lustrously awesome blonde hair (at least until she gets drenched in the non-stop rainstorm) running back and forth between various rooms in her sister’s house chasing sounds and shouting some variation of “who’s there!”
Montgomery plays Kate Wainwright, a wealthy city girl who travels into the boonies to stay with her sister Susan who just told her she had decided to divorce her no account husband (Route 66‘s George Maharis who spares no effort in making sure he is instantly a person of interest in the disappearance of Susan).
But this isn’t just your average sisterly sleep over focused on making a slam book about poor old soon-to-be ex-hubby! Outside, there’s a freaking monsoon happening! Torrential downpour! Roads are closed! Washed out! Mud slides! You could practically hear the police advising Kate that this is the last night you’d want to trapped in a house with a deranged killer because not only might you get murdered, but even worse, your mascara would run!
Kate brushes off the weather issues and arrives at Susan’s house, but her sister is no where to be found! Well, the audience knows that she can found stuffed in a wicker basket in the basement, but for some reason Kate isn’t searching for Susan in random boxes just yet.
A phone call from one of Susan’s friends only deepens the mystery (ok, it really doesn’t since the only mystery is whether the movie is so lacking in ambition that it all turns out exactly like you think it will) when she doesn’t know where Susan is either.
As the storm rages outside (damn Susan, why couldn’t you have gotten yourself murdered on a nice day so Kate doesn’t get soaked every five minutes going outside or checking on the giant tree branch that just crashed through the house) Kate notices more troubling things about her sister’s absence. Her car, keys, and wallet are still there. Her dog wanders back home by herself, wet from having been outside awhile. The electricity goes out. The phone goes dead. And that damn Mrs. Hawks won’t leave even though Susan fired her. But then Mrs. Hawks disappears! But then she shows up again!
Who exactly is Mrs. Hawks? Besides apparently being the Doug Henning of housekeepers, she’s also crazily devoted to Susan’s smarmy husband Ben and doesn’t like Susan or Kate! Even as Kate tells her to leave, Mrs. Hawks simply continues to use a butcher knife on her carrots with enough menace to make even Norman Bates wince!
Could Mrs. Hawks have been behind Susan’s disappearance and the other odd things occurring in the house? Kate accuses her of this when they go to the basement fuse box to check on the electricity only to find that the electricity had simply been turned off.
But if Mrs. Hawks did it, why would she go down with Kate and not try to murder her? In Kate’s defense, she is just an amateur sleuth, and not one of these TV amateur sleuths that somehow manage to rival Sherlock Holmes from the get go. And when we say she’s an amateur, we mean she is terrible! When Ben arrives unexpectedly (he was supposed to be in L.A. on business), Kate immediately displays her suspicions and confronts him about every lame part of his story (How did you get here if the roads were washed out? Why aren’t you in L.A.? What business trip were you really on since I called your office and they said you were fired awhile ago?) practically begging Ben to see if there’s room for two bodies in the back of Susan’s station wagon!
Despite an admittedly appropriately unsettling and spooky set up, the movie never develops into anything interesting since nothing unexpected happens and even though Kate’s detective skills are cringeworthy, the killer’s scheming is so much the opposite of scheming, you’ll feel like the storm must have left water on his brain.
Kill Susan, hide the body, make sure you have alibi and that no one knows you were ever there. It’s that simple. So why are you (or your confederate) tormenting Kate which only serves to arouse her suspicions? And then why show up playing like you don’t know anything, when under the best of circumstance you are the prime suspect? The script seems to make everyone dumber and dumber as the movie plays out.
At least it does have a bit of an odd, almost funny ending with a car crashing into someone and smashing that person against a tree while Kate screams over and over, all topped off with a weird crawl telling us the fates of Ben, Mrs. Hawks and Kate. Unfortunately, what happens to Kate only serves to undermine any resilience that Kate demonstrated, thus turning off a surely already disengaged audience for a final time.
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