Spoilers. Every paranoid fantasy must have several things going for it. It must be a conspiracy -- none of this lone gunman business. It must be ubiquitous; there but for the grace of God go I or my baby. It must be aimed at innocent people, not sophisticated cynical types. They must have a kernel of truth. A few high-visibility cases on TV would help. It must be subtle, so that in the absence of evidence the belief can persist. Son of Sam had a very rich social life. A letter inserted into his mailbox backwards by the carrier conveyed a different message than one with the address facing forward. And the evil must be unmitigated, the conspirators dehumanized. Those are some of the prerequisites for a successful case of mass hysteria. Over the course of our history the scheme has worked fine for witches, Masons, Catholics, Communists, and Satanists, in that chronological order. We've been working lately on "New World Order" forces but so far that particular looniness has been confined to a fluoride-in-the-water maniac fringe. And so has the Chat Room Conspiracy aimed at our young people, designed to seduce them. This movie presents what is definitely a worst-case scenario. A beautiful, busty gullible 16-year-old meets a conspiracy of two evil men in a teen chat room. (One almost feels that anybody over the age of 20 who can sit through more than ten minutes in a teen chat room deserves some kind of reward.) One of the two conspirators entices her to leave home and fly from Illinois to Pittsburgh, where he evidently deflowers her, probably roughly, in a shabby house with the blinds drawn, and refuses to let her phone her parents. Now, however, he is stuck with a weepy underage girl and doesn't know what to do with her. The other conspirator, an older man, slimy and evil, does know what to do. He arranges a transfer, takes her to another hideaway, makes videotapes of her in the nude after drugging her with raspberry tea, and more or less puts her on an internet auction block resembling eBay. (Minimum bid, 10K.) Well, I'll tell you, things go from bad to worse. Mom is just worried sick. And with the help of a neighborhood computer geek (he wears glasses and his hair is messy) flies all over the place trying to track her daughter down. The FBI would like to help, but they class her as a runaway and can't treat it as a kidnapping. In the end, Mom locates daughter in one of those dreary almost-empty warehouses in a seedy section of Baltimore. By this time, the movie has turned into a slasher flick. The conspirator is running around giggling maniacally and waving a knife in the air until he is finally -- at the very last moment -- dispatched by the local police. The acting is all you'd expect from TV personages and novices. It was written by a committee of English majors whose grades must have averaged around C plus. And yet -- for all that -- I can't figure out why this particular craziness didn't become more popular. It had a great deal going for it. How many parents monitor what their kids are doing in chat rooms? And home computers are now all over the place, available to most people in the population, regardless of age or income. The movie was released in 1998. Four years have passed and not very much has happened. Movies like this should have given that sort of mass hysteria a good kick in the pants to get it started, but it simply didn't fly. And that's despite one or two highly publicized instances of older men being lured into arranging meetings with underage girls who turned out in the end to be overaged police officers. I would guess that it didn't become enough of a problem in the real world because kids may be vastly more sophisticated about these things than adults might like to believe. A sixteen-year-old may not be able to identify Italy on a world map but might have a built in phoniness detector when it comes to chatting on line. They can be pretty kewl. But no such logic or set of physical arrangements have stopped episodes of mass hysteria in the past. (It wasn't that long ago we had all those missing children on milk cartons.) It's possible that that anxiety is out there, though, simmering and looking for a cause, just as it was before all those preschools turned out to be nothing more than preschools, just waiting, so to speak, for some charismatic figure to step out in front of the band and cash in on it. We're about due for another wave. They seem to come and go like medieval plagues.