Fatal Vision (1984)

TV Movie  |   |  Crime, Drama, Thriller  |  18 November 1984 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 659 users  
Reviews: 21 user | 1 critic

A retiree spends nine years relentlessly seeking to prove that his son-in-law, a former Green Beret Army doctor, murdered his pregnant wife and two children.



(teleplay), (based upon the book by)
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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Freddy Kassab
Mildred Kassab
Bernie Segal
Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, MD
Victor Worheide
James Blackburn
Brian Murtagh
Paul Strombaugh (as Mitch Ryan)
Colette MacDonald
William Ivory
Franz Grebner
Judge Dupree
Alexandra Johnson ...
Helena Stoeckley
Mrs. Perry MacDonald
Frank Dent ...
Joe McGinniss


Captain Jeff MacDonald, a renowned and an ambitious surgeon at Fort Bragg army base, appears to be a happily married father of two. When the MP enter MacDonald's house in response to his desperate emergency call they find him injured and his wife and daughters murdered. He reports a gang of drugged 'hippies' raided the house and attacked the family. As a massive search for the suspects yields no leads, investigators focus on some inconsistencies in MacDonald's account and he becomes their prime suspect. Written by Armin Ortmann <armin@sfb288.math.tu-berlin.de>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Thriller





Release Date:

18 November 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Död i dimma dold  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Life Imitates Art: The child actress portraying Kimberley MacDonald, who is murdered by her father, Jeffrey, is Judith Barsi. In 1988, Barsi, like Kimberley, was murdered by her own father, Jozsef. As in 'Fatal Vision,' Jozsef also murdered his wife/Judith's mother (he shot both of them, set their bodies on fire, then shot and killed himself). See more »


Referenced in Rewind This! (2013) See more »

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User Reviews

Reasonably Doubtful?
26 April 2002 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

If you read Joe McGinnes' book, you'd find it difficult to accuse the author of trying to sell more copies of it by twisting facts around. McGinnis was hired in the first place by MacDonald to tell his side of the story and only gradually did the writer change his mind about MacDonald's innocence. Of course McGinnis wanted his book to sell, so he could become rich and famous, just as MacDonald wanted his story told so he could become rich and famous too. Everyone wants to be rich and famous. But some people want it a LOT more than others and, according to McGinnes, this was Jeff MacDonald's biggest problem.

The book ends with a description of a "narcissistic personality" drawn from the work of Christopher Lasch. There's some reason to believe that MacDonald belonged in that category. One of his last writings to McGinnes detailed a number of his greatest regrets about his life. Chief among them was not having actually gotten a degree from Princeton. (He transferred to Northwestern's medical school after his third year.) That's a pretty dumb thing to put down as a great regret unless you're something of a narcissist.

Of course being a narcissist doesn't make you a murderer. In this case, it was the physical evidence that made the difference. It's true, as earlier comments have mentioned, that the army made a botch of the crime scene. They tramped all over, setting disturbed items upright, even swiping MacDonald's wallet. But some of the comments have been misleading, because McGinnis's book describes all this, and the film does too. Of course, having the army foul up a crime scene doesn't make you innocent either. In the end, McGinnis found MacDonald's story unbelievable because, in addition to the physical evidence, there was the simple fact that MacDonald "hadn't been hurt badly enough."

The murderers in his tale (one of them a girl in a floppy hat) beat the other three members of his family to death and stab them. And here is MacDonald, a trained green beret, who gets tangled up in his pajamas while his wife is screaming in the background and who then passes out, sustaining a few scratches and a neat nick that ends in a small pneumothorax, which sounds terrible but which a doctor would recognize as not in itself life threatening.

And this quartet of murderers in MacDonald's description is pretty interesting in itself. The sort of group that everyone at the time carried around in an easily accessible part of his or her memory, because everyone had been so shocked at the Manson family shortly before. But they are a square guy's cliché of what senseless murderers would look like. I was working on a research project into LSD use at the time of the murders and interviewed dozens of acid heads and dopers from all walks of life. (They included the entire fencing team at an Ivy League university.) They didn't have much in common except that when tripping they were one hundred per cent nonviolent. As one reporter put it, "When people are on acid they can't even organize a trip to the men's room." And nobody would dream of saying something like, "Acid is groovy," while trying to slice somebody up. Any acid head knew that things were a lot more complicated than that. (Nobody involved in the case seems to have had any idea of what the effects of recreational drugs were like. One young woman suspected of being the girl in the floppy hat, can't provide an alibi for herself because she "was out on marijuana" for four hours.) The "pigs" written in blood was a direct ripoff of the Manson family murders, whoever put it up there.

The film follows the book pretty closely, painting a picture of Jeff MacDonald that is distinctly unflattering. Smart but shallow, he got out of the army pronto and lived in a Marina del Rey condo with blonde airheads seriatim. I'd like to see him put away if only out of envy. But was he guilty? Well, there was hardly a rush to judgment. It took years to convict him, long after the immediate sensation of the case died down. What leaves me with some lingering doubts, however, is the lack of any apparent motive. There was evidently no history of spousal abuse, nor of previous violent acts on MacDonald's part, nor of any nucleus in family dynamics for a murderous outburst. There is a sizable hole in the film where motive should be. The book and the film, despite some revisionist statements I've read, convince me that MacDonald probably did it. His alibi is almost impossible to swallow. Still -- I wouldn't have wanted to be on the jury.

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