Sunday, April 8, 2018

Evil Doctor (Nasser Productions, Folding Box Productions, Lifetime,2018)

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

Last night’s Lifetime movie was billed as a “premiere” (though its page lists a release date of January 18, 2018) of something called Evil Doctor, which had looked more promising in Lifetime’s promos than it turned out to be. It had a weirdly assorted set of credits that seemed to indicate some (East) Indian involvement in this production — though, alas, it did not end with a big musical production number the way Bollywood productions tend to even if they’re otherwise not musicals — including a producer billed only as “Dureyshevar” and a “supervising post producer’ named Jainardhain Sathvan, along with three people named Nasser (“Nasser Productions, Inc.” was listed as the producing studio on the opening credits, though credits someone or something called “Folding Box Films”!). Evil Doctor was directed by Brian Skiba from a script by Robert Foulkes and Jennifer Goldson, and judging from the results it seems as if Foulkes and Goldson deliberately set out to take every Lifetime cliché they could think of and ratchet it up from a starting point at 11 to between 15 and 20. 

The titular “evil doctor” is a woman OB/GYN specialist, Dr. Natalie Bornsen (Dina Meyer), and the story begins with a confusing flashback in which almost as soon as baby Natalie is born, she’s kidnapped by a motorcycle-riding lowlife and his girlfriend, who steal her from her real parents and raise her as their own — until about eight years later, when her real parents find her and the man who kidnapped her is shot and killed in a scuffle with the police. (The costume department cladded Ellison Ashton-Ita, who played the eight-year-old Natalie, in a pair of skin-tight white pants that seemed awfully sexy for someone playing an eight-year-old, as if they wanted to induce fantasies in all the straight male pedophiles out there.) It turns out she was better off with her abductor than her real parents: though they were considerably more affluent than the trailer-park trash who made off with her, they were even more immoral: dad molested Natalie regularly and mom spent all her time too stoned on crack to notice or care. Of course we don’t learn all this until much later in the film: the prologue showing little Natalie being kidnapped cuts to a title reading “Present Day,” and in the present day Matt Lewis (Corin Nemec, considerably more butch and appealing than the usual tall, lanky, sandy-haired guys who play husbands on Lifetime), who’s making good money as the creator and show runner for a TV sitcom called Family Phun (that’s the way the title is spelled on the logo, which will give you an idea of the level of “humor,” if I may use the term for courtesy, contained in the show itself) and his wife Aubrey (Jen Lewis) are expecting their first child. Aubrey is really anxious about the pregnancy because, like so many mothers-to-be on Lifetime who end up in the clutches of crazy pediatricians/nurses/midwives/surrogates/whatever, she’s already been pregnant but lost the child in a miscarriage. 

They’ve already got an obstetrician/gynecologist lined up, Dr. Flickman (Rico Simonni), but Megan (Terrah Bennett Smith), a Black woman who works on Family Phun with Matt, recommends Dr. Natalie Bornsen to them instead. Accordingly the Lewises transfer the case to Dr. Bornsen — who we see casting lascivious eyes at both Lewises (one added quirk Foulkes and Goldson put into the Lifetime formula this time around is that the villainess is Bisexual) though the Lewises, of course, remain oblivious — and everything goes well until one night Matt gets horny and decides to have sex with his wife. Since she’s already pregnant, he doesn’t have to worry about that, but in the morning she notices blood on her sheets and calls Dr. Bornsen about it. The not-so-good doctor tells her she has an unnaturally short cervix and any further stress on it, including sexual activity, is just going to make it even shorter and run the risk of inducing another miscarriage. So she orders Aubrey to stay in bed 24/7 (she can get up and move around the house for half-hour stretches at a time, and she can use the bathroom normally instead of having to rely on a bedpan, but that’s the extent of her “freedom”) and avoid anything that might stress her or her body out. Of course, it’s all B.S.: Natalie’s real plan is to stalk Matt while at the same time inducing such a state of sexual frustration in him that he’ll yield to her seduction when she’s ready to make her move. Until then she’s a typically solicitous Lifetime villainess, even giving the Lewises a little electronic object to put in their bedroom — which anyone who’s seen more than about three Lifetime movies will know really contains a bug that monitors the activity in their bedroom (such as it is) and allows Bornsen to look in on them from her laptop at her home. 

Bornsen also keeps a rattlesnake in a glass cage in her bedroom, and remembering Anton Chekhov’s rule of dramatic construction that if you introduce a pistol during Act I you have to have it go off in Act III, I assumed the writers were leading us up to a big action climax at Bornsen’s home in which the rattlesnake would escape and take her out à la another murderous physician in literature, Dr. Grimesby Roylott in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band.” No such luck, though; the only time the rattlesnake makes another appearance is when Matt Lewis finally does get seduced into Dr. Bornsen’s bed, then falls asleep and wakes up in the morning, realizes he hasn’t been home and he has to throw on yesterday’s clothes and make a quick getaway, and in a later encounter at her home (where he’d gone to break things off) he finds that the snake is menacing him so he can’t leave out the normal door to the second-floor bedroom but has to escape out the window, climb down as best he can and risk injuring himself on the jump when he finally lets go and lands on the ground below. (The fact that Natalie has had a confrontation with him and shot him up with a narcotic doesn’t help — even though the drug merely makes him sluggish and doesn’t incapacitate him, probably because she was jabbing him with the needle wherever she could and didn’t get it into a vein or muscle — enabling him, after she’s stolen his car, to steal hers, since it’s a convertible and she has conveniently left the keys in it.) Like a lot of Lifetime villains of both (mainstream) genders before her, Dr. Bornsen seems reasonably capable at the beginning but becomes more floridly evil as the story progresses (in the manner of a disease). When an older woman spies her and Matt making out in a parking lot, she turns out to be Dr. Bornsen’s biological mother, whom she’s been paying off to keep her quiet about her background, and later on she shows up at the motel where mom is staying (mom has conveniently not only told her the location but let her know how long she’ll be staying there and even given her the plastic card that passes for a room key these days), drowns mom in the bathtub and then hangs her body to make the scene look like a suicide. 

Later she ends up naked in her own bathtub with Violet, who has some sort of involvement with Family Phun — for which Natalie has offered herself as a consultant, suggesting a story arc in which the series’ leading woman gets pregnant, has all sorts of hilarious complications, and finally ends up on the operating table with a complicated birth in which her attending physician has to decide whether to save the mom or the baby (“and of course she saves the baby,” she says with a mad twinkle that gives away her own future plans), which of course the studio rejects as not a suitable season-ending episode for a comedy. Natalie and Violet are going at each other with a feverish intensity — Evil Doctor had already had two quite hot soft-core straight porn scene and now we were getting one between two women — when Violet innocently asks if Natalie has ever wanted children. “I can’t have children,” she snaps, and then really snaps when Violet keeps pushing the point and Natalie responds by showing her the secret video she made of her and Matt having sex. Then Natalie draws a gun on Violet and shoots her in the bathtub. (Don’t ever get in a bathtub near or around this woman!) One finds oneself asking, “Just how is she going to fake this one to make it look like suicide?” By the time the movie speeds to the inevitable action close it’s become apparent that Natalie seized on Matt as her paramour because he looked like her late father — not her real one, but the guy who kidnapped her and raised her the first eight years until the cops blew him away — and her plan is a real-life version of the one she outlined for Matt’s sitcom: kill Aubrey on the operating table, claim she had to do so to save the baby, and end up as Matt’s wife and the baby’s mom. The one person standing in her way in all of this is Aubrey’s sister Vicky (Lindsay Hartley), who never liked Matt (though the hint is that way back when she had a crush on him and was pissed when he ended up marrying her sister instead), who discovers Matt’s affair with Natalie and who convinces Aubrey to fire Natalie as her doctor and have Dr. Flickman (Anna Russell moment: “Ya remember Dr. Flickman?”) deliver her baby instead. 

Only Aubrey’s water breaks while she and her sister are still at home, Vicky rushes her to the hospital as an emergency patient, and Natalie grabs a tire iron and wallops both Vicky and Flickman, knocking them out, so she can take over delivery of Aubrey’s baby (a girl — the Lewises hadn’t wanted to know in advance because they had expected a son last time, and even named him Theodore, and they decided this time around that advance knowledge of the baby’s gender would jinx them) and then steal the child. She and Matt confront each other on the roof, she’s about to make her way down the fire escape with the baby, we get some nice insert shots of a part of the fire escape with a missing bolt on it — a good bit of suspense editing from director Skiba, who’s otherwise pretty much been on autopilot as Dina Meyer not only chewed the scenery but swallowed it whole and then vomited it out again. Matt pretends to be willing to run off with her in order to get the baby out of her clutches, and no sooner has Natalie handed the baby over than the fire escape gives way and she falls to her death. The final scene is a bit off the Lifetime norm in that Aubrey and her sister Vicky seem to have decided to raise the baby by themselves; Matt comes by rather sheepishly to see his daughter, and instead of forgiving him and taking him back into the family, Aubrey basically tells him off and makes clear to him it’s going to take her a long time, if ever, before she can forgive him for having that affair. Evil Doctor is a peculiar movie that takes all the Lifetime clichés and ramps them up so extensively it achieves a sort of bizarre neo-camp entertainment value: you wonder what direction the story is going to go in next, and even when it takes a predictable turn you still are astonished at the white-hot level of intensity with which writers Foulkes and Goldson and director Skiba are throwing the time-tested Lifetime clichés at you.