Happy Face Murders

Happy Face Murders(Laura lies with Billy Lee Peterson, naked in a bed in a cheap motel. She is curled in a fetal position and he has wrapped himself around her, stroking her hair gently as he pours his heart out to her. His cheeks are wet with tears. A fly buzzes around him.)

BILLY LEE: I just feel so guilty, Laura. These people took the blame for what I did and it doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s not so much that it’s wrong what I’m doing, but two other people are suffering. Why would God allow that to happen? (She says nothing.) I mean it’s funny how these things get outa hand. Someone says something to you that sounds like your wife and you just go berserk. Someone else smells like her or uses the same toe-polish – I keep looking for a girl who don’t remind me in any way of my wife but you know, there’s always something. Even you, Laura. You burp like her. I just have to learn to live with it, I guess.

(The fly lands on Laura’s face; her eyes are open, and she makes no effort to brush the fly away. Only now is it clear to us that she is dead.)

THE STORY:

A girl is found murdered. An elderly woman accuses her boyfriend of the crime, then confesses herself. Both are tried and sent to jail. End of story? Not by a long shot.

THE BACKSTORY:

Happy Face (as it was originally called) is one of my happiest experiences in TVmovie- land. The case that it is based on is bizarre to a darkly hilarious extreme – an elderly woman accuses her much younger boyfriend of a murder he didn’t commit; the woman later confesses to the crime herself; both are convicted and imprisoned; the murder was in fact the first in a chain of serial killings that goes unchecked for years. The only parts of the film that I made up, as the opening crawl states, “is the stuff that’s most believable.”

It was in development for a long, long time at Showtime. When it finally aired, it broke Showtime’s Nielson records. Brian Trenchard-Smith, the film’s director, does a wonderful job in capturing the story’s weird and heartbreaking humor. The whole cast (Ann Margaret, Marg Helgenberger, Henry Thomas) is terrific. The only moment I miss in the film is a line of dialogue that Showtime removed because they thought it might be deemed too offensive – I found it hilarious. A truck-stop hooker is picked up by a trucker, who proceeds to treat her very roughly. She is rescued by Billy Lee, another trucker, who takes her into his truck and proceeds to strangle her. As she is being killed the first trucker sees the two of them in what appears to be a passionate clinch. “Lucky son of a bitch,” he mutters and drives off.