John Russo’s MIDNIGHT sure is a potpourri of a horror movie. That’s not to say that it smells good – just that it can’t decide on just one subgenre to mine, and simply switches from one to another with dizzying regularity. So, it should come as no surprise – given the nature of this site – that a good chunk of the film is given over to a hulking killer wielding a machete. And not just any old hulk - but perhaps the fattest psycho on record!
|NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD meets FRIDAY THE 13TH - just as John Russo intended with his MIDNIGHT early 80's horror genre megamix|
After a brief prologue showing a family hunting down a teenage girl and killing her (and subsequently using her body in a satanic ritual), MIDNIGHT switches to a would-be kitchen sink drama with a definite whiff of John Waters about it. Another teenager, Nancy (Melanie Verliin), has to fight off the unwanted advances of her drunken cop stepfather – played by Hollywood veteran Laurence Tierney (who also appeared in THE PROWLER (1981) around the same time). To start off with she deals with this near rape as if it’s a minor inconvenience, before wising up and hot-footing it out of there to try and hitchhike to her sister’s house in California (after tapping him lightly on the head with a transistor radio that causes an immediate – if unlikely - unconsciousness).
Nancy hooks up with a couple of students (Tom (John Hall) and Hank (Charles Jackson)) that are making the long road trip from Pittsburgh to Florida for the holidays. Short on money they take to stealing groceries and this leads to a high speed chase (well, as high speed as the vehicles will allow). They shake the cops by taking a sharp right onto a dirt road and into worse trouble; where they spy a fat guy in overalls carrying what looks suspiciously like a dead body wrapped in blood-stained sheets. Cue the immortal dialogue: Nancy: "I swear he had a strange look on his face. I would swear there was a shoe sticking out from under that blanket!". Hank: "Nah, he was just a big farmer with a bundle. Your mind's playing tricks on you girl; you're all shook up. ... As soon as we find a campsite we'll smoke some of this good hash and loosen you up."
Not allowing a little thing like that to scare them off they decide to camp in the open air. Nearby the fat psycho waggles his machete and laughs maniacally. However, he is the least of their worries …
|Avon mauling! ... MIDNIGHT has the distinction of being one of the first slasher movies to feature black actors in main and supporting roles|
Like the later THE MAJORETTES (1987), MIDNIGHT wears many hats. It veers from occult grindhouse thriller, to country action flick to slasher movie to psycho family goes nutzoid with ease. In a case of out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire it comes as no great surprise that Nancy encounters the satanic brood from the beginning of the film. Now all grown up and taken to wheeling around a deceased family member and decorating their home with skeletons. Sound familiar? Well, Russo swears he didn't see TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE until after this movie wrapped, but that seems a tad unlikely.
Russo – who made this feature on a frighteningly low budget of just $71,000 and a crew of only three (including himself) – seems to be a little more forthcoming about the influence of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) et al. Which is probably why a lengthy mid-section is given over to a black preacher and his daughter being stalked and chased by the aforementioned over-sized giggling loon in dungarees. The scene where he follows the preacher in the graveyard is an obvious nod to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), which Russo produced the screenplay for (and famously featured a black protagonist). A later scene where the daughter is chased around a house by the killer with a machete was clearly designed to appeal to the audiences that were lapping up the slasher movie during its early 80s hey day.
Some of the film's special effects were produced by Tom Savini, but even in its uncut form they are nothing to write home about. Although they were probably the best that could be achieved on the meagre budget. Many of the kills are obscured and surprisingly none too graphic.
|It's not everyday you see an overweight, giggling farmer carrying a corpse|
Admittedly, part of the joy of MIDNIGHT is its slightly dog-eared nature. The performances range from bug-eyed to manic to broad – and over theatric acting by much of the cast just adds to the charm (especially from Nancy and the two students). You might also recognise actor John Amplas as one of the backwoods psychos, who is probably best remembered as the is-he-or-isn't-he vampire in George A. Romero's MARTIN (1976). If all the zigzagging between horror subgenres weren't enough, Russo also attempts to shoe horn in social commentary. From the early would-be rape to racial tensions, which lead Hank to exclaim, "Those loud mouthed honkies!" when they run afoul of some local rednecks.
The film is also blessed by one Goddamn catchy song; bits of which starts up about a gazillion times during the running time and will surely be burnt onto your psyche whether you like it or not by the time the credits roll. Admittedly, though, much of the other incidental music sounds like an angry mosquito trapped in a synthesiser. Russo has said that budgetary constraints meant that they had to shoot on dodgy film stock, so many of the best takes were unusable. But, again, this only adds to the film's quirkiness. And surely this must be one of the few films ever made where a would-be rapist becomes a hero at the end!
An irony was that although the film was clearly trying to ride the early 80s slasher horror wave it – like many other films at the time – found itself caught in a log jam and sat on the shelf for a couple of years before getting a belated release in late 1982.
Dog-eared or not, MIDNIGHT has a low budget charm that's irresistible.
female:5 / male:8
1) Female beaten around head with stick
2) Male hacked to death with small machete
3) Female strangled in bath tub
4) Male shot dead
5) Male shot dead
6) Male decapitated with machete
7) Male stabbed to death
8) Female has throat cut
9) Female has throat cut
10) Male shot
11) Male shot
12) Female has throat cut
13) Male burnt to death