Back in the olden days, circa 1983, your Unkle Lancifer, just a wee ginger critter, was like a hog in slop experiencing the slasher boom. When I heard wind of an upcoming television movie entitled DEADLY LESSONS, which was clearly and proudly exploiting the current craze, I put down my Rubik’s cube, turned up my Izod collar and waited with baited breath for the night to arrive. I was not disappointed. Since this was a made-for-television offering there was a noticeable lack of gore, but otherwise DEADLY LESSONS with its boarding school setting and double twist ending satisfied my itch.
Over the years I have been able to track down, in one form or another, most of my fondly remembered slash-treasures but this particular one has always eluded. DEADLY seemed lost to the ages and I had given up hope of ever seeing it again. Recently my dreams were answered as I got my paws on this lost gem. Instantly my cranky new millennium bitterness reverted back to my old new wave joi de vivre. It has literally been a quarter of a century since I last viewed DEADLY LESSONS, would it hold up to the test of time?
Not really, but whatareyougonnado? It’s really more of a teen mystery than a slasher (posters for SLUETH and THE ORIENT EXPRESS decorate the dorm walls and the kids play a CLUE rip-off called EVIDENCE!) but you can feel the slasher influence and the neon bite of ’83 in nearly every frame. Imagine a FACTS OF LIFE and HART TO HART crossover and then imagine something half as good as what you just imagined, and there you have it.
The real reason to watch DEADLY LESSONS is for the cast. I think it may just be the greatest cast ever assembled. First of all you have DIANE FRANKLIN (AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSESSION, TERRORVISION) who is cuter than a bug in a rug and should have been tapped to scream on the big screen way more often. She is joined by a pre-WAR GAMES ALLY SHEEDY, a post CHiPs LARRY WILCOX, a young BILL PAXTON (NEAR DARK), NANCY CARTWRIGHT (voice of Bart Simpson, THE TWIGHT ZONE MOVIE), RENEE JONES (FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART VI JASON LIVES!), SALLY KLEIN (EYES OF FIRE), KRISTA ERICKSON (DONNA WILKES replacement on HELLO LARRY!) DEENA FREEMAN (Cousin April from TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT!) RICK ROSSOVICH (STREETS OF FIRE) and DONNA flipping REED! Who can resist that congregation?
Directed by WILLIAM WIARD (THIS HOUSE POSSESSED) and WRITTEN by JENNIFER MILLER (THE BABYSITTER), DEADLY LESSONS deserves a bit more notoriety than it has achieved. The scares are as tame as hell (unless you are frightened by bales of hay) , but the time capsule cast and intriguing who done it? plot are enough to keep it reasonably afloat. (Truth is, witnessing DONNA REED as Starkwater Hall’s over-the-hill headmistress Miss Wade conducting an illicit affair with the school’s horseback riding instructor DAVID ACKORYD (DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME) is worth a viewing alone). DEADLY LESSONS may not be as cool as I thought it was way back in 1983, but then again neither is that flip-collared Izod!