Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: Q is for Psycho Prom Queen (2018)

After taking an extended “leave of absence” for nearly a year from her old teaching job, Julie Taylor isn’t quite sure if she’s ready to go back to work just yet but feels obligated to take over an advanced math class at Avondale High vacated by her best friend, Joanne Harvey. Seems Joanne abruptly disappeared under somewhat dubious circumstances. And though technically still an open case, the authorities are leaning toward her disappearance being a suicide, judging by the evidence they found in her abandon car deep in the woods near the river and figure it’s only a matter of time before the body is discovered. Still, Julie (McLellan) has faith and holds out for a miracle and her friend’s safe return.

To add even more drama (-- with a capital “D” --) to this fraught situation, it should also be noted the reason for Julie’s extended leave was due to an ugly alcoholic free-fall after the untimely death of her mother. She finally hit rock-bottom when her marriage fell apart, but then Julie finally entered a mandatory rehab stint if she ever wanted any hope of joint custody of her daughter, Miya (Roam). Now clean and sober for nearly a year -- helped immensely by Joanne (Rydvald), the only friend who stood by her this whole time, Julie is about to get a needed fresh start and, in a sense, repay Joanne’s loyalty and kindness.

Meantime, Miya, still reeling from her parents’ acrimonious divorce and still resentful of her mother who caused it, isn’t real thrilled that Julie (and her emotional baggage) has drug her to a new town and a new high school for her senior year. But the girl runs into a bit of luck when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wing of Amy Turner (MacDonald), one of the most popular kids in her class.

Well, “most popular” might be the wrong term as it becomes readily apparent Amy’s Queen Bee social standing is based solely on her ruthless scheming, venomous manipulations, and belligerent outright threats -- on students and faculty alike. And while her mother sees this behavior as tyrannical, Miya lets it slide, causing even more friction between these two.

Well, turns out Julie was right all along as Amy’s motives with Miya were strictly mercenary on two fronts: one, Miya is in charge of tabulating ballots for Prom Queen and King; and two, she’s looking for any kind of dirt she can get on Julie to guarantee a passing grade. Seems trigonometry is the only blemish on Amy’s report card and if she doesn’t pass, she becomes ineligible for Prom royalty. And that just can’t happen, people. Thus and so, Amy will do just about anything to be Prom Queen. And I mean anything, like, say, oh, I don’t know, maybe orchestrate a kidnapping? Or maybe even commit a murder...

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boils and Ghouls, hear me when I say I do believe I have found thee perfect Lifetime Original Movie. Yes, even more perfect than My Stepson, My Lover (1997), Mother, May I Sleep with Danger (1996), and The Babysitter’s Seduction (1996). Seriously. They can stop making them now. The Sleeper has awoken. Two steel birds have fallen from the sky on the Metropolis. And Psycho Prom Queen (2018) freakin’ exists.

Is a woman in peril? Check! Is the woman’s family also in peril? Double check! Is the woman being threatened by a younger female lunatic? Triple check! And on top of that we’ve got enough ham-fisted melodrama to open our own deli so a mutant lizard-man can run by and steal that ham-fisted hoc wholesale because the plot is so gloriously rock stupid it makes the imaginary lizard-man stealing a theoretical deli-ham seem plausible as it defies, well, even itself, resulting in a total plutonic reversal. Hallelujah.

Now all of this began back in 1984 when Hearst Communications’ Beta Channel merged with Viacom’s Lifetime Medical Television to form the Lifetime Network. Designed to appeal to women with programming made by women, the line-up was mostly game shows during the day and talk shows at night. But that all changed in 1988 when Patricia Fill was hired as head of programming and overhauled everything, bringing in popular syndicated TV-series and revamped the talk shows. And in 1990, Fill oversaw the production of Lifetime’s first original movie, Memories of Murder (1990), where an amnesiac woman (Nancy Allen) discovers a contract killer is out to get her and her family as she tries to salvage her marriage and her memory.

And within a few short years after Memories of Murder debuted, finding and following and cementing a very recognizable and serviceable formula, a Lifetime Original Movie essentially became a genre unto itself -- and a punchline. Most times the title said it all: Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear (1998), To Be Fat Like Me (2007), and the genres ranged from romance, to comedies, and thrillers, to ripped straight from the headlines -- The Pregnancy Pact (2010), Drew Peterson: Untouchable (2012), Prosecuting Casey Anthony (2013).

And while often maligned for being nothing more than cautionary tales equivalent to those old Driver’s Ed atrocity shorts or wish-fulfillment fantasies in a Red Shoes Diary sense, often overwrought, often over-acted, with pat happy endings, and yet some overachieved to be genuinely entertaining and, dare I say, kinda good. It should also be noted from 1994 to 2016, 73-percent of Lifetime's 285 original films were directed or written by women.

But I’m telling ya, Psycho Prom Queen -- later retitled as the slightly more subtle, Mean Queen, is an apex example of the breed as it somehow manages to combine everything mentioned above into something truly ludicrous to behold. I mean, seriously, try to wrap your head around this one: Here we have a mentally unbalanced teen, who hatches a plan to fake the suicide of her math teacher, who had threatened to flunk her, meaning she couldn't go to the Prom.

See, this teen has pathological ambitions to be Prom Queen. And so, while everyone else thinks the teacher is dead, instead, she is being held captive in an old ramshackle playhouse deep in the woods, bound and drugged, but kept alive so she can do her captor’s math homework under penalty of death for her new math teacher so she can pass the class, go to Prom, rig the election (-- which is why she needs Miya under her thrall), and achieve her dreams; collateral damage be damned. That tiara is hers, bitches! NO! I AM NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP!!!!

Meantime, Julie grows more wary of Amy’s erratic behavior when she, too, threatens to flunk this unstable girl. And she’s well aware of the rumors about Amy. How she ruined another nosy teacher’s career by seducing her husband. Or how she threatened her science teacher, vowing to claim he tried to molest her unless he does her constant bidding. And there’s also a vague recollection from when Amy was younger. How she lured someone to her old playhouse in the woods and did something … unseemly to them with a hammer.

And as this malevolent teenage hellion turns up the heat, Julie starts finding strange inconsistencies with Amy’s homework as Joanne tries to clandestinely communicate with her, failing one take home quiz out of spite, and then secreting code into another, hoping her old friend will recognize the handwriting and save her. And as the fateful night of the Prom draws near, can Julie piece it all together, face down her personal demons, thwart Amy, and save everyone before this psycho actually kills somebody? 

Psycho Prom Queen was directed by Philippe Gagnon from a script written by Barbara Kymlicka, who, along with fellow scriptwriters, J. Bryan Dick and Ken Sanders, co-created the unofficial “Whittendale” series for the network, which includes the suspense thrillers, The Surrogate (2013), Dirty Teacher (2013), Sugar Daddies (2014), and Sorority Murders (2015), who all operate in the same cinematic universe apparently. 

Here, Kymlicka’s script is completely bonkers, and Gagnon’s directing style appears to be simply getting out of Allie MacDonald’s way as her performance as the sociopathic Amy Turner supercharges this sudsy schlock into something really special and unique. Always grounded, she doesn’t leave any teeth-marks in the furniture. No, the furniture simply melts under her spiteful-gaze.

Boggle as she convinces Miya her mom has relapsed, and then stages an assault on herself, claiming Julie was drunk, out of her head, and attacked her (-- because Julie almost discovered Amy’s “secret” stashed out in her clubhouse). And with her unstable, alcoholic history, combined with the self-inflicted bruises on Amy's face, Julie is fired from her job. And Amy probably would’ve gotten away with it all but, lost in her obsessions, she failed to factor in three things:

First, she figured the disgraced Julie would once more crawl into a bottle, never to be heard from again. But Julie rallies, convinced now more than ever her friend is alive and being held prisoner by the maniacal teen, who seemingly has everyone else under her thumb. Second, Amy’s own mother, Elaine (Baribeau), also a victim of her daughter’s bullying, who is a registered nurse with an opioid problem, finally figures out why all of her drugs keep disappearing -- used to keep Joanne docile and compliant. And together, on the night of the Prom, these two raid the clubhouse and finally find Joanne, still alive, barely, sealed inside a trunk, left there to suffocate and die since Amy no longer needed her.

Meantime, at the prom, Amy checks in with her pal Miya to see how the voting is going. But Miya has bad news: Amy didn’t win, which brings us to the third thing this schemer didn’t foresee. And that’s Miya’s staunch refusal to fudge the results and declare Amy the winner. Here, Miya finally sees Amy’s true persona as she goes berserk, beats the hell out of the poor girl, and secrets her unconscious body in a supply closet. And then, substituting herself and her boyfriend, whom she won’t have sex with until after their coronation, Amy’s schemes reach the endgame as she’s crowned queen, accepts her crown, and goes into her prepared speech -- only to be interrupted by the arrival of Julie, who also found and revived Miya, her mom, Joanne, and several cops, who arrest her mid-speech. And as she’s frog-walked out of the gym, Joanne gets one last deserved lick on her tormentor, punctuating this delightful nonsense with a happy ending and a blackened eye.

The craziest thing about Psycho Prom Queen -- aside from Amy’s unclear motive as to why she so desperately needed to be Prom Queen exactly, she just does, is how Kymlicka’s script keeps adding layer after layer to the melodrama of the lead. For not only is Julie Taylor a divorced mom, she’s a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic. And not only is Julie a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic, but she’s also trying to reconcile with her estranged daughter. And not only is Julie a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic and trying to reconcile with her estranged daughter, but she’s also a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic trying to reconcile with her estranged daughter whose best friend has been kidnapped and is being held hostage while everyone else thinks she’s dead. And so, not only is Julie a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic and trying to reconcile with her estranged daughter whose best friend has been kidnapped and held hostage while everyone else thinks she’s dead, but her life and career are being threatened by a manipulative sociopath. Thus, not only is Julie a divorced mom and a recovering alcoholic and trying to reconcile with her estranged daughter whose best friend has been kidnapped and held hostage while everyone else thinks she’s dead while her life and career are being threatened by a manipulative sociopath, she must also sort all these puzzle pieces together, solve a mystery, rescue her friend, rescue her daughter, and prove that crazy bitch Amy is a crazy bitch and not get killed in the process. Got all of that? Good!

Thus and so, Psycho Prom Queen straddles a very fine line of self-parody but never quite falls into that self-aware abyss, which I honestly feel would’ve ruined the film’s spell of pure delirium. And this movie, good lord, this movie, once more proves Lifetime Originals are truly a neglected and untapped source of gonzo exploitation movies that probably needs to be explored further. I mean, I’ve been at this for over 20 years now and this is my first ever Lifetime Movie review, which makes me feel like I really missed the boat on this one because Psycho Prom Queen is just the right kind of bonkers that not only taps into the usual Lifetime Movie tropes and trappings but also manages to transcend them at ludicrous speed.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 17 reviews down with only nine more to go! Up Next: Ragnarok and Roll!

Psycho Prom Queen (2018) Incendo Productions :: Lifetime Television / EP: Jean Bureau / P: Ian Whitehead / AP: Kaleigh Kavanagh / D: Philippe Gagnon / W: Barbara Kymlicka / C: Daniel Villeneuve / E: Benjamin Duffield / M: James Gelfand, Louise Tremblay / S: Zoe McLellan, Allie MacDonald, Nia Roam, Anana Rydvald, Judith Baribeau, Trevor Momesso

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