No one movie exemplifies the Lifetime brand in the popular imagination more than the 1996 thriller/melodrama/Tori Spelling vehicle Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? But like any great story, the facts have gotten muddled along the way. The most important being that this wasn’t even a Lifetime movie. Sorry if I rendered any of you unable to trust anymore. If this thing is any indicator, it means you’re all rushing off to sleep with danger.
Tagline: Alone. In love. Afraid. She gave him her heart. Now he wants her life.
More Accurate Tagline: Row for your life, Tori Spelling!
Guilty Party: The early ‘90s featured a spate of horror movies where the monster was ostensibly a normal person. They generally followed the same pattern: main character (often a young woman) meets a new person, and this new person grows steadily more and more insane until they attempt to kill our hero in a blue-tinged apartment building. They were pretty cheap to make and people seemed to like them. Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? was an attempt to make one of those as a vehicle for noted Aaron Spelling relative Tori. When the arguable pinnacle of these is the mediocre Single White Female, you’d think they couldn’t really do that bad. Well, they did. This thing was passed over for distribution and aired on NBC, who is no doubt relieved that while their network is primarily famous for being run by chimpanzees, it at least has pawned of responsibility for this one on Lifetime.
Synopsis: A girl gets dropped off by a handsome guy in a jeep (Lochlyn Munro). She gets on the phone immediately, because its the ‘90s, and tells her friend she’s going to break up with her boyfriend because he’s so dramatic. Yeah, I guess that’s one way to describe it. So about halfway through the conversation, her boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) comes by to give her a gift. Just a heads up: his name is Billy, but I’m calling him Danger. Why? I’m in charge here. You don’t like it, you can… I guess there’s a ton of stuff you can do. Man. That’s a hollow threat.
So Billy flips out and beats her to death with a cutting board. It really is that sudden. The whole time Danger’s got this look on his face like he just ate a bad taco, and he’s not sure if he has time to finish up with this murder before taking care of that.
With murder out of the way, it’s time to meet the protagonist. Sorry, it’s not the girlfriend-murderer. Somewhere, a guy in a fedora just got super upset. It’s Laurel Lewisohn (Tori Spelling) who is your standard movie college overachiever. She offers brilliant book analyses in her lit class, she’s on the track team, she’s doing something that’ll get her sent to China (not as a political prisoner, even!), and she maintains sixpack abs. She’s also falling apart, quitting the track team and still haunted by an eating disorder for like a scene and a half. Pretty sure Tommy Wiseau did uncredited punch-ups of the script.
She’s also dating Kevin Shane, a.k.a. Danger. Danger never learned the difference between a romantic relationship and a hostage situation. Which would be funny if, after every time they had sex, he called the local police with a list of demands. Really, he’s just all about keeping her in a box away from the world. Which you may recognize from the Buffalo Bill School of Romance.
Mother sniffs this weirdo out within seconds. She picks at a couple inconsistencies in his story and becomes an amateur sleuth. Look, it’s the plot of every Lifetime movie, but we’re watching those tropes be born. Only this is when you realize birth is nothing but an unremitting horrorshow of blood and feces pouring like Immortan Joe just opened up the floodgates. Really, it’s a great metaphor for existence.
Where was I? Right. Danger gets a cabin, locks Laurel away in it. To keep her up there, he lies about getting a phone hooked up and disables her car. If that breaking of her car thing sounds familiar, it’s because it happened in the third Twilight movie. Only that was marketed as a fucking romance.
Eventually, Mother uncovers the murder from the cold open and figures out that Danger is actually Billy Jones. She tries to warn Laurel about it, but Laurel’s like, “Thanks, already figured that out when he tried to put a hatchet in my fucking head.” Laurel attempts to escape via canoe, but Danger can swim. Or possibly even just walk along the shallow pond.
Well, she bops him with an oar, and when he doesn’t come up super obviously for air, she and Mother leave. Oh yeah, your job is done. No way he could hold his breath for two minutes. Or surface under that dock you’re standing on and wait for you to leave.
Which is what happens. The end is him in a new identity (a hilarious mid-‘90s rocker douchebag) getting his new lady, who presumably will start the sleeping-with-danger cycle anew. Like the turning of the seasons.
Life-Changing Subtext: Once you drop a bad guy into water, he is officially someone else’s problem.
Defining Quote: “Where are the car keys?” — Laurel. It looks pretty innocuous, but you really need the acting of Tori Spelling to sell this line. First off, she says this to him after she knows he’s keeping her locked in a cabin without a phone. She knows he’s crazy. Spelling delivers this piece of dialogue like she’s been hanging around with a dead guy and is worried he won’t be considered “the funny one.”
Standout Performance: This movie would not work without Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei in the lead roles, by which I mean it wouldn’t be fucking hilarious. These two deliver every line as though they memorized them phonetically with looks on their faces like the director is a hungry bear that might attack at any second.
What’s Wrong: It’s a quibble, but Tori Spelling never once asks her mother if she can sleep with danger.
Flash of Competence: This is a bit of a cheat, but I loved how it looks like a Lifetime movie. It’s even shot in British Columbia for that extra level of whatever the opposite of verisimilitude is.
Best Scenes: Really, this whole thing is one best scene after another, but I’ll try to pare the list down.
The real Kevin Shane (Lochlyn Munro, who dropped off the murdered girl in the beginning) returns to town. Danger, who has stolen this guy’s identity — including credit cards, and how has Kevin not worked that out? — “runs into” him at a motel. They get to talking, and because this is suddenly gay porn, Kevin wants to take a shower. So he just sorta does, and Danger follows him in to keep talking. You can probably figure out the end of this scene. And no, he doesn’t fix the cable.
Yeah, Danger kills Kevin and somehow gets the body and jeep out to the wilderness or something. It’s hard to tell since this borrows the Lifetime trick (well, invents it) of shooting everything on someone’s perfectly coiffed lawn. The best part is that Danger has decided what his super-secret body disposal needs is a fucking bonfire. Seriously? Why not shoot off some fireworks? Get yourself one of those flailing tube sock guys!
Later on, when Danger is trying to get back with Laurel, he finds her out dancing with Jax the Nice Guy. He already hates Jax because occasionally Laurel will accidentally hug him, and yeah, that’s as awkward as it sounds. First, Danger kicks the shit out of Jax in the bathroom (not literally, unfortunately), then gets into it with guys outside the club. The funniest part is that he pulls a knife, and I kept hoping it would escalate. Like he chases the one group off with the knife, then the next group he pulls a pistol, then a a shotgun, then a rocket launcher, and suddenly he’s running around with a nuke, being like, “I LOVE YOU 50 MEGATONS WORTH LAUREL!”
Transcendent Moment: Nothing will beat the climactic fight. I mean, she tries to escape in a canoe. Unless you’re Lewis and Clark, just don’t do that. It cheapens this for all of us. But Danger pops out of the water like little Jason Voorhees, and he’s just kind of gingerly shaking the canoe back and forth. And of course the whole thing ends after Laurel taps him with an oar like she’s trying get his attention. This whole thing could have been a fun game of tag and not been shot even slightly differently. It would actually make a little more sense.
Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is a classic for a reason. Ironically, they were reaching for a forgettable thriller that might push the careers of the overmatched stars, but in being as inept as it is, the movie has found a lasting audience. Sometimes if you lose hard enough, you end up winning.