Directed by John Russo
Produced by Don Redinger
Written by John Russo
Director of Photograpy Paul McCollough
Music by Paul McCollough
Cast: Lawrence Tierney, John Amplas, Melanie Verlin & Robin Walsh
1982/88 mins/Color/Dolby Stereo
Full-frame/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD
I consider myself to be much more of a film fan than a film historian, so I can't really say if there were films similar to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or THE HILLS HAVE EYES before these two seminal releases hit the screens in the 1970s. Since then, the "city dwellers run into trouble with rural crazies" movie has become a sub-genre unto itself, and one which rarely shows any originality. MIDNIGHT is an entry into this cycle which blends the familiar THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE formula with a pinch of 80s slasher-movie and other than showing a strong sadistic streak, brings nothing new to the genre.
As MIDNIGHT opens, we meet Nancy (Melanie Verlin), and no offense to the actress playing Nancy, but it took me a while to realize that she was female. I thought it was the guy from H.R. PUNFNSTUF. Anyway, Nancy is just trying to live her life as a normal teenaged girl, but her stepfather, Bert (Lawrence Tierney), a police officer, often gets drunk and tries to molest Nancy. Because of this, Nancy decides to run away from home and hitchhike to her sister's house in California. But, Nancy is a moral hitchhiker, as she rejects the first man who offers her a ride, as he wants sex in return. Nancy does accept a ride from two college boys, Tom (John Hall) and Hank (Charles Jackson), who are heading to Fort Lauderdale. From there, they reason, Nancy can find a ride to California.
After shoplifting some groceries, the trio decide to camp out for the night in a rural field. The next day, they are accosted by two police officers (John Amplas and Greg Besnak), who are actually members of a local family who are satanists. They capture Nancy and take her back to their farmhouse, where they plan to sacrifice her, along with two other women, on Easter Sunday. How will Nancy live through this?
MIDNIGHT was written and directed by John Russo, based on his novel of the same name. Russo is best known as the co-writer of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, when most people speak of NOTLD they attribute all of the credit for the film's success to director George Romero. After seeing MIDNIGHT, it's easy to see why, as Russo is clearly lacking in the talent department. In short, MIDNGIGHT is a complete mess.
It's difficult to believe that the movie is based on a novel, as the film contains only the most basic story -- abused girl runs away from home and is captured by a cult. That's literally all that we learn from this film. We learn very little about Nancy and basically nothing about the family which makes up the cult. I guess the fact that they are crazy satanists should give us all that we need to know about their motivations. As most everyone in the film is a complete stranger to us, there is little suspense and no reason to be invested in the story. To its credit, MIDNIGHT does offer the viewer the worst game of frisbee ever captured on film.
The movie is further hampered by its low-budget look. The movie was supposedly shot in the early 80s, but if I showed the film to a group of people, I guarantee that would say that, judging by the cars and clothes, it was made in the early 70s. Another 70s throwback in the film is the odd "It's Almost Midnight" song which plays over a montage. This odd musical choice reminded me of the kind of song which would have been featured in a 70s porn film...had I ever seen a 70s porn film.
MIDNIGHT is one of those films which I've read about for 20 years, but have never had a chance to see until now. One thing that all of those movie guides got right was there descriptions of the brutal and sadistic nature of the film. From the scenes of women in dog cages to the throat-slashings, MIDNIGHT is indeed a bleak and violent movie. It's no more gory than any of the other films in this genre (I seem to remember reading that Tom Savini's effects were greatly cut for an R-rating), but the fact that the killings and torture seem so random and meaningless makes them all the more disturbing. But this vicious streak doesn't translate into entertainment and the movie doesn't come near the ferocity or tension of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Fans of the "rural crazies gone wild" genre may enjoy MIDNIGHT, but most will find it a dated curiosity.
MIDNIGHT chimes onto DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The film is presented in a full-frame format. I couldn't find any technical information about MIDNIGHT on the web, but I have to assume that the film was meant for theatrical distribution (we all have dreams, don't we) and thus probably wasn't shot in a 1.33:1 ratio. Still, there is no sudden movement during the film to suggest a pan-&-scan transfer. Of course, I could have missed that since this transfer looks so bad. It's clear that a theatrical print was used for this transfer, as it's littered with cuts, scratches, and dirt. The image is barely sharp and grain runs rampant. The image is no better than a VHS transfer. The DVD box art claims that the disc contains a Dolby Surround audio track, but it sounded more like a simple stereo track to me. The dialogue is clear and the music comes through just fine (unfortunately), but there is some mild hissing on the track. There are no extras on this DVD.
No points were allowed since there is no extras.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©