Monday, June 25, 2018

Lifetime Lessons: The STALKED BY MY DOCTOR films (2015-19)

For the uninitiated, the Lifetime channel here in the U.S. advertises under the slogan "television for women" and unleashes weekly original thrillers featuring "women in peril" situations. Over the last few years I've grown more familiar with them and seen several of the films on there. Most follow a set pattern, but can be fun in the execution. So when I found out writer-director Doug Campbell created a trilogy about an obsessed doctor played by Eric Roberts, I knew I had to check them out.

STALKED BY MY DOCTOR (2015) opens with brilliant cardiologist Dr. Albert Beck (Roberts) being stood up on a date and being told "don't write on my wall, I'm blocking you." You see Dr. Beck may have the brains to be the top heart doc in the world (he's on the President's Fitness Council), but he is a bit possessive and unhinged, often asking women to marry him on the first date. His obsession reaches new heights when Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) arrives in the ER after a car wreck caused by her boyfriend texting while driving. Beck is immediately smitten and his love only intensifies when Sophie gives him a card thanking him for saving her life. Her parents notice his odd behavior right away, but the doc always smoothly explains the situation. Soon he is showing up at shopping malls, sneaking into her house, and trying to break up her relationship.

The original proved popular enough that Dr. Beck returned nine months later in STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: THE RETURN (2016). Hiding out in Mexico under a fake name, Beck's romantic obsessions are awoken again when he saves high school senior Amy Watkins (Claire Blackwelder) from drowning. Knowing the danger he put himself in last time, Beck goes full Nabakov and woos Amy's mom (Hilary Greer) in an effort to get closer to the daughter. Naturally, Beck lets his inner creep slip out and Amy brings her concerns to her widowed mother, but she thinks Amy is just jealous of her new relationship. What she doesn't know is that her falling for Beck means falling off a ledge.

The third part arrived in June 2018 and brings everything full circle. Dr. Beck managed to get off scot-free during trial for his actions in the first film (he charmed a female juror). Two years removed from the ordeal, Sophie (Chomer, returning now with dark hair) is pissed the justice system has failed her and decides to get her own revenge. She enrolls in the college where Beck is now a teacher and begins a campaign to get him ousted. Beck, however, has found a new ally in Melissa (Anna Marie Dobbins), a 20-year-old student who admits to him she has daddy issues. Naturally, such issues lead to a relationship and Melissa helping Beck to silence his former object of affection.

As I mentioned before, these films are all about execution and Campbell, who wrote and directed all three films, handles it all great. This wasn't his first stalking rodeo as he had previously done STALKED AT 17 (2012) and STALKED BY MY NEIGHBOR (2015). Those (and earlier Lifetime work) prepared him for this lightning in a bottle situation in what has become akin to SyFy's SHARKNADO film success (not in terms of campy quality, but in terms of a ratings winner that fans have embraced). One of the great flourishes of the series is how Dr. Beck's hallucinations are played out on screen. This is perhaps best showcased in part two when a film noir on television starts talking to him and in part three when he has a song and dance number with Melissa (yes, really!). There is also some intentional comedy worked into all three films, showing Campbell recognizes the tropes of the genre and is having fun with them (at one point in part two Beck is seen eating pancakes that spell out Amy's name). These tiny directorial flourishes and twisty plots keep the films entertaining. This all works because of Roberts, who seems to be having a ball playing the role. The original STALKED was one of nearly 40 (!!!) films he had released in 2015. As Vanity Fair said, he is Hollywood's busiest actor but he isn't phoning it in like say Bruce Willis is at this point in his career. Beck gets funnier as the films unfold and Roberts pulls off that complicated balancing act since he is still a psycho (he never goes full Freddy Krueger). Part three even has double Beck as Roberts plays both the deranged doctor and his conscience onscreen. The door is left open for a part four and I fully welcome it. In fact, Lifetime should start world building like Marvel and Star Wars, culminating in giant "event movie" where all the crazed characters come together (hey, a boy can dream!).

All in all, an amazingly entertaining trilogy of Lifetime at its finest. I probably wouldn't recommend watching them unless you have at least a dozen Lifetime films under your belt. However, if you do watch them I say marathon them like I did as you are basically getting a six hour movie about the ever lovelorn life of Dr. Beck.

UPDATE! (in Robert Stack voice): Lifetime is the gift that keeps on giving and delivered a fourth entry in the series in July 2019 with the gloriously titled STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: A SLEEPWALKER'S NIGHTMARE. Dr. Beck is still on the run, hiding in plain sight as a waiter at a roadside diner. An opportunity to revive his Hippocratic oath falls into his lap when he notices a rude customer is a sleep disorder doc. One kidnapping later and Beck is now on his way to Arizona to assume the doctor's new position at a sleep institute. This is bad news for Michelle (Emilie Ullerup), who has come to the clinic for help with her sexsomnia (she legit sleepwalks and makes out with strangers). Even better, she has a young niece, Katie (Angeline Appel), that our stalk doc soon latches onto. Yes, Dr. Beck still just wants love.

With the fourth entry of the series, the producers introduce new blood behind the camera as series creator Doug Campbell hands the reins over to director Jeff Hare. The only thing I'd seen on Hare's filmography was the enjoyable killer bee flick KILLER BUZZ (2001) and he acquits himself well here. Roberts is his usual amazing self and having a ball as Beck and Beck's Hawaiian-shirted conscience. There is also a fun new character in Nicky Bismar (Michael Perl), a guy stalking Beck who will surely create even more chaos down the line. Cult horror fans will also get a kick out of seeing Felissa Rose as one of Beck's new colleagues who starts to suspect something is wrong. You can guess what happens to her. Perhaps the biggest genius move of this film is the writers brought in a character from another Lifetime flick. Yes, Michelle and her sleepwalking plight was originally featured in the also deliciously titled SLEEPWALKING IN SUBURBIA (2017). I love that there is the possibility for a Lifetime Universe (see my review for part 3 above where I dreamed it could happen). Bring on part 5 and even more crossovers!

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