Sunday, March 6, 2016

Nightmare Nurse (Cartel Pictures/Marvista Entertainment/Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The first Lifetime movie I watched last night was their Saturday night “world premiere” of Nightmare Nurse, yet another entry in their series of “The Nightmare _____” (as opposed to “The Perfect _____,” “_____ at 17” and “The _____ S/he Met Online”), directed by Craig Moss from a script by Jake Helgren and produced by a company called Cartel Pictures in association with our old friends from previous Lifetime movies, Marvista Entertainment. It opens with a scene in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant (we hear a lot about how great the food is and get to see the divo-ish behavior of the main chef, but we never see the actual dining room, presumably because that would have been one more set the folks at Cartel and Marvista would have had to budget for) in which the big-cheese chef is complimenting Brooke Herron (Sarah Butler) on her latest creation and announcing her promotion to sous-chef, which is supposed to be a big deal in both money and status. Then we see her celebrating with her live-in boyfriend Lance Dawson (Steven Good, who’s actually a nice piece of eye candy — a truly hot-looking male is rare in a Lifetime movie unless he’s cast as a villain!) — though I’m guessing at the last name and it could be “Bawson” or “Lawson” — they’re both downing way too many shots than are good for them and when they get in their car to drive home, they literally run into a man in the middle of the road and, though Lance (at the wheel) tries to avoid him, he hits him anyway and then runs his own car into a tree. Brooke gets away with a few cracked ribs but Lance’s right leg is broken and needs a full cast, while the pedestrian they hit is killed. The police interrogate both Brooke and Lance while in the hospital but decide it was an unfortunate accident.

Brooke is able to go back to work for a few days but Lance needs extensive in-home care — in a scene that’s a bit embarrassing to watch it’s established that he can’t even make it to the bathroom to pee without help (though why he doesn’t simply pee sitting down into a urinal from his wheelchair, the way my long-term disabled client did, is a mystery) — and the agency the hospital works with sends Chloe Spade (Lindsay Hartley). Of course, Chloe’s sweetness-and-light act when she first shows up for work and agrees to start one day early whether she gets paid for it or not is an act, and Brooke starts to suspect when she sees that the pasta dish she gave portions of to Chloe (in the styrofoam trays in which restaurants frequently pack to-go orders — did she just happen to have them lying around her house?) was immediately thrown away when Brooke left on her first night. My immediate assumption was that Chloe would turn out to be the girlfriend of the man Lance and Brooke had run over and killed in their car in the early scene, and she was there to make our lovebirds’ lives miserable — but then writer Helgren threw us a curveball. He and director Moss showed Chloe at home with a still-living boyfriend of her own, James (Nate Scholz), who judging from the uniform he’s wearing is either a police officer or a security guard, who when she gets home first attempts to rape her, she resists but then yields to him consensually — apparently having him pose as a rapist taking her by force is part of their foreplay — and we get the one big soft-core porn scene this Lifetime movie is going to offer us. The scene then cuts back to Lance and Chloe at home, where we see Chloe get more and more obsessed with Lance, to the point where one day she kisses him out of the blue and he’s ready to fire her on the spot for inappropriate conduct while she pleads with him to keep her on. She tells him that she’s the one who really loves him and Brooke isn’t — two years previously Lance proposed marriage to Brooke, who turned him down because she wanted them to wait until they were more secure financially before they tied the knot officially (Brooke is the breadwinner of the couple while Lance is a graduate student working on some unspecified project that’s taking years to complete, though he’s been promised a $20,000 grant for it, whatever it is — we’re told he’s a grad student but not told in what field!) — and now Chloe is using that to try to manipulate the helpless Lance into dumping Brooke and taking up with her.

Lance is a good little boy who has no intention of doing that, though, and later Brooke hears from the head nurse at the hospital, Barb (former porn star Traci Lords — on her page Lords is quoted as saying she hates being referred to as “former porn star Traci Lords” but that, along with her early “serious” role in John Waters’ Cry-Baby with Johnny Depp, is what she’s famous for), that previously Chloe worked for a semi-famous actor who injured himself making a film and needed a home nurse. Apparently Chloe made a play for him until his wife, who had been off on location making a film of her own, returned and she realized he was off limits. The scandal got her fired from one nursing agency but she was able to continue to work by switching to another one. Brooke gets Lance to fire Chloe at last, and devotes herself to spreading the word among potential employers that Chloe shouldn’t be working as a nurse because she’s batshit-crazy (though with a brain that scrambled she could be a Republican Presidential candidate!), but in the meantime there’s the nagging little matter of who’s going to replace Chloe if they do fire her. Another nurse at the hospital, Gwen (René Ashton — odd that she spells her first name in what’s usually the masculine fashion), has some accrued vacation time and agrees to use it to take care of Lance, but as she’s walking to her car in the hospital’s parking garage a shadowy figure in black we see only from the waist down assaults her and knocks her to the ground, leaving her in a coma and rendering her not only unable to work but in a touch-and-go state as to whether she’ll survive. Barb, the head nurse at the hospital, agrees to take over Lance’s in-home care, but then there’s a surprise twist [spoiler alert!] in which Barb is shown on the phone to Chloe, whom she was paying to go after Lance and make his and Brooke’s lives hell. It seems that Barb was the girlfriend of the man Lance and Brooke struck and killed with their car in the opening scene, and she’s determined to take Lance away from Brooke the way Lance took her own man away from her.

After Barb reneges on their deal and refuses to pay Chloe the additional money she demanded ($5,000 instead of their originally agreed-upon $2,500) for the job of harassing Lance and destroying his relationship with Brooke, Chloe changes sides and shows up at the home of Lance and Brooke with a gun, just after Lance has eaten a plate of cookies Barb made him and drugged. She tries to shoot Barb, Barb grabs the gun from her, but then Brooke assaults Barb and saves the day. Nightmare Nurse is a pretty mediocre movie, not as bad as some Lifetime productions have been but not as good, either; the situations are pretty preposterous but the full-throated acting saves the day: Steven Good isn’t really challenged by playing a milquetoast victim (but then he’s nice-looking enough it doesn’t really matter whether or not he can act!), and Sarah Butler is competent but no more (but then a more charismatic performer might have made the bond between Brooke and Lance too strong and left us not believing anyone could seduce Lance away from her), but René Ashton is quite good in the limited screen time for the character, Lindsay Hartley is an excellent Lifetime psycho as Chloe, and Traci Lords, though she’s way too homely by now to make anyone believe that three decades ago she had a highly controversial career having sex on camera (even more controversial than most porn careers because Lords made all but one of her sex films while she was still under 18, thereby leaving their producers and distributors under threat of federal prosecution), nails both sides of her character: the seemingly omnipotently competent professional and the bonkers-crazy woman underneath. Though the subject of Nightmare Nurse is psychopathic obsession, still there’s a welcome lightness to the treatment, an ample supply of comic relief (notably the scene in which Chloe attempts to walk Lance to the bathroom so he can stand at the toilet and pee, and he’s too embarrassed to be able to urinate in her presence while he’s so helpless he has to rely on her to aim!) that keeps the film from the sinister lugubriousness of the next item on Lifetime’s repertoire.