(A.k.a. BACKWOODS MASSACRE; JOHN RUSSOíS MIDNIGHT)
John A Russo made his name by writing the screenplay for George A Romeroís seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Little over a decade later, and he decided to adapt one of his own subsequent novels. The result was the very low budgeted MIDNIGHT.
It opens with a group of kids being egged on by their mother as they chase a terrified girl through a corn field. They corner her and bludgeon her into submission, believing she is a demon.
Once they have dragged her comatose body back to their farm, they gather round her sleeping frame as the familyís daughter Cynthia (Robin Walsh) chants: "Oh mighty Lord Satan, we ask Thee to help us in the destruction of our enemies ...".
A midnight sacrifice ensues, overseen by the broodís sinister matriarch (Jackie Nicoll).
Hmm, what would entice an unsuspecting city girl into the clutches of this backwoods CHILDREN OF THE CORN-esque clan? Well, in the case of pretty young Nancy (Melanie Verlin), itís another night of abuse at the hands of her drunken cop stepfather Bert (Lawrence Tierney).
On this particular occasion, Nancy suffers attempted rape at Bertís hands in exchange for the loan of his car for the evening. Deciding that enough is enough, she bops him on the head with her radio and goes on the run Ė remembering to pick up her guitar first, of course.
Before long Nancy has taken to hitch-hiking in a bid to reaching her sister in California. But her plans soon change when Tom (John Hall) and Hank (Charles Jackson) pull up in their Mystery Machine-type van and invite her on a camping trip with them.
Allís well for a short while, despite a little ill-feeling between Nancy and Hank, until they travel into a neck of the woods inhabited by a certain family of devil worshippers. Meanwhile, Bert is intent on tracking his wayward stepdaughter down ...
Youíd think a film written and directed by one of the minds behind NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD would be something special. Especially when you learn of its interesting cast (Tierney, John Amplas), and the fact that FX supremo Tom Savini worked on the filmís special effects.
But, no, MIDNIGHT is an extremely cheap and amateurish production from 1980 that proves its writer really had no career ahead of him as a director. The acting is frequently lousy, often turning a so-so script into nonsense, while the lighting, camerawork and editing are all so ugly that itís hard to appreciate how this film could look good even if presented in HD.
Beyond deliveries of dialogue, the cast are also brilliantly inept in terms of the theatrical. When Nancy hits Bert over the head with the radio, itís done with all the force of a fly landing on a piece of cake. Elsewhere, hammer hits and knife slashes are conducted so carefully that only the sweetest natured of people would claim there is a danger in the simulated violence being shown.
Awful songs pepper the soundtrack; the film is slow and plodding, especially in the second half; any political observations that may have seemed pertinent in Russoís novel (racism, primarily, and the Ďpositiveí racism that Hank spits back at white society) are so clumsily delivered that they simply donít resonate.
There are a couple of scenes of casual violence which, although rather crudely executed, do stand out. But itís not enough to save MIDNIGHT from looking like one of those shitty "so bad itís bad" SOV films from the 1990s. Despite the fact that this is shot on (16mm?) film.
MIDNIGHT is presented uncensored in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This is so close to its apparent original 1.37:1 ratio that any cropping is unnoticeable. The film certainly looks to be correctly framed. Picture quality is soft and rather washed out in terms of colours. On the plus side, I didnít experience the minor fragments of time-code information that have plagued another online reviewerís enjoyment.
English mono audio is somewhat muted and a little muffled at times. It just about muddles through for the duration though.
Arrowís disc opens with their now-customary 3-minute promo reel: a breathless assault on ears and eyes, showcasing moments of gore nirvana to the rousing sounds of upbeat rock music. Choice moments from titles in their canon which include DAY OF THE DEAD, BLOOD FEAST 2, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD ... itís a great advert for the company.
From there, an animated main menu page leads into static sub-menus. Among these is a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with a 1-minute video introduction to the film from a game but slightly baffled-looking Amplas.
He also turns up as the subject of the 31-minute documentary "Vampires, Rednecks and Zombies: The Fear Career of John Amplas". Itís a reasonably well-produced interview with the unassuming actor, taking in plenty of welcome clips and stills from his career (MARTIN, KNIGHTRIDERS etc) in-between his occasionally vague recollections.
"Midnight At Your Door: The Shocking Sacrifices of John Russo" is 20 minutes of chat with the director, who speaks candidly about the filmís imposed cuts and its time spent in post-production Hell. He seems relaxed in his blue chair as he speaks to the screen with a fair degree of charisma, speaking also of footage he shot but lost, and what changes he made to the source novel. We also learn that Russo did most of the FX work, as Tom Saviniís fabled involvement was absolutely minimal. Itís a good featurette.
Whatís also noteworthy about both of the above bonus features is that Arrow have clearly listened to previous criticisms about the length of their featurettesí opening titles: theyíre much shorter here.
Finally, we get MIDNIGHTís original trailer. This is a long one, at 4 minutes in length.
Apparently, Arrowís DVD release of MIDNIGHT also comes with double-sided cover art, a double-sided poster and a booklet containing liner notes by Stephen Thrower. None of these were available for review purposes.
To bemoan the lack of a great picture for MIDNIGHT seems a little churlish. Itís one of the lesser known straight-to-video horrors of the early 1980s, and isnít a very good film either. But, in its own way, that makes it all the more remarkable that Arrow have mustered a Special Edition DVD for the film.
Recommended, on those grounds.
By Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|