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A review of the arrow Films DVD, an unlikely £11 on amazon.
Midnight (1982) is a decent example of a regional, low-budget independent American horror movie. The director, John Russo, was co-writer of the classic Night of the Living Dead (and also responsible for the dire new material filmed for the 30th anniversary edition). Midnight is apparently adapted from a novel he wrote.
Seventeen-year-old Nancy runs away from home when her drunk stepfather, a policeman, tries to rape her. She is picked up by two young guys in a van on their way to Florida. Unfortunately, they face persecution in one small town (one of the guys in the van, Hank, is black, which goes down badly with the locals). But there are worse things than racist cops in the backwoods, and soon Nancy finds herself at the mercy of murderous Satanists.
This is a decently entertaining film, but it is an extremely cheap one. It has a grimy, muted look, as if it was constantly overcast during filming. The director complains that a lot of shots were lost due to poor quality film stock, and it certainly looks unimpressive. Anyone familiar with low-budget independent horror will be used to this, but it might put off people with more mainstream, modern tastes. Similarly, some of the acting is rather amateurish. There's a tendency for some of the actors - especially those playing Satanists - to overact, as if they can't quite figure out how to deliver their lines naturalistically. It's as if they've decided 'we're playing evil characters, so let's all open our eyes a bit too wide and over-enunciate all our dialogue'. Many of the actors were apparently drama students, so it wouldn't do to be too harsh on them.
The big surprise is that a couple of the performers are actually people I recognise. John Amplas plays the best-acted Satanist - he's a cult figure for his roles in various George Romero movies, most notably for playing the title character in Martin. Nancy's sleazy stepfather is played by Lawrence Tierney, best known now for playing the mobster Joe in Reservoir Dogs. He plays the part in exactly the same way as in Reservoir Dogs, but it works perfectly well in context. Nancy herself is decent enough, although she looks kind of androgynous. Early on we see her being enthusiastically courted by various men hoping to pick her up while hitchhiking, but I doubt you could tell she's female from a distance.
The film is a fairly standard fear of country folks movie, taking most inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (with its isolated family of weirdoes and body-parts used for décor), with a strong element of Deliverance. As soon as they arrive in town the three kids in the van are in trouble - the scene where they're shooed out of a bar by a bunch of casually racist rednecks is horribly credible. It soon dawns on the happy-go-lucky kids that the usual laws don't necessarily apply here and they could be in all kinds of trouble (although to be fair, smoking dope and shoplifting are legitimately illegal whatever the colour of one's skin).
Then the Satanist stuff kicks in, and things are perhaps a bit less impressive, with the acting and poor special effects becoming too hard to ignore. Some of the gore effects were apparently done by Tom Savini, the legendary gore guy who did Romero's zombie movies, Friday the Thirteenth and any number of other slasher films of the 80s. But some are not. There's a good throat slitting, but the violence at the end is pretty laughable. The ending of the film was apparently changed at the behest of the distributor to make it a bit less grim. Unfortunately, this really shows. The ending we get is very obviously tacked on, and features some preposterous stuff. This is a shame, as the film otherwise had a commendable willingness to be genuinely nasty, and with a different ending it could have seemed a lot more substantial than it does.
The music is usually a serviceable mix of discordant whining and droning noises. But there's a terribly ill-advised song that plays over some of the driving scenes ("You're on your own... you're all alone... you can't go home..."). Also, weirdly, when Nancy's step-father is trying to molest her, a ludicrously jaunty piece of electro-pop is playing on the radio.
There's no nudity in the film, but the violence just about makes it nasty enough to warrant the 18 certificate. Sometimes it's a bit silly - a murder scene shouldn't be prefixed with a Frisbee scene unless you're damn sure of what you're doing - and it's never really suspenseful enough. But it has an air of desperation about it, and has the kind of low-rent ambience that I find so appealing in 70s and 80s horror.
The picture quality on the DVD isn't great, but is probably the best it's going to look. Particularly annoying was the black strip with little flickering white bits in it at the top of the image.
There are two good extras. One is a half-hour interview with John Amplas about his horror roles in general. Inevitably he talks most about Martin, although he touches on Midnight and Day of the Dead as well. No mention of Toxic Zombies, sadly, the obscure and terrible video nasty he was in. There's also a good 20-minute interview with director John Russo about the film, in which he explains some of the problems he had making it (without it really sounding like he's making excuses).
There's also a trailer, which doesn't mention Satanism at all, and seems to want us to think the film is more of a rural cops gone bad movie. There's also a good booklet by critic Stephen Thrower, and Arrow's usual reversible sleeve shenanigans.
On the whole, this is a decent enough cheap horror movie of its era. It's not ground-breaking or even terribly coherent, but it is fairly effective. Worth a look at the price.