Dr. Paula Langford (Claire Stansfield) is the hidden villainess in the 1994 made-for-cable erotic/suspense thriller Sensation.
Paula is the lover of fellow university lecturer Dr. Ian Burton (Eric Roberts) and murders student Carrie Reiner when he takes a romantic interest in her. After Dr. Burton recruits the psychically gifted Lila Reed (Kari Wuhrer) to uncover the truth about Carrie's death, she becomes Paula's next target.
Murder of Carrie Reiner Edit
(Note: Though Carrie's murder and the subsequent police investigation occur prior to the beginning of the movie, many key details are seen in flashback during Lila's psychic visions or provided as exposition by the principal characters.)
Paula Langford and Ian Burton are already romantically involved when she learns he's also in a relationship with Carrie Reiner, a student of his who lives in the same apartment building. Determined to have Ian to herself, the evil Paula sneaks into Carrie's apartment wearing a ski mask and strangles her victim with a leather cord.
The police investigation is led by Detective Pantella (Ron Perlman). While Dr. Burton becomes the prime suspect, the case against him is dropped after Paula claims they were together on the night of Carrie's death. This is possibly true - as Ian's apartment is in the same building as Carrie's - though Paula provides herself with an alibi regardless.
The Psychic Student Edit
Paula's first appearance in the movie is when she encounters Lila Reed outside Dr. Burton's office. Lila has just been given an assignment to use her psychic gift to study a stocking that belonged to Carrie and to record her 'impressions' (visions of past events involving the object). Unknown to Lila, Ian has been informed of her talent by an acquaintance and he hopes to use her to uncover the killer's identity.
After Lila sees the frightened Carrie during a psychic vision she visits the apartment and learns about the student's murder from the landlord. After initially refusing to continue with the assignment, Lila becomes enfatuated with Ian and determined to prove his innocence.
Paula is only on-screen briefly during the opening third of the movie, though it's clear she still has strong feelings for Ian. Lila witnesses the two together at the university cafeteria and later sees Paula leaving the apartment building.
Despite the reservations of her best friend Maryann, Lila takes on an appearance similar to Carrie (changing her hairstyle and clothing) and moves into the dead girl's former apartment.
Jealous Lover Edit
After Lila sees Ian having kinky sex with Carrie during a vision, she visits Paula to question her about the girl's death. Paula insists she was with Ian after Lila presses her for information.
Realising Lila is getting closer to her lover, the seductive Paula visits Ian at his apartment, strips off to reveal a sexy outfit and has intercourse with him. Secretly Paula is jealous of Lila and plans to murder her. (Note: As this is an erotic thriller, Claire Stansfield appears topless in this scene.)
After the landlord watches Lila through her skylight, the unnerved student goes to Ian for help and has him change the door lock on her apartment. While at his place Lila discovers a file on herself and a book on erotic asphyxiation which leads her to wrongfully suspect Ian is the killer.
Attempt to Kill Lila / Death of Maryann Edit
Lila shares her thoughts with Maryann during a night out. After they return to Lila's apartment, Maryann borrows her friend's coat and walks off alone. Mistaking Maryann for Lila, the black-gloved Paula grabs her as she strolls past a fountain and strangles her. (The murder occurs offscreen but future dialogue implies the MO).
Hearing police sirens, Lila comes outside to find the area cordoned off and officers surrounding her friend's body. Detective Pantella consoles Lila and manages to convince her Ian is guilty. Lila agrees to act as bait to trap the murderer.
The angry Lila visits Ian to confront him. During a heated conversation Paula steps out of Ian's bedroom wearing nothing but a loose top and underwear. Seeing the two are initimately involved Lila accuses them both of lying and leaves.
Reveal and Final Confrontation Edit
Lila - now under police protection at her apartment - has visions of the black gloved killer stretching a leather cord. Late at night - during a shift change - the masked Paula sneaks into the apartment and prepares to make her move.
Detective Pantella arrives on the scene and suspects something is amiss. The detective draws his weapon and moves into the room. As he approaches a corner Paula bludgeons him in the face with a metal sculpture, killing him.
With the policeman dealt with, Paula takes out a leather cord - the same weapon she used to strangle Carrie (and presumably Maryann) - and approaches the sleeping Lila. While Paula moves closer and wraps the cord around her gloved hands, Lila experiences visions of the murderess performing the same actions during Carrie's murder.
As Paula kneels on the bed ready to pounce Lila sees the naked Carrie scream a warning and wakes just in time to see the killer force the cord against her throat. Following an ensuing struggle, Lila and the masked assailant roll off the bed onto the floor. Lila grabs hold of the ski mask and pulls it away, revealing Paula as the killer.
The angry villainess wraps the leather cord around Lila's throat and throttles her from behind. At that moment Ian enters and pulls the killer off Lila. Light falls on Paula's face, and Ian realises his lover is the one who strangled Carrie.
Paula and Ian struggle while the panicked Lila recovers from her near death experience. The murderess takes a pair of scissors from a night table, grabs Ian from behind and attempts to stab him. Lila discovers the detective's body and takes his discarded firearm. Ian manages to push Paula away, leaving her exposed. As the villainess slams into the wall, Lila shoots her repeatedly in the chest.
- Claire Stansfield played the villainous henchwoman Kara in Drop Zone.
- She also appeared as Alti in Xena: Warrior Princess.