Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Deadly Revenge (Feifer Worldwide/Lifetime, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

For my “feature” last night I ran an item from my DVD backlog, a Lifetime movie called Deadly Revenge that turned out to be pretty good — not as good as this channel can be, but considerably better than the more recent Lifetime features Deadly Delusion (catch the pattern in the titling?) and I Am Elizabeth Smart. This was especially surprising since Deadly Revenge was a product of Michael Feifer’s production company, Feifer Worldwide, and he directed it personally — though at least this time he let someone else, Jenna Mattison, do the writing, which probably helped. Architect Harrison (Mark Hapka, boyishly handsome rather than sexy or butch but still very easy on the eyes and fun for this old queen to look at!) — we don’t get many of the central characters’ last names — is based in L.A. and needs a landscape designer for a project he’s currently working on. So he sends to San Francisco for one (aren’t there any in L.A. itself?) and gets Cate (Alicia Ziegler, blonde and with curly hair and a great figure which we get to see a lot of in a very revealing bikini), with whom he falls in love almost immediately — and she reciprocates — so by the time their project is finished she’s already planning to move to L.A., move in with him and eventually marry him. Cate’s roommate in San Francisco, Kym (Constance Wu), is understandably nervous about whether her friend is doing the right thing, but Cate goes ahead with her plan.

Harrison lives in a lavishly appointed condo in the city but his mother Evelyn (Donna Mills) has an even more lavishly appointed mansion in the suburbs — the moment we see this house we recognize it from other Michael Feifer productions for Lifetime and I found myself wondering whether it’s Feifer’s own home and he uses it every time he needs a location for an affluent character to live. The house has a huge swimming pool in the backyard, and this is important not only because it gives director Feifer the chance to show a lot of Alicia Ziegler’s appealing (at least to straight men and Lesbians) figure, with as much breast revealed as he could get away with on basic cable, but also because years earlier Harrison’s father drowned in that very same pool. Harrison’s high-school girlfriend, Katie Rice (so the dead girl gets a last name even though the living characters don’t!) mysteriously disappeared just after graduation, right when she and Harrison were planning to move to New York to attend college (he at NYU’s architecture school and she in the dance program at Juilliard), and so instead he stayed in L.A., lived with his mom and trained there. We’ve already got an intimation of an unusual (and unhealthy) mother-son fixation when Cate sees a photo of a young woman at Harrison’s apartment, naturally assumes it’s an ex and instead he tells her it’s his mom as a young woman, before she met his dad (though the photo and especially the hair style look contemporary rather than period). From the moment Evelyn greets Harrison and Cate and practically rapes him with her eyes we know mom is going to turn out to be the villainess of the piece — which she does — though Feifer and screenwriter Mattison fill the film with hints that Harrison is actually a psycho killer who knocked off his clingy girlfriend and is trying to do the same with Cate. Feifer relentlessly overdirects, filling the movie with shots of the moon in the night sky and water reflections from the surface of the pool into the camera lens as Cate swims, but after a while his overdirection itself has a certain camp appeal. He also quotes Alfred Hitchcock, including a shot of scissors from Dial “M” for Murder and a shower scene that incorporates some of the classic shots from Psycho even though Cate isn’t stabbed to death by her boyfriend in drag the way Janet Leigh was in Hitchcock’s classic.

In the end, it’s revealed that Evelyn has eliminated anyone who might come between her and her son — including her husband, who accumulated the fortune that paid for that huge house in the first place, as well as Katie — and she’s planning to do the same to Cate by filling the pool full of copper sulfate (used as a pool cleaner in small doses to kill algae, but in large concentrations highly toxic to humans), though when Cate catches on Evelyn goes to Plan B and hits her with a hammer, knocking her out, then tying her up and pouring the copper sulfate powder directly on her instead of dunking it in the pool and drowning her. Just then Harrison, who’s been worried because Cate hasn’t been returning his phone calls, drives to his mom’s house and, despite the ambiguity of the scene — for a moment I thought it would end with him mistakenly concluding it was Cate who was attacking his mom, not the other way around — catches on. Evelyn falls into the copper sulfate-laced pool and dies, and Harrison and Cate get back together. Deadly Revenge is pretty standard Lifetime fare, but with some welcome variations; for once the drop-dead gorgeous male lead is not the villain (though since Mark Hapka is boyishly handsome rather than darkly sexy Feifer could make an exception to the usual sexy = evil Lifetime typecasting) and Cate’s friend Kym does not stumble onto the villain’s plans and get killed before she can reveal them. It’s also an indication that with someone else writing the script and resisting his more over-the-top inclinations, Michael Feifer can actually direct a relatively coherent and believable movie — something of a reversal from the many Lifetime movies in which one sees a director of some talent vainly trying to make a believable movie out of a ridiculously overwrought and melodramatic script!