Bad Karma

United States. 83 minutes (Netflix streaming version*). Directed by John Hough, 2002. Starring Patsy Kensit, Patrick Muldoon, Amy Locane, Amy Huberman, Patrick Joseph Byrnes.

Psychiatrist Trey Campbell prepares to go on vacation with his wife and daughter, a last-ditch attempt to repair his failing marriage. Things take a turn for the worse when Maureen Hatcher, a psychotic patient of Campbell’s confined to a mental hospital, escapes with the intent of tracking the doctor and his family down. Part of Hatcher’s delusion is that, in a past life, she and Campbell–who was Jack the Ripper–were lovers, and she’s willing to go to some extreme lengths to make Campbell accept his past, so they can finally be together again.

Idiocy is the order of the day in Bad Karma, a particularly feeble attempt at a psych-thriller based on a novel by Douglas Clegg. I was under the impression that Clegg is a respected horror author, so I sincerely hope that this film isn’t particularly faithful to the source material.

The story itself is a prime example of the “idiot plot”: a series of events which is largely possible because just about every character in the story is a moron. If any of the main characters stopped for just one second and considers just how stupid his or her behavior is, and corrected accordingly, the entire plot would fall down like a house of cards. Befopre going on vacation, Dr. Campbell gives the shrink who’ll be covering for him a sternly-worded, ambiguity-free warning of what a dangerous psychotic Maureen Hatcher is and how not to behave around her, particularly not to allow her to get into his head. One Campbell is out of the office, the colleague manages to allow Hatcher to manipulate him into molesting her, which is what allows her to escape.

Luckily for Hatcher, security is so lax at the hospital that she manages to kill a psychiatric staff member and a security guard sometime in the afternoon, but their bodies are not discovered until well after dark, and nobody thinks to contact Campbell (let’s remember that Hatcher is a dangerous psychotic who’s obsessed with him) and tell him the news until the next morning. Not that Hatcher is all that bright herself: instead of heading immediately to Campbell’s vacation paradise (the address and phone number of which she found on a scrap of paper in his office, before she escaped), she spends the entire night seducing a lonely lesbian as part of a ridiculous scheme to convince the authorities that she died in a car accident.

But the characters aren’t the only dipshits on display here: the screenplay is riddled with plot holes, logical inconsistencies and other flaws. My personal favorite: the police detective who’s assigned to the murders of the hospital employees also happens to have an office on the resort island where the Campbells are staying, even though it can take as long as three hours to get between the locations depending on the ferry schedule. The overall characterization is weak and the story relies on too many clichéd themes (oh look, it’s the professional who’s married to his job and neglects his family!) that it can’t do anything good with.

So yeah, between the characters, the plotting and the story, the stupidity on display boggles the brain. A lot of this could have been, if not actually forgiven, then at least glossed over if the other aspects of the production were at least adequate, but they’re not, with everyone putting in the barest minimum amount of effort needed to get the work done. The most convincing performance comes from the kid playing the Campbells’ five-year-old daughter, and that’s never a good sign. While the film takes place in New England, it looks like it was shot in Ireland, which is in fact the case. And let’s not forget the bad dubbing of the Irish-accented cast members.

Bad Karma is tailor-made for the MST3K treatment: just add a well-stocked bar and some witty friends and you’ve got a night’s entertainment. But that’s the only worth it holds, and should not in any way be seen as a serious attempt at filmmaking.


* Note: the version of this film on Netflix Instant appears to be missing a prologue that was filmed after the main production was completed, directed by a different director, starring a completely different ensemble, and possibly filling in some backstory.

3 thoughts on “Bad Karma

  1. Regardless of personal opinion of my work, no, the movie does not very accurately represent the novel — which, to give it credit, was simply a fast, fun little thriller I wrote. Even the screenwriter sent a message to me through a third party apologizing for what had been done to the story in taking shortcuts, etc., in the filming. Apparently — might be legend — the screenwriter got up on a table and tore up his own script because he was so frustrated with what the person in charge of the movie was doing.

    I felt bad for every performer, particularly Patsy Kensit who — in many ways — played her part perfectly. So much so that when I republished Bad Karma, I dedicated it to her.

    Count yourself lucky they cut out the execrable “prologue,” in which my eleven-year-old version of Ms. Hatcher is portrayed by an actress (not Patsy Kensit) well-on-her-way to thirty who must sneak into gas station bathrooms to put on her makeup and change into sexy clothes after Catholic Girls’ School, apparently. And that poor actress has to be naked mostly for her scene or two. The T to A ratio is quite high.

    And the missing prologue also provided the worst body double in the history of cinema, as one critic pointed out on the movie’s first release. They cover this in the movie when Trey and his assistant look in the door’s window and one of them says something like, “Wow, she doesn’t look anything like her file photo,” and the other says, “She had extensive plastic surgery.”

    And there’s even a badly cast stunt double in my serial killer’s final moments — the slim Ms. Kensit becomes a linebacker in a white dress.

    I, too, have played the movie of Bad Karma for a Mystery Science Theater kind of scenario — once even at book signing, and several times at home, for the enjoyment of friends.

    Certain fun moments from the film:

    1. While the book is set primarily on Catalina Island in the southern California, the movie transposes this to a Nantucket-like island, only — apparently — most shops on Nantucket (per the movie) have Gaelic signs above their doorways.

    2.In the novel, Capila Blanca is called this because there were Spanish people in California for a long time before English speaking people were there. Capila Blanca means White Chapel. But in this version, I’m not sure the Spanish were on Nantucket to name a medieval looking church ruins Capila Blanca. But, hey, according to the postcard Trey’s wife Carly pulls from her pocket — a postcard she just happened to have bought moments before at a little Gaelic shop in town — there IS in fact a Capila Blanca on Nantucket. Ah, the twists, the turns, the surprises.

    I mean, CLEARLY, on Nantucket or the coast of Ireland, we could’ve just called the place White Chapel…

    3. I felt terrible for the child actress who had to wade out in Galway Bay for her shots in one scene. I was worried she’d freeze to death.

    4. When the car burns up with its poor victim inside, we see the detective and paramedics. The paramedics have taken the torched body of the victim from the accident, but in the background we see that the car is still burning. Did the paramedics wear oven mitts? One hopes.

    I could go on. This goes well with buttered popcorn and a gin and tonic.

    However, for the most part, I liked the reincarnation flashbacks moments. Small praise. And I felt Patsy Kensit “got” her part in a way the others did not. Still, I put the tragic f’up of this at the feet of its director.

    Now, having said that, is Bad Karma my best novel? I don’t know. I don’t feel it is, but then a writer may be a poor judge of his own work. I wrote it as a light fun thing — quick-paced, a few shocks, a female serial killer, some action, and with a lot of research on hospitals for criminal justice.

    It would’ve been very simple to just make the movie as it was laid out in the novel, and I suspect the screenwriter did just that. Would it have been a great movie? Probably not. Would it have been a reasonably decent thrill-ride story? Probably.

    I’d go on and on about the problem I heard with the production, but in the final analysis — who cares? A bad movie is a bad movie nonetheless.

    Still, the novel continues to exist and readers keep finding it, so the movie was a blip in the world. And maybe it’ll become a camp classic someday. Stranger things have happened.


    1. Yeah, we commented on the “getting the body out while the car is still on fire” scene as well. The car was clearly of inferior workmanship, considering it exploded within seconds of tipping over. Must have been a Pinto.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.


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