Studio: Independent International Pictures
Starring: Melanie Verlin, Lawrence Tierney, John Amplas, Greg Besnak, John Hall, Charles Jackson
Directed by: John Russo
Running Time: 88 min.
Synopsis: A teenage girl hitchhikes with two college boys that wind up in a town where they’re not wanted and fall into a trap of devil worshipers.
I first saw this film on the USA Network in 1989. Being a big fan of Night of the Living Dead and reading about this film in a NOTLD book written by John Russo, I had to check it out. I remember seeing it in the TV Guide airing about 3am, so I set my VCR and recorded it. I believe that’s the only time I seen it play on TV, but I could be wrong. When I watched it the next day, I wasn’t disappointed. Here was a great scary creepy film that captured a time and a setting of the early 80’s. Also it told a good story and showcased a crazed family since the Sawyer family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but of course not as twisted and creepy as them, but still good.
Based on Russo’s novel and released in 1982, but made in 1980, Midnight starts off with a little girl caught in a bear trap in an open field. A mother and her three sons and a daughter, rush over to her. The mother tells her kids that it’s a demon in the form of their next-door neighbor. At first the children are not sure, but the mother demands they take the girl and sacrifice her to Satan. Turns out the mother worships the devil and she tries to get her children to do so as well.
As the title credits roll, there’s a scene of a teenage girl, Nancy, confessing her sins to a priest, who is off camera. She tells him that she has been having sex with her boyfriend, but they now broken up. We hear the priest’s voice as he tells her if she didn’t confess this sin that her soul would be damned to hell. Throughout the film, they are many religious over tones, especially with the lead character Nancy. After confessing all her sins, everything is right with the world. She returns home to gossip on the phone with her friends, when her stepfather (played by veteran actor Lawrence Tierney) who’s a cop wearing a uniform that looks like a cross between a rent a cop and Barney Fife. He comes home drunk and wants to mess around with his stepdaughter. As her stepfather tries to rape her, Nancy is able to knock him out with a transistor radio. It’s kind of funny, because after he is knocked out, he simply just falls to her bed and begins to snore in a drunken sleep. Nancy packs her bags and gets the hell out of there.
Nancy tries to hitch a ride to her sister’s place in California, which is a long ways off since she’s in Pennsylvania. Going from one creep to another, a guy who tries to pick her up wants to exchange a ride for sex. She wants nothing to do with that and he drives off. She finally gets a ride from two good guys, Tom and Hank, in a van, who are off to Florida for Spring Break. Hank isn’t sure about bringing her along, but his buddy Tom really wants her on the trip. The three end up in a small northern hick town that doesn’t take kindly to strangers. They help out a preacher and his daughter by giving them a ride to their house. He warns them about some mysterious killings that are happening. The kids don’t take the warning and plan to set up camp in the town for the night.
After being harassed by more hicks in a bar (especially Hank, because he’s black), being told by sheriff officers to leave the town, and stealing groceries from a local store and then being chased by the cops, the three lose them and find a place to sleep in the woods. Little do they know that someone is watching them. The next morning, Nancy takes a walk in the woods while the other two sleep in, when she comes back she witnesses Tom and Hank get shot and killed by two men dressed in sheriff uniforms. The two chases her until she finds refuge in a house in the woods. Turns out, the house is owned by those officers who are not really officers and the share the house with their sister and older bother who just happen to be those Satan worshiping kids all grown up now and carry on their mother’s tradition of sacrificing women on Easter Sunday. Nancy is taken captive along with other women and prays that somehow she gets out this. Meanwhile, her stepfather is out looking for her and ultimately finds the crazy family.
There are lots to love about this movie, just the pure eeriness of it makes it an awesome horror film. What it lacks in acting and dialogue makes up for it with the creepy atmosphere and scary story. Looking at the film takes me back to the late 70’s and early 80’s. It has a great northeastern look and the style of everything is more late 70’s then early 80’s, from the cars, stores, houses, and clothes. Even Nancy’s look, when she’s hitchhiking all she has is a suitcase and a guitar, which is totally that area. She even has the trademark Kristy McNichol tomboy look from her clothes to her haircut, which makes her look like a young boy.
Some key moments of the film that best portray its eeriness is the scene where the older brother, Cyrus, murders the preacher and his daughter. First off, the preacher lives next to a cemetery, which is scary in itself. The two go to preacher wife’s grave. There’s a great shot where the two are off in the distance and Cyrus’ hand comes into frame in the foreground holding a knife. There’s even a scene where you see Cyrus lurking in the background behind the trees that’s very creepy. The daughter goes back to the house as the preacher stays for a few minutes more. Another great scary moment is when the preacher is walking back to the house and Cyrus comes out from hiding behind a tombstone and stabs the preacher to death. Cyrus then gets into the house and chases the daughter around. She tries to hide in the bathroom and you think that Cyrus has left, but then you hear his sinister crazy laugh come out of no where and he catches her in there and runs water on her face in the tub and drowns her.
That’s one thing that freaked me out about this film when I first saw it, the surroundings kind of looked like my area where I lived. Houses were in back of wide opened woods. It’s just creepy that Cyrus can just walk in from the forest and into your house. There’s even another scene where the two other brothers just kidnap a woman from her backyard while she’s playing Frisbee with her boyfriend. The two watch them as they play around. The Frisbee is thrown behind an above ground pool. The woman goes to get it and is taken by the brothers and her boyfriend is murdered when he tries to stop them.
Then there’s the family themselves. I know since the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, every film with a crazy family is compared to the Chainsaw family. Although this family is nowhere near that demented as the one in Chainsaw, but they are unique in their own way. It seems to be that the sister, Cynthia, is the one in charge, while the three brothers, Cyrus, Luke, and Abraham (played by John Amplas from George Romero’s Martin) are the ones who go out and do most of the dirty work. Although the family still talk as if their mother is still alive, she is just a corpse they keep in a bedroom, kind of an ode to Psycho. The family of Satan worshippers kill all the men and keep the women alive and keep them locked in chicken cages until an all out black robe, pentagrams and all sacrifice.
The soundtrack is great as well and fit the film’s mood. The score is very haunting and the theme song, Midnight, kind of a 70’s country-like ballad, will get stuck in your head days after you watch it. The trailer to the film is cool as hell, especially the ending when they show a scene where Nancy is running through an abandon house and Luke breaks a window to scare her. As she runs, she is met with Abraham at the front door. Nancy finds an exit in the back and takes off as Luke just laughs uncontrollably with a sinister look on his face. This moment gives the feeling that wherever Nancy goes she can’t get away and what makes it more frightening is that when she does run, the two don’t go after her right away, showing that they know there’s no way out for her. Also I think it’s weird that her stepfather who tried to rape her becomes the hero towards the end and is trying to save her, but he’s the reason why she ran away in the first place.
Midnight is an excellent film by one of the writers and producers of Night of the Living Dead. Even though Russo made the film, it almost has a Romero feel to it, more in the style that it’s shot, but not the story telling. The movie is still eerie after all these years and is worth owning on DVD for any horror fan. Hopefully they’ll put out a special edition DVD, the one out now just has the film and no special features.