Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Dark Angel (dir by Paul Shapiro)


When we last saw Heaven Casteel (Annalise Basso), she was boarding a bus so that she could leave the backwoods of West Virginia and hopefully live with her mother’s wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dark Angel picks up where Heaven left off, with Heaven arriving at stately and creepy Farthinggale Manor and discovering that the rich are just as fucked up as the poor.  She’s greeted by her stepgrandfather, Tony Tatterton (Jason Priestly), who tries to come across as being friendly but quickly reveals himself to be cold and manipulative.  She also meets her grandmother, Jillian (Kelly Rutherford).  Jillian always has a drink in her hand and worries that Heaven will leave “hill grime” around the house.  Jillian doesn’t want Heaven to stay at the house for too long but Tony manages to change her mind.  Tony tells Heaven that, in order to thank him for his generosity, she’ll basically have to do everything that he says.

For instance, Tony tells Heaven that she is, under no circumstances, to enter the estate’s hedge maze.  (Rich people always have a hedge maze.)  So, of course, Heaven does just that.  She gets lost but eventually, she comes across a small house sitting in the middle of the maze.  Inside the house, a handsome man (played by Jason Cermak) carefully crafts a doll’s face.’

“Excuse me, sir,” Heaven says, “I got lost in your hedge maze!”

“You must be Heaven,” the man replies.

The man it turns out is Troy Tatterton, Tony’s younger brother.  Troy suffers from depression and he’s been exiled to the maze because Jillian can’t stand the sound of dolls be made.  Troy and Heaven soon find themselves falling in love, despite Tony’s demand that Heaven stay out of the maze.

Tony also demands that Heaven stop writing to her family but, of course, Heaven continues to try to reach out to them.  Her siblings aren’t doing quite as well as Heaven.  For instance, one sister is living in a trailer.  Her brother is working at a circus.  And her two youngest siblings are living in Washington, D.C, where they’re undoubtedly surrounded by politicians and interns.  AGCK!  It’s a fate worse than spending the rest of your life brewing moonshine in the hills.

And, while dealing with all of this, Heaven is also trying to graduate from high school and hopefully get into an Ivy League college!  She wants to study literature.  At one point, she explains that her favorite writer is Shakespeare but that she also really loves Fitzgerald.  She says that Fitzgerland “saved the best for last,” with Tender Is The Night.  It was at this point that I yelled, “HIS LAST NOVEL WAS THE LAST TYCOON!” and threw a shoe at the TV. 

Complicating matters even further is the fact that her old backwoods boyfriend, Logan (James Rittinger), is attending college in Boston.  Logan says that he doesn’t want anything to do with Heaven because he’s still angry over everything that happened during the previous movie but it’s pretty obvious that he’s still in love with her.

And then….

Well, listen — a lot happens in Dark Angel.  As opposed to Heaven, Dark Angel is full of twists and turns.  Everyone’s got a deep, dark secret and, at time, it gets a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of it all.  Then again, that’s what makes a film like this fun.  It’s just so over-the-top and implausible that you really can’t help but enjoy watching it all play out.  Every few minutes, someone else is popping up and either taunting Heaven for being from the hills or revealing that they’re actually one of her relatives.  Seriously, this is one messed up family.  The good thing is that Dark Angel seems to be aware of how silly all of the melodrama occasionally is.  The other good thing about Dark Angel is that it mostly involves rich people instead of poor people, which means that, as opposed to the first film, everyone gets to wear nice clothes.

Annalise Basso again makes all of us redheads proud in the role of Heaven but the film is really stolen by Jason Priestley, who appears to be having the time of his life playing the ambiguously evil Tony.  Kelly Rutherford is a bit underused as Jillian but she does get one good scene towards the end of the film and she makes for a stylish drunk.

The sequel to Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts, will air on Lifetime later tonight and hopefully, I’ll have a review of it up on Sunday.  And if I don’t, I guess you’ll just have to spank me like a character in a V.C. Andrews novel….

Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Heaven (dir by Paul Shapiro)


So, let’s say that you’re an alcoholic, backwoods hillbilly living in West Virginia.  Everyone in town hates you and your family because, years ago, your father sold a bad batch of moonshine to the mayor’s son.  You’ve got more children than you know what to do with and your wife has just run out on you because she’s blames you for losing her latest baby.  You ain’t got no money and you don’t understand that ain’t no word used by proper folks.  What do you do to make ends meet?

Well, if you’re Luke Casteel (Chris William Martin), you sell your children.  You sell the twins to a couple who can’t have children.  You sell your son to a farmer in Virginia.  You sell one of your daughters to the pervy local priest.  And you keep your oldest daughter, Heaven (Annalise Basso), so that she can clean the house and do the laundry.

Of course, Heaven’s not very happy about this arrangement.  She’s way smarter than the average Casteel and she’s got a crush on a boy at school named Logan Stonewall (James Rittinger).  Everyone keeps telling Logan to stay away from the Casteels and it’s certainly not going to help the family’s reputation once it gets out that Luke’s been selling off his children.

Luke has always resented Heaven, mostly because she’s the daughter of Angel, the only woman that Luke ever truly loved.  Angel was from a rich family in Boston but they disowned her when she married Luke.  Unfortunately, Angel then died giving birth to Heaven.  If that’s not bad enough, Heaven has now grown up to look exactly like her mother which leads to Luke getting drunk and trying to climb into bed with her….

AGCK!

Realizing that Heaven won’t be safe as long as she’s living with him, Luke decides to quit drinking and get his shit together.  JUST KIDDING!  Instead, he decides to sell her too.  He sells her to Kitty (Julie Benz) and Cal (Chris McNally).  Kitty is emotionally unpredictable and alternates between being extremely supportive and extremely cruel.  (She’s also obsessed with keeping her house spotless and really who can blame her?  A house should be clean because you never know who might come by.)  Cal is a sexually frustrated writer who smiles every time that he’s alone with Heaven.

Can you guess what happens?

Heaven is based on a book by V.C. Andrews, the first part of the five-volume Casteel Saga.  A few years ago, Lifetime had a lot of success when they adapted Flowers In the Attic and its sequels so it only makes sense that they would eventually bring the Casteel Saga to screen.  Heaven has everything that you would expect from both V.C. Andrews and Lifetime — melodrama, over the top dialogue, sex, dysfunctional families, and one victimized girl searching for her destiny.

At first, when I started watching Heaven, the film itself seemed to a bit silly.  I mean, I took one look at Casteels mountain shack and I started laughing because it was seriously the nicest shack that I’ve ever seen in my life.  (On Lifetime, even poor hillbillies live in a big house.)  It was also hard not to be amused about how, every few minutes, some primly-dressed townsperson would pop up and say something like, “Logan Stonewall!  You get away from those Casteels!”  As the film went on, though, it became obvious that the film itself had a very self-aware sensibility.  It understood that it was an over-the-top, frequently ludicrous melodrama so, instead of trying to trick us into believing it to be anything else, it instead embraced the melodramatic label and everything that it implied.  This is not a film that’s mean to be taken seriously.  Instead, for the first hour or so, it’s a bit of a self-aware parody.  It’s like Winter’s Bone directed by Paul Feig.

The second half of the film, which finds Heaven living with Kitty and Cal, has a bit more of an edge to it, largely due to Julie Benz’s wonderfully unhinged performance as Kitty.  Benz brings a jolt of real menace to both the role and the film itself.  That’s a good thing because winking at the audience and letting them know that you’re in on the joke can only take you so far.  Julie Benz shows up and basically announces, “Yes, this may be an overheated adaptation of a V.C. Andrews novel but don’t even think about letting your guard down!”

All in all, it makes for an entertaining Lifetime film.  While it may not be a powerful as Flowers in the Attic, it still holds your attention and Annalise Basso gives a good and sympathetic performance as Heaven.  Myself, I related to Heaven because we both have red hair.  Seriously, it’s not always being a redhead.

Heaven was followed by Dark Angel, which I’ll be reviewing later today.

Lifetime Film Review: Death of a Cheerleader (dir by Paul Shapiro)


Kelly Locke (Sarah Dugdale) appears to have it all.  Even though everyone agrees that she can occasionally be a little bit mean with some of the things that she says, Kelly is still one of the most popular students at Hollybrook High.  She’s a cheerleader.  She’s the leader of the Bobbettes, the school’s most prestigious social group.  She gets good grades, she lives in a big house, and her family has a lot of money.

Bridget Moretti (Aubrey Peeples), on the other hand, wants to have everything.  She’s shy and desperate to fit in.  She wants to be a member of the Bobbettes.  She wants to be a cheerleader.  Even more importantly, she wants Kelly to be her best friend.  Kelly, however, thinks that Bridget’s a little bit strange.  In fact, when Bridget lies to Kelly about there being a party as an excuse to get Kelly to spend time with her, Kelly accuses Bridget of “wanting to be me.”  Kelly then says that she’s going to tell everyone at school about what a weirdo Bridget is so Bridget stabs her to death.

Now, you would think that Bridget would be the number one suspect.  After all, Bridget’s not that smart and it’s not easy to get away with murdering someone, especially when it’s an impulsive act.  However, no one suspects Bridget.  Bridget’s just too shy and nice for anyone to believe that she could possibly be a murderer.  Instead, everyone assumes that another student, Nina Miller (Morgan Taylor Campbell), is the killer.  After all, Nina used to be popular until she dyed her hair and started hanging out with the stoners.  Nina even threatened to kill Kelly once.  Nina says she was just mad and that she wasn’t being serious but that doesn’t stop strangers from calling her house and demanding that she confess….

Now, if this story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a true story and it’s one that has been recreated on countless true crime shows, including Deadly Women, 1980s: The Deadliest Decade, and Killer Kids.  It was also turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1994, A Friend to Die For, starring Kellie Martin as the murderer and Tori Spelling as her victim.

Death of a Cheerleader is a remake of A Friend to Die For, telling the same basic story but attempting to give it a more modern spin, which in this case amounts to a lot of hand-held camerawork and a far less judgmental attitude towards casual drug use.  The remake also slightly differs in the way that it views its main characters.  If the first film was sympathetic to Bridget, the remake is a bit more ambiguous.  Bridget is portrayed as being slightly off from the beginning and far more openly bitter over Kelly’s success than in the original film.  At the same time, Kelly is portrayed a bit more sympathetically in the remake than in the original.  Tori Spelling played the role as being a straight-up bitch, whereas Sarah Dugdale instead plays her as someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself and who often doesn’t understand how cruel her comments can sometimes be.  The biggest difference between the two films is that the remake focuses for more on the wrongly accused Nina, even allowing her to narrate the story.  If anything, the film’s main message seems to be about how messed up it is that brave nonconformists like Nina are always going to be unfairly blamed for the mistakes of mousy conformists like Bridget.  That’s a good message and one that I certainly appreciated.

The remake of Death of a Cheerleader works well enough.  The hand-held camera work gets to be a bit much but Sara Dugdale, Morgan Taylor Campbell, and Aubrey Peeples all give great performances and the film actually does a better job than the original of capturing the strange culture of high school popularity.  While it may not feature any scenes as iconic as Tori Spelling melodramatically lighting up a joint, Death of a Cheerleader is still an effective Lifetime film.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Tiny House of Terror (dir by Paul Shapiro)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 181 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on February 1st, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded Tiny House of Terror off of Lifetime on June 29th, 2017!)

Before I start this review, I have to admit that, when it comes to the tiny house movement, I lost interest as soon as I saw the words “tiny” and “house.”  I mean, I understand that they’re supposed to be better for the environment and easier to take care of.  And I get that right now, a lot of people are pretending that they don’t care about material possessions and all that stuff.  But, honestly, the only reason I would want a tiny house would be so I could keep it in the backyard of a bigger house.

That said, despite my lack of interest in the tiny house movement, I was a bit intrigued by the idea of a Lifetime movie set in a tiny house.  After all, one of the great things about Lifetime films is that everyone, regardless of how poor or criminal they may be, usually lives in a large and tastefully furnished house.  How, I wondered, would Lifetime handle setting a film in the type of house that is largely favored by retirees, hippies, and displaced persons?

Well, I’m glad to say that Lifetime handled it pretty well.  Of course, they were clever enough not to set the entire film in a tiny house.  There are several scenes that take place in a technologically advanced mansion and there are also several scenes that take place in Gravity Hill, a lovely little town where a magnetic field regularly plays havoc with electricity, cars, and cell phone reception.  Tiny House of Terror was a surprisingly lovely film to look at.  The small town was lovely.  The scenes set in the big city were properly dark and menacing.  The finale made great use of creepy shadow and light.  Credited with cinematography is Jon Joffin and he certainly did a great job.

The film itself tells the story of Samantha (Francia Raisa), who was married to a tech billionaire named Kyle (Jesse Hutch).  When Kyle disappears while climbing a mountain, Samantha is left distraught.  Even worse, she finds herself a prisoner of her technologically advanced mansion, which was apparently designed to only recognize Kyle’s voice commands.  (Imagine if Alexa suddenly got a passive aggressive attitude and you’ll understand what Samantha is going through.)  It turns out that Kyle was planning on opening up a tiny house community in Gravity Hill.  He was going to allow Samantha to do the landscaping.  Only one tiny house has been built and Samantha decides to move out there, both for her own sanity and to complete Kyle’s final project.

Of course, things are never simple in Gravity Hill.  It turns out that some people in town don’t want a tiny house community.  No sooner has Samantha moved into her tiny house then strange things start to happen.  Is it the magnetic field that’s making things (like kitchen knives) fly at Samantha or is something more sinister happening?  Is Samantha being targeted and does it have anything to do with Kyle’s mysterious disappearance?

I liked Tiny House of Terror far more than I thought I would.  Because it’s structured as a whodunit and there are a few flashbacks and time jumps, the film require a bit more concentration than the typical Lifetime film but that’s okay.  It pays off in the end.  Francia Raisa did a good job in the lead role, as did Nanzeen Contractor in the role of her sister.  I may not care much about the tiny house movement but Tiny House of Terror not only held my interest but rewarded it as well.

 

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.9 “The Pool Guy” (dir by Paul Shapiro and Brad Turner)


For tonight’s excursion into the world of televised horror, we have an episode from the 2002 revival of The Twilight Zone.

In The Pool Guy, Richie (Lou Diamond Philips) is a pool cleaner with a problem.  While his clients appear to believe that Richie is living a glamorous life straight out of a bad suburban melodrama, Richie actually feels as if his life is going nowhere.  He’s never even gotten seduced by a bored housewife!  Maybe Richie just isn’t a very good pool guy…

However, Richie has another problem, on top of all that.  A man keeps mysteriously appearing and telling him to “Wake up!” before then shooting him.  Immediately after getting shot, Richie wakes up somewhere else, just to once again be approached by the same man.

What is going on and why is Richie being charged $12,000 for the experience!?

Over the years, there have been quite a few attempts to revive The Twilight Zone and the results have always been mixed.  The 2002 revival featured Forest Whitaker as the host and was canceled after just one season.  That said, The Pool Guy is actually pretty good.  Philips gives a good performance and the episode’s central mystery is an intriguing one.

This episode originally aired on October 16th, 2002!

Enjoy!

 

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #17: Dying To Be Loved (dir by Paul Shapiro)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 10th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

DTBL

After I finished up with The Cheerleader Murders, I rewatched Dying To Be Loved, which premiered on the Lifetime network on April 16th.  Dying To Be Loved is also known as A Mother’s Suspicion.  I’m really not sure which title I prefer.  A Mother’s Suspicion is a little more accurate, as the film is about a mother who is very suspicious of her daughter’s new boyfriend.  However, Dying To Be Loved has a little bit more of a snap to it, with the juxtaposition of death and love.

If I seem to be spending a bit too much time on the film’s title, that’s because I have a certain word count that I’m trying to meet but there’s really not that much to say about Dying To Be Loved.  It’s a typical example of a genre familiar to all regular Lifetime viewers, the You Should Have Listened To Mom genre of film.

In this case, the mom is Jill Yates (Lindsay Hartley).  Jill has a good career, a good house, a good boyfriend (played by Lifetime regular Dan Payne), and good hair.  That’s really pretty much all you need to be a success in a Lifetime film.  However, she also has an 18 year-old daughter, Emily (Paloma Kwiatkowski).  Emily is away at college.  She’s alone from home for the first time.  She’s also bipolar and Jill fears that Emily is not taking her meds.  Jill is even more worried when she meets Emily’s new boyfriend, Gary (Jedidiah Goodacre).  Gary is rough and tough and has absolutely terrible table manners.  Jill tells Emily that she can do better than Gary so, of course, Emily runs off on a cross-country trip with him.

Soon, Gary is murdering gas station attendants and ranting like a madman.  Emily, who is not taking her medication (cue dramatic music), is convinced that she loves Gary.  In fact, she is so in love with Gary that she apparently agrees to jump off a bridge with him.

Or does she?  No bodies are recovered.  Even though everyone tells Jill that she needs to move on, Jill is convinced that her daughter is still out there.  With the help of a portly P.I. (Jay Bazeau) and an overly friendly small town cop (James Pizzinato), Jill sets out to find her daughter.  One of these two men is connected to Gary.  Which one?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!

Anyway, this is pretty much a standard Lifetime film.  Watching it, I couldn’t help but wish that it had been directed by someone like Fred Olen Ray.  At the very least, Fred would have played up the film’s melodrama and would have been a bit less earnest in his approach.  That said, Lindsay Hartley and Paloma Kwiatkowski are totally believable as mother and daughter.  Kwiatkowski, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for giving a believable and multi-faceted performance as the unstable and desperately unhappy Emily.  I winced a few times as I recognized bits of 16 year-old me in Emily’s actions.  This may be a generic Lifetime film but Hartley and Kwiatkowski really put their hearts into their performances and, for that, they deserve a lot of credit!

(For those keeping count, that’s 17 reviews down and 23 more to go!)