Literally the Best Thing Ever: Lifetime Original Movies

A scene from "Death of a Cheerleader."
A scene from “Death of a Cheerleader.”

There are two types of people in this world: Hallmark Movie Channel people and Lifetime Movie Channel people. Hallmark Movie Channel people are nice people who enjoy uplifting stories about love and families and wildflowers on the plains being tousled by a gentle breeze. I mean:

There’s nothing wrong with liking that, if that’s what you’re into. Meanwhile I’ll be parked in front of the Lifetime channel, watching made-for-TV-movie queens Tori Spelling, Tracey Gold, and Kellie Martin repeatedly lose their shit to a faux-grunge guitar soundtrack.

The implication that a lot of these stories—about murder, revenge, or (gasp!) internet addiction—are “based on a true story” has always made me feel a little icky while watching them, but then I think about the Simpsons episode “Bart the Murderer,” wherein Bart Simpson watches his own life become fodder for a scandal-of-the-week pic titled Blood on the Blackboard: The Bart Simpson Story. The movie is hilariously stupid and has little basis in reality (Neil Patrick Harris plays a bloodthirsty Bart, for example), and all the family can do is watch as Bart’s “true story” is played out for an audience of millions. “Hey, when do we get the check for this?” Homer asks Marge, who replies, “Well, they said they changed it just enough so they don’t have to pay us.” D’oh! If you tripped and stubbed your toe tomorrow, Lifetime would probably immediately obtain worldwide rights to “Toe No: The Suzy Smith Story,” and suddenly your stubbed toe would be filled with nails and able to communicate with spirits from the past. And it would commit murder. Toe murder. But maybe not until the sequel: “Toe No Two: Blood, Sweat, and Toe.” Basically I’m telling you not to stub your toe tomorrow, OK? Just…beware.

Lifetime Original Movies are my horror movies. I can’t do regular horror movies, as I am scared of everything. No gore or monsters for me. But I love drama and suspense almost as much as I love soap plot twists, corny writing, and questionable wigs, so movies like these are perfect:

When horrible things (like MURRRRDERRRR) are blown up to such melodramatic heights, they become to absurd to be afraid of. That’s part of why I love Lifetime so much—it almost feels like some sort of therapy, where I’m exposed to scary stuff in a way I can tolerate and even enjoy, so that the world may eventually seem like a less scary place overall.

I almost said that with a straight face! Don’t worry, I’m not gonna try to find Important Life Lessons in the world’s cheesiest form of entertainment. I will try to persuade you to watch a few of the best Lifetime movies, though. Here, then, a short list of favorites:

1. Face of Evil (1996)

As far as I know, this movie isn’t based on reality in any way. It stars Tracey Gold as a psychopath who kills people and then steals their identities. It’s one of those movies where you alternate between laughing hysterically and screaming, “What?!” and “How could you be so stupid?!” at the screen. It is glorious.

2. Death of a Cheerleader (1994)

Kellie Martin once again plays a murderer, this time one who’s obsessed with a popular classmate played by Tori Spelling, who is so fantastically bitchy in this role that I still love to watch it even though it’s the only Lifetime movie I know of that seems to have stuck pretty close to the facts of the totally awful case it was based on.

3. Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (1996)

Tori Spelling has a creepazoid boyfriend who is a danger that her mother will not give her permission to sleep with, I guess? This certainly wins hands-down for best/worst movie title ever. What does it meeaaannn? (Big surprise: her mom was right.)

4. Her Last Chance (1996)

It stars Kellie Martin, Jenna Elfman, Patti LuPone, and Sharon from My So-Called Life and features sex and drugs and, of course…murder! Pretty much everything you like in your Sunday afternoon entertainment.

5. Friends ’Til The End (1997)

A Single White Female rip-off that stars the original 90210’s Shannen Doherty and revolves around the fakest ’90s band of all time. The title’s a little misleading here—if Shannen Doherty is playing your main character, you can already be pretty certain that the titular friendship is as good as fucked.

No one is ever trying to be subtle in any of these movies—bitches are truly bitchy, romances are super intense, and every single issue is played as though it’s the end of the world. Everyone is constantly trying to out-act everyone else, which leads to a great deal of screaming and sighing, and everyone—save the hero or heroine—comes across as totally unstable. Everything is just so intense, all the time! It’s sort of like stepping into a Sweet Valley High book, only the Wakefields are psychopathic bank robbers, internet addicts, heroin dealers, and one of them was seen pushing Lila Fowler off the roof of the Dairi Burger, or something.

Whether you want to enter this sordid TV world of mystery, intrigue, and unfortunate sweater sets is really up to you. Unless you stub your toe and it becomes possessed and starts doing crazy shit all the time. Then you have no choice: you have to call Kellie or Tori or Tracey and offer her the role of a Lifetime. ♦

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Movie-Star Memoirs

One afternoon, when I was doing research for my recent novel, about a Hollywood starlet, I read Hedy Lamarr’s memoir, Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman, in a single sitting. I don’t think I even took a break to pee. The scene I remember most vividly was about Lamarr getting some glamorous studio portraits taken, and she seduces another young actress on the set. Sexy! Lamarr later claimed the action in the book was made up by a ghost writer (she has rampant sex with both men and women, and is generally a badass), but I choose to ignore that. Either way, Lamarr’s book got me all hot and bothered about movie star memoirs, which are, yes, Literally the Best Thing Ever.

These books fall into lots of categories—salacious, phony, ghostwritten, hilarious, terrible. Here are a few standouts to get you started.

Smart Women Who Actually Wrote the Books Themselves Category:
Tie: Lauren Bacall’s National Book Award–winning By Myself, Katharine Hepburn’s Me: Stories of My Life. These are good for Old Hollywood details, but tend to stay away from the truly dark stuff. Imagine hearing stories told by the most glamorous, cool grandmothers in the world. Bacall’s first paragraph recounts her 15-year-old self smoking a whole pack of cigarettes in the balcony of a movie theater.

Tiny Rebel Zone:
Drew Barrymore’s Little Girl Lost. Here are some excerpts from this book’s Amazon reviews: “Fasanating. I read this book 5 times in High School.” “Drew Barrymore is to be congratulated. Her honesty is painfully refreshing and hasn’t been seen lately since the new Star Jones book…” What more do you need to know? Is it great literature? No. Will you flip through and love every minute of it? Yes. Bonus points: the cover features a photo of Poison Ivy-era Drew, a personal favorite of mine.

Cute Boy Division:
Rob Lowe, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. Here is Lowe on JFK Jr., whom he greatly admired, from the first chapter of this book: “Sometimes he and I would both appear on those shameful lists of ‘Hunks.’ (Could there be a more degrading or, frankly, gross word than ‘hunk’? Hunk of what? Hunk of wood? Hunk of cheese? Yikes!” Nice humblebrag.

Memoirs by Actual Writers Who Happen to Also Be Celebrities:
Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, just to name a few. These people are famous for being writers, so their books don’t really count as movie-star memoirs. Their books are great, but they’re supposed to be, so no big whoop. (Read them anyway, though; they’re so worth it.)

A Couple to Avoid:
I tried to like sTORI Telling by Tori Spelling and Kardashion Konfidential by everyone favorite’s reality TV sisters. I could not do it. These kinds of books would drive me crazy before I sold my novel. A publisher bought this drivel, I would think, and no one’s bought my book? Is there no justice in the world? However, there is some feather-light pleasure to be had in leafing through the Kardashian book, which includes previously unseen photos from Kim’s 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries and a guide to the sisters’ “private language.”

If you make it through all of these and are still hungry for (slightly more objective) more, it’s time to hit the biographies (which are written by other people, not the stars themselves). These are less goofy, but the truly well-written and -researched ones are made of pure gold. A few of the greats are Sam Irvin’s Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, about the Hollywood actress who also created my favorite children’s book character; Furious Love by Sam Kashner, which is about the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; and Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean, which is about, yes, the famous acting dog! ♦