Television Reviews : Bored to Death With 'From the Dead of Night'

Remember that haunting shot of William Holden's lifeless body floating in the pool in "Sunset Boulevard"? Remember the movie "Night of the Living Dead"? Those and scoreless other derivations can't bring life to the soporific "From the Dead of Night," NBC's two-part drama airing 9-11 p.m. tonight and Tuesday on Channels 4, 36 and 39.

Back-from-the-dead or para-normal, near-death experiences may be a promising subject, but the treatment here is uninspired, artless and trite. Scenes are so stagy you can almost see the mechanics at work with their wrenches (director Paul Wendkos and writer William Bleich, who adapted the novel "Walkers" by Gary Brandner).

The star is Lindsay Wagner, a fashion designer who falls into a swimming pool, drowns and has an out-of-body experience that looks like a blowup of barometric pressure on a TV weather report. For the duration of the show she encounters furies and spirits that seek to pull her back into the land of the dead.

Eerie mannequins, Tarot cards, a death therapist, a Gypsy fortune teller or "witch lady" who lives in East L.A., a callow, pragmatic fiance (Robin Thomas) and a supportive ex-lover (nominal co-star Bruce Boxleitner) earmark Wagner's bumpy journey.

Most amazing, from the standpoint of a creative decision, is how executive producer Hans Proppe and co-producer Jody Paonessa negotiated a four-hour movie deal when the two-hour format would have made much more sense and made for much less torpor.

On a casting and personality level, the most disappointing feature is the vapid material and wafer-thin role given Diahann Carroll, who runs Wagner's fashion house.

The production is enlivened by the occasional application of other-worldly black-and-white photography and the show's suspenseful final 20-or-so minutes, with some fresh terror from a kid on a skateboard. Otherwise, the movie is a stiff.

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