Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Stalked by My Doctor: The Return (Johnson Production Group, Shadowland, Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015, 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I put on Lifetime for last night’s “world premiere” — I don’t know if Lifetime is going back to airing movies regularly on Mondays or was just doing this as a Labor Day special and then will go back to the sorry “original” shows they put on most of the week (including the “Little Women” exercises in modern high-tech dwarf-tossing) — which was Stalked by My Doctor: The Return, an unexpected sequel to a previous Lifetime movie, Stalked by My Doctor. I’d enjoyed Stalked by My Doctor despite the staleness and sometimes risibility of its plot (the writer and director of both films was Doug Campbell), mainly because of the tour de force performance by actor Eric Roberts (“that beefcake actor from the 1980’s?” Charles asked incredulously) in the male lead of the doctor, a super-surgeon from L.A. named Albert Beck, who in the first episode fell head over heels for the underage chiclet Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) whom he determined to marry, and when she said no to him he kidnapped her, tied her to the four posts of an old-fashioned bed in a classic S/M bondage position, and (as I wrote in my initial comments on Stalked by My Doctor when Lifetime first aired it in December 2015) “in a finale Doug Campbell seems to have ripped off from the movie Boxing Helena (one of those films that a lot of people have heard about but few have actually seen), he threatens to operate on her then and there to remove her legs, so she can’t try to escape; remove her arms, so she can’t try to attack him; and remove her tongue and vocal cords, so she can’t cry out for help. He’s actually laying out the instruments for this operation when Sophie comes to, manages to escape and makes her way to the memorial service being held for her (just like a 19th century opera!), whereupon someone must have reported all this to the cops because the next scene shows two uniformed detectives breaking into Dr. Beck’s home — which they find empty; the bad doctor has flown the coop and in a final tag scene is in Cabo, where he’s chatting up a Mexican waitress in Spanish even while assuring her that he’s not ready to order yet because he’s expecting someone to join him … and we’re left wondering whether he’s become so delusional he’s really expecting Sophie or he’s got some other pigeon in Mexico for his next dysfunctional relationship.”

Instead the pigeon with whom he’s going to form his next dysfunctional relationship comes to him — though for some reason (did Doug Campbell just forget?) by then he’s relocated his Mexican abode from Cabo San Lucas to Acapulco, where he starts the movie by buying a drink for an American tourist named Rachel. It seems Rachel came down to Acapulco with a girlfriend, only she hooked up with a guy and left her alone for several days. Using the name “Victor Slauson” — an alias he’s established enough that he’s been able to obtain a U.S. passport with that name — he shows her smartphone photos of his Mexican mansion and his oceangoing yacht, which he says he’s had trouble coming up with a name for until now, when after meeting her he’s decided to call the boat “Rachel.” Fortunately Rachel is smart enough to see through his B.S., asking if he really thinks he’s going to get anywhere with such an obvious and old-fashioned pickup strategy like that, and she walks away from him without even taking the drink he bought for her. (Lucky her.) Then there’s a scene showing Victor Albert doing what he usually does to get over being rejected — he gets in his car and drives really fast — but the next day he’s on the beach and he meets the underage pigeon whom he’s going to stalk for the rest of the movie: Amy Watkins (Claire Blackwelder — funny, she doesn’t look like a Black welder to me), whom he meets on a beach in Acapulco when she’s nearly drowned and he uses his skills to perform CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her and therefore save her life. Of course he’s instantly smitten with her, but in a plot twist he no doubt picked up from reading Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita (at the end of the movie he’s actually shown reading the book, though the cover we see doesn’t show the title, just the author’s last name), he decides that the way to Amy Watkins’ heart (or, more precisely, a somewhat lower part of her anatomy) is to marry her widowed mom Linda (Hillary Greer), who’s been a psychological basket case since Amy’s dad was killed falling off a ladder at their home eight years earlier.

She’s developed an intense fear of heights and hasn’t been on a date with a guy since she lost her husband, and Dr. Slausen (as she knows him) sets his cap for her by having her stand on higher and higher surfaces — first a footrest, then a chair, then a stepstool and finally what looks like the same ladder her husband had his fatal accident on — in what Campbell, who likes to stop his movies dead in their tracks to show us how many classic films he’s seen, copies (though with the genders reversed) from the scenes of Barbara Bel Geddes trying to get James Stewart out of his vertigo in Vertigo. We also get a few abruptly cut in sequences that Campbell tantalizes us with before we realize that they’re simply the central character’s dreams — in one a sharp-eyed Transportation Security Administration clerk red-flags his passport at the U.S.-Mexico border as he tries to re-enter at San Diego, where the Watkinses live (and it’s nice to see some familiar bits of San Diego geography in the background, even though there’s also some “creative” editing and at least one “San Diego” exterior, a train station, that was actually shot in Riverside, presumably because their train station looks more “modern” than the old Santa Fe Depot here) and threatens him with arrest, only in the “real” part of the story the TSA guy just waves him through; and in another Campbell takes his “borrowing” from Lolita to extremes by having Amy get super-excited over Dr. Slauson (of course the champagne he’s been plying her with helps!) and practically glue herself to him in mutually shared lust before her mom catches them, then takes a header off the railing separating the second floor of their house from the drop to the first floor below. In the equivalent scene in Lolita the nymphet’s mom gets run over by a car and killed right after she learns her new husband’s interest is in her daughter, not her — but in Stalked by My Doctor: The Return that, too, turns out to be just a fevered, lust-driven dream of the central character. 

One odd scene that isn’t a dream of Dr. Slauson occurs earlier in the show, when he’s just arrived in San Diego (and claimed to have a job at the San Diego Presbyterian Hospital — in real life no such institution exists and, as Charles joked, San Diego probably doesn’t have enough Presbyterians to support one) and he’s trying to find Amy. His one clue is a T-shirt with the name “Hamilton” on it, indicating that she goes to Hamilton High School (there is no high school named “Hamilton” in San Diego, but who cares; it’s only a movie), so he hangs out there and looks at the students going by until he sees her. Unfortunately, she’s with her age-peer boyfriend Garth (Mark Grossman, a nice, appealing piece of young man-meat who shows a good-sized basket, especially in a brief scene in which we get to see him in grey sweat pants), and Garth (correctly) calls the not-so-good doctor a “pervert” and punches him out. Then, after Amy explains that he’s the doctor who saved her life in Mexico, Garth apologizes — though in a subsequent scene when the Watkinses and Dr. Slauson are hanging out at the beach and Garth runs into them, Dr. Slauson disclaims any romantic interest in Amy by saying, “I’m old enough to be her father.” “Grandfather,” Garth says, snarling out the first syllable with thinly disguised contempt. Slauson’s seduction attempt on Amy reaches at least a metaphorical climax, if not a literal one, when in order to help her with her anatomy homework (it’s established that she’s interested in becoming a doctor herself and she’s applying to various pre-med programs) he shows her a sexually explicit slide about the chemicals the human body secretes during orgasm. Amy gets the message loud and clear, but her mom — who’s been dating Dr. Slauson after Amy advised her it was time to get out of her shell and grab this intelligent, worldly, attractive man before someone else did — thinks Amy just over-reacted. Slauson has also left Amy some spiked iced tea that makes her sick, and as part of her “treatment” he’s taken a blood sample from Amy, only instead of actually having it tested he’s faked a lab result that indicates she has genital herpes — thereby breaking up her and Garth, since they were supposed to be sexually exclusive with each other and each is convinced it’s the other that has cheated. Then we cut to Los Angeles (with a chyron title helpfully telling us the film has changed locations) and we meet Linda Watkins’ ne’er-do-well brother Roger Ghess (Christopher Crabb, who for my money was even hotter than Mark Grossman, especially when we saw him in an open shirt and he got to flash his nipples on screen), a musician who’s in the middle of recording an album and has been supporting himself professionally for several years when he hasn’t been making ends meet by dealing drugs.

Amy calls Roger, who’s hardly ever seen either his sister or his niece, and asks her to come down, hoping he’ll see through Slauson’s pose — but Slauson says he used to play drums in an amateur band that wasn’t very good but still got to open for out-of-town touring acts, including the Rolling Stones, and they bond musician-to-musician until Slauson says he used to live in Salt Lake City. Roger says he did, too, and says his old address was something like “900 West 400th Street.” “That doesn’t sound like a street address, it sounds like an equation,” Slauson cracks — whereupon Roger realizes he’s lying because Salt Lake City really does have addresses with street numbers in three digits (something Charles, who’s visited there, confirmed to me even before the film did). So Roger starts looking into the supposed Dr. Slauson; he calls San Diego Presbyterian and is told no doctor of that name works there, and then the helpful receptionist locates some information that shows Slauson’s background and photo basically match the information on Dr. Albert Beck, fugitive from justice in L.A. after he kidnapped and came close to dismembering a teenage girl. Only Roger’s attempt to communicate this information to Linda Watkins fails because she just happens to use a restaurant bathroom when Roger’s call comes through, and Slauson first deliberately doesn’t answer the call and then, when Roger leaves a voicemail with the crucial information, deletes it. Roger texts Linda’s phone with the message, “Meet you at the house in 30 minutes,” only when he shows up Slauson is waiting for him; he kidnaps him, drives him to Roger’s own home (at least I think that’s where they went) and brings a hypodermic needle with lethal contents to Roger’s place. Roger comes to long enough to struggle, but eventually Slauson gives him the lethal injection and then, in the film’s grimmest scene, puts Roger’s body in his bathtub and pours two large blue plastic containers of hydrochloric acid on the corpse so it will literally be eaten away. During the whole time he’s at Roger’s killing him, Roger’s wall-mounted big-screen TV is playing a black-and-white soap opera in which a doctor and his girlfriend are plotting the murder of her mother — it’s a nice bit of irony, though the gimmick of having criminals watch a movie-within-the-movie that parallels the crime they’re actually committing is as old as the Mack Sennett Tillie’s Punctured Romance from 1914 — that’s right, 102 years ago! — in which villains Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand go to a movie and see a film called A Thief’s Fate whose plot parallels the scam they’re pulling on farm girl turned heiress Marie Dressler to get her money.

Then Dr. Slauson marries Linda Watkins in a ceremony officiated by a woman minister (Kimberly Spak), only he’s interpreted the film-within-the-film to mean he should kill mom immediately, so he does his conquering-her-fear-of-heights on her at the cottage in Pine Valley he’s ostensibly taken her to for a “honeymoon.” First he pushes a potted plant off the balcony and the pot shatters below, indicating (at least to him) that a fall off the same surface will kill a person; then he blindfolds Linda and has her stand on ever-higher surfaces until she’s standing on the edge of the balcony. She takes the blindfold off, realizes where she is, and Dr. Slauson decides to “help” by pushing her the rest of the way. Only along the way Amy has not only realized that Slauson plans to do, she’s enlisted Garth’s help — they made up when he got his own (legitimate) test and found he didn’t have herpes — and Garth not only drives up himself but has the brains to bring in the police. Slauson is duly arrested, but in his final scene he’s in jail being guarded by a woman, she chokes on a candy bar, he demands to be let out of his cell so he can use his medical skills to save her life, he gets the piece of candy that’s choking her out of her mouth, and the final shot is of her giving him a goopy-eyed look suggesting he’s going to be able to seduce her to help him escape and we may be in for a Stalked by My Doctor III. For all the weaknesses — the far-fetched and almost risible plotting (though at least this one is a bit more believable than the first), the wretchedly cut-in dream sequences and the borrowings from earlier and better movies that seems like Doug Campbell tapping us on the shoulders and saying, “You see how many movies I’ve seen?” — Stalked by My Doctor: The Return is actually quite good; Campbell’s script, as silly as it gets sometimes, at least exploits director Campbell’s talents for Gothic atmosphere and effective suspense editing, and as in the first film he gets an excellent performance out of Eric Roberts. He’s neither too milquetoast nor too floridly villainous; instead he’s presented as a character who’s professionally competent and could easily inspire confidence in others, even while we’re not shorted on the unscrupulous, villainous side that dominates his character.