"The clock is ticking and time is running out as detective Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) and Paul McAnn (andrew Stevens) track down a psychotic killer who is brutally slaying young women. Caught in a web of legal red tape they seem unable to bring the murderer to justice. But when Kessler's daughter becomes the next target, only one law prevails - Kessler's Law - the law of the gun!"
10 TO MIDNIGHT is, to put it simply, a new spin on familiar DEATH WISH themes. By the late 70's Charles Bronson had carved himself a niche as action cinema's favourite right-wing reactionary, and this tale - of cop forced to reject the law in pursuit of 'justice' - certainly isn't about to buck that big selling formula.
Bronson plays Leo Kesller, a self confessed "... mean, selfish son-of-a-bitch"; a world weary cop who has been saddled with a younger, idealistic partner, Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). They are both assigned to investigate the murder of a young secretary, Betty (June Gilbert), who we previously see being chased down and murdered - along with her boyfriend - by a naked, knife wielding psycho, Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), when they are interrupted mid-bonk in their secluded woods based passion wagon, in a scene straight out of PROM NIGHT (1980). Stacy, it turns out, also worked at the same typing pool, and it's shown, in a flashback, that his advances were spurned by Betty, when she threw a cup of coffee over him. He manufactures an elaborate alibi to cover up the crime: annoying two girls at a cinema before sneaking out of the toilet window and starting his killing spree but being back in time before the house lights go up.
It turns out that Betty was an old friend of Kessler's estranged daughter, Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher); something which brings the two gradually back together as the case proceeds. Betty's father tells the cops that she always kept a diary, and that it could contain a clue to the identity of her killer. However, Stacy is also aware of this and beats them to her house. He finds that the diary is gone but is interrupted by Betty's flatmate before he can get away so kills her, also.
Kessler is sure that Stacy is his man. He visits him in his flat to question him and reads him bits from Betty's diary, regarding a jerk she writes about; "Do you know who that is? I'll give you a hint - it's you!". He brings Stacy in for questioning and frustrated by his seemingly iron-clad alibi, and doting defence lawyer, he pulls out all stops, whipping out a hands-free penis pump he found in Stacy's bathroom, seemingly in a bizarre effort to discredit him - "Do you know what this is for?!", he hisses (surprisingly Stacy doesn't insist it's for unblocking the drains!).
Stacy whips up Kessler's frustration even more by targeting his daughter, who he calls on the phone in a comedy Spanish accent and whispers sweet nothings like, "Kiss my ass, cunt!". Now, although the audience knows Stacy is the culprit Kessler's character really doesn't have anything firm to go on, but this doesn't stop him tampering with evidence in an effort to frame him. However, this backfires badly when the case against Stacy is dismissed and he is free to roam the streets to kill and kill again, with a special eye on revenge ...
10 TO MIDNIGHT is a stalk 'n' slash sandwich. The film is book ended with a couple of good slasher movie scenes, but the meat of the picture is somewhat predictably made up of police story and court drama, which are just strung together so that Kessler will eventually get to give out the kind of rough justice that has been sign posted all the way through the film. Politically the film wears its views very much on its sleeve: it's Kessler against the wishy-washy liberals and the lenient courts that would set a psycho free rather than bend the law a little. In one scene Stacy's lawyer tells him to feign madness to get off the death penalty and it's this literally face-rubbing threat of him being back on the streets in no time that leads to the film's routine conclusion. It's interesting, though, that the script aims to push so many reactionary buttons but fails completely to actually address why Stacy would become a killer in the first place.
J Lee Thompson, who did so much better in my opinion with HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) (not to mention the original CAPE FEAR (1962)!), at least instills the film with some suitably strange touches. For example, Stacy character always strips naked to stalk his prey (although the underpants, somewhat predictably, stay on in the version that plays on TV). During the film's one standout scene (when Stacy murderously invades the flat of four nubile student nurses clutching a knife - obviously aping the notorious Richard Speck murders in the 1960's) it really is a jarring sight to see him stalking butt-nekkid, covered in blood. Incidentally, one of those unlucky nurses is played by Kelly Preston, who went on to star in considerably more wholesome Hollywood fare like THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003).
10 TO MIDNIGHT, unsurprisingly, comes from that bastion of early 80's good taste, Cannon Films. Fans of Charles Bronson should check it out, as should very undemanding slasher movie or thriller fans, but there are really are many more movies more worthy of time in your DVD/video player than this.
BODYCOUNT 7 female:5 / male:21) Male kinifed to death