The benefits of watching about six hours of Meredith Baxter kill it (literally, figuratively) is that YouTube quickly adapts to your interests, and it is without remorse that I tell you that my YouTube suggestions are limited to chill-hop streams aimed at college sophomores and early ’90s, made-for-TV weekend flicks. Praise be the algorithms that led to The Killing Secret, a 1997 drama about a fictional murder. (If you wondered, Gia was nominated for an Emmy that year, and the Ving Rhames-starring Don King: Only In America won.)
The household name in this particular film is child star Soleil Moon Frye, who portrays Emily, the tragic murder victim. Emily is a tragic victim without murder: she’s a poor girl pregnant and in love with Greg (Mark Kassen), a rich kid in a neighboring town. Greg, who is quarterback and dating the captain of the cheerleading team, is using Emily. He can’t even come to the front door for their dates, roaring up to the house in his car and honking. God, Emily, have some dignity. This is a made-for-TV teen film, so naturally Greg has to murder Emily when she’s pregnant (correction, “they’re having a baby”), lest he lose his top spot in town.
This is, without a doubt, Soleil Moon Frye’s worst work. (I haven’t seen Wes Craven’s 1987 made-for-TV, Emmy-nominated Welcome to Hell, but I want to!) She has little depth in the film. Her mother speaks of her warmly, but when the character is alive, she has no interest beyond rehabbing her shabby clothes and being attached to Greg (who isn’t that cute for a ’90s movie anyway). She’s also unhinged and grating in her big scenes, where she tells Greg that they’re starting a family, isn’t that exciting, to start a family as teenagers. She has a cult-like devotion to this ideal. Emily’s death is a lot like that time audiences cheered for Tori Spelling’s grisly death.
But the movie isn’t about Emily (Ari Meyers), even if she’s a murder victim. (In the late ’90s, it could go either way.) It’s about Greg’s girlfriend, Nicole, and her relationship with Emily’s mother, Tina (Tess Harper). Tina is a high school dropout and is raising her kids alone. She works in a diner, where Nicole and her vapid friends hang out. Alone at home, watching the news, Nicole gets sucked into Emily’s tragic story. (Naturally, Nicole’s mom is absent and emotionally unavailable.) Both towns are swept up by the story: missing, presumed runaway, with a mother desperate for answers–it’s how the rest of us get sucked into NamUs and Unresolved Mysteries.
And so Nicole slowly realizes that Greg did a whole lot more than cheat on her with Emily, her murdered her, too! Like most movies from this era, the killer and the heroine have a dramatic confrontation in an abandoned warehouse, and a mother with intuition (Tina!!!!!) saves the day. Greg is convicted of murder, apologizes while lamely crying, and is hauled off to jail.
It’s worth noting that while this film does no favors for Punky Brewster both Harper and Meyers are surprisingly good! They seem to be dedicated to making a film of higher value than the rest of the cast. The genre is by no means elevated, but the viewer can feel less tawdry about enjoying this by-the-numbers film.
The Internet seems to think the movie is inspired by the unsolved murder of Emily Garcia, a Latina woman who was last seen boarding a bus, and found later after 12 days of torture. The film’s murder has little to do with the murder of Garcia, but if friends and family hope slipping her name into Wikipedia will renew interest, I’m for it. There is also speculation that Becky Stowe, who was murdered by her boyfriend Robert Leamon, inspired the film, and the connections for that crime are somewhat less tenuous. (Leamon’s girlfriend turned his ass in several months after his confession; Nicole tries to turn in Greg before a confession.)