Thursday, December 11, 2014

A USA World Premiere Movie Project Twofer: Save the Drama for your Crazy Mama!

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since The Daily Grindhouse started their amazing retrospective on the USA World Premiere telefilm. I have been honored and, frankly, pretty ecstatic to have been a part of this nostalgic road trip back to one of the last bastions of the traditional made for television film. I learned a lot of things, including these wonderful genre films were often more hit than miss. I also learned that Lifetime has basically stolen much of USA’s glory, through their acquisition of many of their titles. And frankly, that's making me an annoying person. I’m the girl at the party who, whenever she hears someone say, “It’s such a Lifetime movie,” has to school the innocent partygoer who thought they were bonding with me over a strange love of small screen features. OK, it hasn’t quite gotten that far, but I anticipate the glazed looks of would-be friends and maybe less party invites.

It happens.

One thing the Lifetime, er, USA Original is famous for is the crazy mother trope. She can be different kinds of crazy - Like, clinically crazy, or maybe she’s just annoying or overbearing, but she tries to rule the roost and will stop at nothing to get what she wants, which is usually to create a patchwork of the idealized family unit. It's like The Stepfather if he was a woman. Who knows what this is saying… it certainly boils these female characters down to maternally deranged she beasts. But, as much as I should be offended by this gendered stereotype, these characters tend to be the most fun person in the film!

There are also variations on this insane matronly figure, and check it out, I’ve covered a few of them here in my USA posts:
  • Crazy adopted mother? It’s here too, read my review of Tainted Blood

That’s a lot of crazy! And now there’s even more! I spun two USA movies this week, Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear (OAD 1/27/1998) and Hush Little Baby (OAD 1/6/1994). Baby Monitor has the distinct honor of carrying one of the greatest TVM titles of all time. I’d heard about this movie some time ago when it was casually brought up at my work. I thought to myself, “Wow, a baby monitor that projects sounds of fear? I’m in!” I guess I was thinking of something along the lines of Insidious… you know, where there was some actual fear. Little did I know. The movie isn’t even really about the horrible mother, she is just the catalyst for the stupider-than-usual situation that the always reliable Jason Beghe finds himself in.

Beghe is Matt, a successful jeweler in a loveless marriage. He is having an affair with his obnoxious son’s babysitter, Ann (Josie Bissett), while his wife Carol (played with a lot of cold hearted snakiness by Barbara Tyson) acts like a nasty person. Like  his three piece suits, Matt actually wears his adultery well, and seems very much in love with Ann, so when she tells him she’s pregnant, he decides to leave his wife. Unfortunately, Carol overhears most of the conversation while eavesdropping. Let the scheming begin…

Carol, the incarnate of evil, concocts some scam with a hitman duo who knock off the wrong babysitter and kidnap the wrong kid. Luckily, the baby monitor (yes, it is a plot point) lets Bisset in on the horrible goings on in a nearby apartment and she spends the rest of the movie… not doing much.

Baby Monitor is a remake of a German TV movie from 1995 called Babyfon - Mörder im Kinderzimmer, and it should be much better than it is, but it lacks any real tension and is frustrating because essentially everyone is stupid. And I don't mean the I-got-a-C-in-Calculus-I-feel-stupid kind of dumb. I mean Darwin Award stupid.

The part that burned me the most though was that Carol, who is never painted in any kind of positive light, is so one-dimensional. Like, I get it. She’s not nice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK to have an affair. And she might be a bitch, but how many women hire professional criminals to “kidnap” their kid? And how the heck is that going to save her marriage? Aargh! I wanted so much more from you Baby Monitor!

Hush Little Baby has a better sense of humor about itself and it also has Diane Ladd playing the Mother From Hell stereotype with just enough over the top glee to keep her interesting but not infuriating. Like Carol, she’s not going to win any mother of the year awards, but who cares, because she makes for decent escapist fodder for ninety minutes.

Ladd is Edie, a thoughtless, self-serving woman who had her kid taken away from her at a young age. But after years of searching, she’s relocated the little tyke who is now a full grown woman named Susan (Wendel Meldrum) with a family of her own. But Ladd wants a piece of the familial action, and even more disturbingly, she wants a piece of Meldrum’s husband!

While Ladd is an attractive woman, the “seduction” scenes are incredibly well done, and appropriately uncomfortable. Edie looks like a 5 dollar hooker who might give you change afterwards!

Of the two Baby films being reviewed, Hush is far more spirited, and features Ladd smoking with teens, poisoning her nemesis, and offing the babysitter. It’s got a reasonable body count, and some energy. It’s what you might call win-win.

Oh, and did I mention that Geraint Wyn Davies from Forever Night plays the husband? Be still my heart!

But like most of these types of films, Susan has to play stupid through most of the movie, even though Edie’s duplicity is fairly transparent at times. Still, as mentioned before, Ladd is a powerhouse of an actress, and while this is no award winning feature, you can tell that Ladd threw herself into the insanity, and she looks like she’s having a blast.

What both Baby Monitor and Hush Little Baby share is slick production values. At this stage in the world of the cable TVM, telefilms were stepping up to the plate, and the TVMs look crisp and vibrant. Baby Monitor in particular is gorgeous to look at, even if it’s also painful.

So, what have we learned? USA likes insane female characters (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on why), and baby monitors are kind of boring. Knowledge is power.

And Hush Little Baby is streaming on Amazon Instant Video for free with a Prime account, and is on DVD too! Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear is on VHS

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