Is the Hildy Brooks who directed this suburban thriller from the JAKE SPEED writer/producer team of Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane the same person as the character actor Hildy Brooks from John Frankenheimer’s THE ICEMAN COMETH?
Whomever Brooks is, the direction of this dull and poorly paced picture stinks. Drink every time Martin Landau, who may be improvising some scenes, calls someone “my friend.” The cast isn’t the problem, nor is the basic story by Crawford, Lane, and Barbara Elaine Smith (FAMILY).
The first week in Greg (Crawford) and Karen (top-billed Kay Lenz) Armstrong’s new house sucks. Vandals keep striking, escalating from trashing cars and dumping trash in the yard to breaking and entering, which culminates in Greg blasting an intruder with a shotgun. Instead of amping up into a DEATH WISH clone, TRIAL BY TERROR opts for a CBS movie-of-the-week approach. That would have paired Lenz with Robert Foxworth and been directed by a pro who could have put some gloss on it.
Unfortunately, instead of action and violence, Brooks delivers weeping and chatter as the Armstrongs try to cope with taking a life and the civil suit the dead boy’s Hispanic mother files. None of this is dramatic or interesting. Landau shambles through the movie as a homicide cop named Jay Galen. He wears a cap in each scene, probably because the production was too cheap to spring for a new rug. He shares a pointless scene with Allen Garfield, who plays a prosecutor who threatens to bring Greg up on charges, but is never seen or heard from again.
Colleen Camp (THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS) also drops by as the cop girlfriend of one of Greg’s friends. You would think that character would be relevant in a movie about suburbanites being stalked by hoods, but she also disappears from the film early. We never even learn who the bad guys are, what they want, and why they would go to such an effort to hassle the Armstrongs. TRIAL BY TERROR is crummy even by Crawford and Lane’s low standards.