Originally released in 1997, The Nurse is an unusually good thriller in which the titular nurse, one Laura Harriman (Lisa Zane), concocts an elaborate plan of revenge on the family she believes has wronged her family. The Nurse comes off as a taut thriller, thanks to writer Richard Brandes and director Rob Malenfant. Although a relatively low-budget affair that relies on dialogue to evoke its suspense, The Nurse remains a good if bloodless yarn that is sure to impress even some jaded suspense fans.
The story begins with a couple of families starting off their days when their respective patriarchs read a horrible headline in the town’s newspaper. It seems that George Harriman (Lou Felder) has been named in an embezzlement scandal and that Bob Martin (Michael Fairman) is implied as his accuser. Distraught over the affair, Harriman executes his teenage son while sleeping and his wife before turning the gun on himself. When a reporter later confronts Martin about the double homicide/suicide, Martin suffers a catastrophic stoke, one that leaves his body completely paralyzed (although his brain remains very much alive and active).
The lone survivor of the Harriman family is Laura Harriman (Lisa Zane), a nurse at a local hospital. When she learns of the horrible incident, Laura swears revenge upon the whole Martin family. Laura is soon given an opportunity to achieve her vengeance when she learns of Martin’s stroke. Laura murders Martin’s nurse right in front of him and then applies for the caretaker position herself, using a colleague’s identity and her ample charms against Martin’s son, Jack (John Stockwell). Of course she gets the job.
As Laura torments Martin by telling him what she intends to do to his family, Harriman’s daughter, Karen (Janet Gunn, best known for her stint on Silk Stalkings), begins to suspect that something is off with the nurse. However, Laura is a gifted liar, and poor Karen finds herself alone, pitted against the psychopathic nurse.
Things begin to boil over when Laura successfully manages to kill Martin’s wife, Carol (Nancy Dussault). And when the nosey reporter persists in asking an interview of the Martins, he notices that Laura is now among their fold. For that, he is murdered.
The final reel of the movie has Martin slowly coming out of his stroke in an attempt to prevent Laura from achieving her murder spree. Laura and Karen then confront each other in one final battle.
Although relatively bloodless, The Nurse drips with tension and suspense, driven by some solid acting by the entire cast. The script sets up a vague situation, with both families given sympathy so that the audience finds it difficult to side with either faction. All the characters are fully developed, with the actors bringing them vividly to life, so that when one dies there is a mix of pathos and fear. The direction and editing are very tight, with small breaks in tension, only to be ramped up even more until the film’s conclusion. There is one poor nightmare sequence, but it in no way detracts from the film as a whole.
Many viewers may find that The Nurse feels more like a made-for-TV movie. There are quite a few scenes with melodrama, but the overall tension of the film makes it an ideal screening for those who enjoy old-fashioned tension. For this alone, The Nurse is worth watching at least once.