James Franco's Lesbian Vampire Twist Makes 'Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?' A Hit [TV Review]

I never saw the 1996 Tori Spelling TV movie but I get the gist: perfect guy turns out to be too good to be true, a male twist on Hand That Rocks the Cradle/Single White Female. Remake or not, James Franco writing and producing a Lifetime movie is a must-see part of his art oeuvre, but Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is actually legitimately good when it could have coasted on camp.

Pearl (Emily Meade) is turned into a Nightwalker — a vampire in this movie's mythology – in the first scene. Five years later, Leah (Leila George) is a college lit student performing in a feminist-twisted Macbeth on stage (Franco plays the director of the play). Pearl and Leah hit it off, as Pearl is a photographer who practically lives in the darkroom (get it???). So Leah has to come out to her mother (Spelling) and face society's disapproval, including that of the boy she rejected, Bob (Nick Eversman). 

If there was any doubt Franco had more on his mind than just making a Lifetime movie of the week, the college scenes are filled with all of his literary analysis. Leah's professor lectures on Bram Stoker, Dracula as a queer figure, and Van Helsing as the oppressive heteronormative society. This also gives Leah a chance to present a rather thoughtful analysis of the Twilight franchise, and there are many more highbrow theses later in the film.

The gender twist on Macbeth isn't saying as much as you'd hope. It's mostly an excuse to have women fondle each other. The theater scenes are perhaps the most Lifetime-y, particularly when the characters give sub-high-school-level delivery and Franco acts like they nailed it. Likewise, when rehearsing a scene with the three witches, Franco hits play on some Skinemax music and marvels at how sensual the performance is. It's not, but the rest of the movie is.

Please forgive the salacious headline, but the the portrayal of a lesbian relationship is not exploitive. Leah and Pearl's kissing feels genuinely passionate in the romantic scenes, and perfectly casual in other scenes, as real relationships include casual affection like celebratory pecks on the lips. Director Melanie Aitkenhead pushes the sex scenes as far as FX does, which means more than a network TV movie but not quite as far as HBO's Game of Thrones. Essentially, you see sideboob. Their dancing at a masquerade party is sexy too.

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? is fairly bloody, but Lifetime is now the Lizzie Borden network, so that shouldn't be surprising. It's more in the vein of blood dribbling down the Nightwalkers' lips, but there is some gratuitous stage blood too. This is only rehearsal, people! There is a throat rip that would make MacGruber proud, and their Macbeth actually gets better when the characters vamp out. They become more convincing.

The Nightwalkers show as much vampire strength as a TV budget can afford. They crush a few tombstones in a cemetery, and the climax of the film becomes a bit of an '80s horror movie in the best possible way.

In addition to the sincere portrayal of women coming out, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? also has a very real message for parents. When parents try to "protect" their kids from others by authoritatively forbidding a relationship, it only makes their kids close off and avoid them. Granted, this mom is being fed information from the scorned Bob, so parents should also vet their sources more thoroughly before flying off the handle.

I'm not sure Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? will become a timeless vampire classic, although it is far better than some of the most popular teen vampire movies so that wouldn't be a bad thing. At the very least, it is an entertaining movie to watch once, and it has something to say. It earns its use of the "lesbian vampire" buzzwords by being sensitive to the women.

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? premieres Saturday, June 18 at 8PM on Lifetime./Film Rating: 7 out of 10