There is no doubt about it, this was the most horrific thing I had ever heard of, and it was scary. It was scary because of the victims, the children and everything they were exposed to. I can write from first hand that this was a trying time in that area. No one was 100% in agreement with everything. Everyone had an opinion. People I was working with knew the accused and the accusers first hand. Those that lived in Manhattan Beach (and Hermosa and Redondo the adjacent beaches)absolutely had their views and you could NOT remove them from it. It was volatile. And the more the accusations came out, the more precarious it got. And this whole McMartin Preschool Trial...was almost a DECADE and 13 Million dollars of taxpayer of money (yep!) for acquittals ... and this HBO film hit the nail on the head.
This was well written, made your skin crawl, and that is how many were feeling. This did a great job of showing the jockeying between the children, the McMartins, the Attorneys, the child therapist, the teachers(!), the media (ugh!), the parents of the children. What I liked so much about this film --was it did NOT take sides, it presented it as it was, and the end still leaves you to...wonder. Make no mistake, this was real...this happened. And what happened...is more questions and accusations than answers.
HBO was starting to make its wonderful reputation of "HBO Films" diving into subject matter Networks were attempting to show but sugar-coated many because of Network Standards, HBO was being raw about their approaches. Actor Henry Thomas as Ray Buckey gives a standout performance. It is cold, chilling...scary. Actor Sada Thompson as the owner of the McMartin Preschool also takes you out of any comfortable place as you are wondering about the grandmother of Ray Buckey and her also as the mother of Peggy Buckey, Ray's mom portrayed by Actor Shirley Knight and it's a performance to behold). It was a family affair. James Woods gives another one of his best performances as Ray Buckey's Attorney Danny Davis against Mercedes Ruehl's spot-on performance as the Prosecuting Attorney Lael Rubin and this is something to watch --and keep in mind this is BEFORE the Menendez Trials and the OJ Simpson Trial in Los Angeles. This is how Los Angeles was...and this HBO film captures it's first case that (in my view) opens up a whole can of judicial worms to come).
The film shows also shows how the McMartin Preschool trial also became a web of mass hysteria and yes, 15 minutes of fame that ruined any real judicial hope of getting to the bottom of this. There were victims and they were the children (scared, abused, manipulated), and in this movie you will see that the child victims may have been victimized -- twice. This film does not display any easy answers (there really wasn't any) and you just can't leave it thinking there was a conclusion - the film is clear in stating there was not. Still isn't.
In 2017-2018 I am sure people notice that filmmakers are bringing these trials to cable/streaming/movies for this generation -- and they should because it is a not too distant past that no one has made a decent conclusion of. I know the McMartin Preschool Trial will be getting a re-do as well in the future. But before that, please watch this film first. Great performances, great writing, keeps you glued. Rent it, stream it -- as it is one of HBO's 10 best and as relevant today and it was in the 1980's. That is how good this is.