Bill Paxton

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Lessons (1983)

It’s the third month of the year, which means it’s finally Made-for-TV March again!

This is my third year doing this, and honestly – it’s something I really look forward to. TV Movies are excellent for many reasons. I particularly like the over-exaggerated drama that you don’t always get in regular cinema releases. And I don’t mean it necessarily in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way. Just sometimes things have to be bigger and louder.

Like all the best made-for-TV movies, Dead Lessons knows how to amp up the drama. There is forbidden love, kidnappings, mistaken identities. All the ingredients for a fun 90 minutes. Plus this is one of the more star-studded casts I’ve seen in a TV movie.

Young Stephanie (Diane Franklin) is a new student at a posh boarding school for girls. She’s the odd one out, being poor and from a farm. But she’s bright, other than the fact that she needs to brush up on her French.

She quickly learns that the other girls at her new school are less-than-friendly. They play pranks on her, act snobbishly and Despite this, she still manages to bond with two girls Marita (Ally Sheedy), Calli (Renée Jones) and her Saudi princess roommate, Shama.

On one of the first nights of the summer term, a girl is found drowned in the nearby lake. And thus begins a quick procession of deaths. Detective Kemper is brought in to investigate, but at the insistence of headmistress Miss Wade (Donna Reed) the deaths are kept out of the media.

The students are unhappy with the results of Kemper’s investigation and begin to take things into their own hands, inspired by Steph’s Clue-inspired board game.

Steph’s love interest, Eddie (Bill Paxton), soon becomes a suspect. Many of the murders and investigation centre around the barn and stables where he works. But others, such as the teacher Ferrar also make Kemper’s suspect list. Though the girls are less convinced.

One night, Marita is kidnapped by the school janitor. Then man believes that Martia is his granddaughter. This isn’t true, but he looks mighty guilty from his actions. Martia manages to save herself by creating a signal. The janitor is arrested and seemingly all is well.

Only Steph soon discovers that the danger isn’t over. She comes face-to-face with Detective Kemper, the killer himself. He reveals that he wanted to exact revenge on his mother: Miss Wade. He tells Steph that he was abandoned by his mother soon after his father killed himself. His master plan was to destroy his mother and her school. But the idiot gives his speech out loud and is overheard by police and is arrested.

For me, while enjoyable, Deadly Lessons could have amped everything up another level. The girls were not actually that horrible to Stephanie to make her feel like a believable outsider. The pranks were too few. The girl’s misdeeds are rarely seen on screen. There needed to be less scenes of police discussing things and more of the girls’ lives.

Not enough lightning and thunder, for one. What’s a good TV movie without a scene set during a storm?

I would say this edges much more on the side of drama than a slasher or horror. Though I think those two genres blend more than we ever really acknowledge. It’s definitely a fun movie. Plenty of familiar faces to keep you entertained…even if it took me 50 minutes to realise that Eddie was in fact played by Bill Paxton.