By Ken Tucker
Updated January 14, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Even when she was down on all fours, growling and shrieking like a mad dog; even when she was pulling frantically at her face as if she wanted to tear off its skin; even when she was delivering lines like ”Schizophrenia is a really hard thing to live with,” I couldn’t help thinking how great Diana Ross looks in every minute of Out of Darkness, the extravagantly melodramatic film that marks Diana Ross’ TV-movie debut. Playing a clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who learns to lead a normal life aided by a combination of medication and willpower, Ross as Paulie Cooper undergoes so drastic a transformation over the course of two hours-frothing crazy woman at the start, sedate medical student by the end-that Out of Darkness sometimes seems like a parody of every woman-under-stress movie made since Olivia de Havilland lowered herself into The Snake Pit in 1948. Some stars try to lose themselves in their roles, to play against whatever glamorous image may have grown up around their talent over time. Not Ross. From the impressive splash she made in her first feature film, 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues, Ross has always approached being an actor as an extension of the pop-music diva she’s been since the ’60s. Whether it’s singing or acting, everything Ross does is about Diana Ross. Her persona-the Gorgeous Waif- prevails over whatever role she’s portraying, every lyric, every line of dialogue. So it doesn’t really matter that the character of Paulie Cooper doesn’t make much sense (how is it that a woman supposedly so unmindful of the impression she’s making on the world always manages to look so dewy-eyed fresh?). What’s important is that Ross be given a large number of over-the-top dramatic moments so that she can portray big themes like Suffering and Triumph. After watching Out of Darkness, you may have trouble remembering anyone else in the film, although there are good performances by Ann Weldon as Paulie’s mother and Carl Lumbly as Paulie’s boyfriend. That’s because the other characters exist only to fret and fuss over Paulie; they aren’t allowed to reveal lives of their own. Ross, who is also co-executive producer of Out of Darkness, has kept tight control over her portrait of an out-of-control woman. A different sort of female suffering suffuses Betrayed by Love. Millions of people who didn’t bother to go see the recent feature-film flop True Romance will be introduced here to the charms of Patricia Arquette, whose specialty-slatternly sexiness-is given a real workout. Arquette plays Deanne, who is described by others as ”a hillbilly” and ”a cracker,” which is TV-movie code for a loose woman with a Southern accent. Having shacked up with an armed robber, Deanne turns FBI informant and proceeds to come on to the agent in charge of the case, played by Wings’ Steven Weber. Deanne thinks she and Weber’s Jeff Avery are made for each other, and he leads her on, both to extract information from her and to see more of the nicely tanned belly she’s always knotting her shirttails above. But Avery is a weasel. He’s a married man who has no intention of leaving his wife for Deanne, and he’s corrupt enough to decide that, once Deanne has given him what he needs, she should die. Her demise-and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a doozy-brings Deanne’s sister, played by TV-movie sufferer-supreme Mare Winningham, into the picture. Grieving and vengeful, Winningham’s Dana suspects Avery right away, and the rest of Betrayed by Love centers on Dana’s attempts to prove Avery’s guilt. Unlike the all-Ross Out of Darkness, Betrayed divides its attentions. The first half is dominated by Arquette, the second by Winningham. This isn’t a sensibly structured piece of work, but it’s a much more engrossing movie than Darkness. You can never be sure where Betrayed is going, and it grants even a rather pathetic character like Deanne the dignity of a complex personality. In both movies there’s a subtext that updates the women-in-jeopardy genre for ’94: These protagonists suffer-either from a cosmic punishment like Darkness’ mental illness, or at the hands of men in Betrayed-only to become stronger and more aggressive with varying results. Ross is ennobled, Arquette dies, and Winningham gets her man. Out of Darkness: C+ Betrayed by Love: B+