In the early 1990s, teenager Nicole Althaus began an unlikely friendship with a teacher at her high school. Soon after, she accused her father of sexual abuse and rape. Local law ... See full summary »


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Credited cast:
C. Renee Althaus ...
Nicole Althaus ...
Rick Althaus ...
Martha Bailor ...
Gary M. Glass ...


In the early 1990s, teenager Nicole Althaus began an unlikely friendship with a teacher at her high school. Soon after, she accused her father of sexual abuse and rape. Local law enforcement arrested the father, and pursued a case against another couple as well. A psychiatrist diagnosed Nicole as having post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on by sexual abuse. As Nicole's stories and accusations became even more wild (murder, a woman flying around on a broomstick, etc.), one police detective became skeptical. Eventually the charges were dropped. Nicole sued the psychiatrist in civil court, and won. Written by Ken Miller <>

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March 2004 (Bermuda)  »

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Designed to disturb
30 December 2007 | by (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

Franz Kafka would feel vindicated by director George Paul (Duke) Csicsery's provocative study of a bizarre event in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania (a Pittsburgh suburb) in the early-to-mid-1990s. It started innocuously, but soon spiralled out of control, almost resulting in the destruction of an entire family. This story proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Nicole Althaus is a sensitive 14-year-old who, because both her mother and grandmother are suffering from cancer, believes that her family has withdrawn love from her. She is highly vulnerable to suggestion, and seeks counsel and comfort from a female high-school teacher. Within weeks, the teacher, a victim of child abuse, convinces Nicole that she too has suffered the same fate at the hands of her father, Rick Althaus, and, subsequently, her mother Renee as well.

The teacher somehow manages to have Nicole removed from her parents and brought to live with her, where she continues to 'coach' Nicole on a litany of sexual abuses allegedly perpetrated by her father. And so it goes in this twisted and terrifying tale. Throughout, one is reminded of Kafka's famous novel 'The Trial'.

Over the next three years, the Althaus family is ripped apart. At the trial, a psychiatrist concludes that Nicole had been sexually abused on many occasions and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Meanwhile, the district attorney is on a mission to imprison both parents.

The story does have somewhat of a happy ending: the Althaus family is reunited, and, by 2003, Nicole has graduated from university and has secured a job at a psychiatric hospital tending to victims of...sexual abuse. The viewer can easily feel a sense of suspicion and unease, a shaking of the head in dismay. Director Csicsery seems to be suggesting that these judgmental feelings by viewers confirms there is a potential 'monster' in all of us, that this bizarre incident can be repeated anywhere, given the right conditions. Again, it's Kafka in the real world.

There are more things bizarre: the teacher's 'punishment' for initiating this affair is a further sinecure at the same Mt. Lebanon high school where the mind control began. She is deemed 'popular'. The psychiatrist who confirmed Nicole's status as an oft-violated child and all but condemned the Althuses to long prison sentences, lost $56,000 in a lawsuit, but went on to become chief of psychiatry at a major hospital in Pittsburgh. A viewer doesn't quite know what to make of this.

This is is a terrific documentary that upsets. Documentaries that upset or make you think have done their job.

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