Wednesday, October 31, 2007
the midnight hour (1985)
Well, here we are, at our final movie review of the month. It's been a pretty good run. Most of the films I've watched have been pretty decent, a few were really top notch. It's been great writing every day, and thinking about the things that I watch, even if most of the reviews have been relatively superficial, overall the experience of daily blogging has been very rewarding and has also done a lot to keep my spirits up during some stressful times this month.
Our final film of the season is, I think, the only one I've watched all month that actually takes place on Halloween. Like "Bates Motel," "The Midnight Hour" is a 1980s TV movie I remember watching when it was first on, and not thinking a whole lot of. Unlike "Bates Motel," the years have been very kind to "The Midnight Hour," and watching it again 20 plus years later it stands up quite well as a fun, stylish, albeit lightweight, horror flick, definitely better than the average made-for-TV horror fair, and a spiritual relative of 80s horror-comedy films like "Gremlins" and "The Monster Squad" (though admittedly not as good as either).
Actually, I keenly remember being kind of excited to see "The Midnight Hour" when it first aired on TV in 1985. I would have been about 8, and really just sort of discovering horror, inso much as I seen "Gremlins" at that point (on video, it was still too scary for me a year ealier when it came out in theatres, what a difference a year makes, when I finally saw it, it immediately became one of my favorites movies), and then, of course, there was Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (I know that last thought was grammatically incorrect, but, well, fuck it, I surrender)...I may have also seen James Whale's "Frankenstein" at that point, and I think maybe "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Charles Laughton, and of course "King Kong," but really most of my experience in horror at that point had come from a babysitter, daughter of one of my mom's co-workers, who had dutifully described all the goriest scenes in John Carpenter's "The Thing" and the other horror movies she had seen to me. Oh, and I had won, kind of inexplicably, a promotional contest for Larry Cohen's "The Stuff" earlier that year. It's sadly lost to the ages, but for years afterward we had an inflatable can of the Stuff in our basement. Once, of course, I realized that it was something I really wanted, I discovered it had been lost to a neighborhood tag sale or Goodwill purge sometime ago. Oh well...the point is, this came at the very earliest stages of my interest in horror, and for whatever reason at the time, I just didn't dig it. It could be that I've never liked the song "In the Midnight Hour" (the theme song of this flick). I don't really know why, but it's always gotten on my nerves. I certainly like other Wilson Pickett tunes, and would consider myself a fan of 1960s soul music in general, but there's something about "In the Midnight Hour"...I think it's the tempo, actually. Like, I wish it were either a slower song or a faster one, but as it is...well, as they say, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first...
Back to the movie, "The Midnight Hour" doesn't have so much of a story as it proves itself (or I should say director Jack Bender proves himself) capable of stringing effective horror elements and scenes together. The actual plot has something to do with a bunch of teens accidentally calling forth the spirit of a long dead with in their New England town, which in turns causes the dead to rise (the zombies are Romero looking but don't munch any flesh, they're decidedly more "Thriller" than "Day of the Dead") and also a werewolf. But just one. Also the witch is a vampire.
The undead converge on the teens' Halloween party. Of course since it's Halloween, everybody thinks the zombies are just wearing really good costumes, and soon all of the party guests are possessed. Or transformed. Or something. The exact parameters of what the evil spirits are capable of in the world of "The Midnight Hour" are not specifically laid out, but as suggested, this is a fun, longform riff on the video for "Thriller" more than it is a deftly constructed film on the horrors of the undead. And that's just fine, because the film itself knows what it is and remains consistent with itself throughout. This is the fatal mistake of something like "Bates Motel," and it in fact many films, including (in my opinion) maybe of today's big budget would-be blockbusters, this general lack of consistency.
By contrast, "The Midnight Hour" is funny when it needs to be funny, and scary when it needs to be scary, and delivers on both in well-proportioned, consistently measured doses. Most of the humor is pretty bland, but some of the horror sequences are actually really effective, in particular the raising of the dead, an extended scene of zombies rising, featuring some pretty cool monster makeup (by Steve LaPorte), and also the attack of the witch on her descendant in the wine cellar at the party (set to "How Soon is Now" by the Smiths).
The cast is mostly pretty good. Lee Montgomery is the nerdy teen hero (for a minute, I mistook him for Chris Makepeace from "Meatballs" and "My Bodyguard," who I thought for whatever reason was named "Chris Lookinland," who would actually be Mike Lookinland, aka Bobby Brady on "The Brady Bunch) and Jonna Lee ("Chained Heat") plays his undead love interest, a 195os zombie cheerleader. Peter (son of Dom) DeLuise ("21 Jump Street"), Dedee (sister of Michelle) Pfeiffer ("Grease 2"), Shari (son of Harry) Belafonte and Levar Burton play the other teens. Though good, Belafonte was in her 30s when this was made and seems way too mature to be a teen, though it suits her well after she's transformed into a vampire witch princess queen thing. Burton is totally miscast as the group's tough guy (because he's from New York, natch). It's totally a testament to Hollywood racism that not even 10 years after "Roots," Burton (who also seems a bit too old for his part) was playing a teenager in something like this, granted not a bad movie at all, but, y'know, "Roots." Besides, Levar Burton as a tough guy? The guy from "Reading Rainbow?" DeLuise is serviceable as a dumb jock, and Pfeiffer is cute and fun to watch. The rest of the cast includes sci-fi/horror icon Kevin McCarthy (of Don Siegel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"' and many Joe Dante movies) as the town's alcoholic judge (and DeLuise's abusive dad), Kurtwood "Bitches Leave" Smith ("Robocop," natch) as the town cop, Dick van Patten as Montgomery's dentist dad, comedian Mark Blankfield (of the inexplicable [but kind of funny] cocaine comedy "Jekyll & Hyde Together Again") as a zombie and Wolfman Jack as, who would have guessed it, the town DJ. The soundtrack is also pretty great. Aside from Wilson Pickett and the Smiths, you get Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sam the Sham, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, the Guess Who and even a track by Shari Belafonte (which, if it's the one I think it was, was actually pretty good).
So, there ya go, we're ending on more of a whimper than a bang, but it's a happy whimper. "The Midnight Hour" is, as far as I know, readily available on DVD and would make for fine family Halloween fare, or something. It's all about the alliteration. In a funny way, it feels like most of the movies I chose for the Halloween countdown were too good. There wasn't much Negative Pleasure on display at Negative Pleasure this month. There weren't alot of bad-good-bad films (so bad they're good, or whatever) or films that were all that challenging in terms of subject matter or content. I didn't even watch anything all that excessively violent. But it was fun, right? And that counts for something. I mean, fun breeds guilt, so that's like negative pleasure. Well, fuck it. Sometimes fun is just fun, I guess, and I've had fun, and that's alright.
Check back later for our final Halloween comics post, and tomorrow for reviews of anything I might watch tonight, and information about what's up next on Negative Pleasure. I have a few ideas for what I'd like to do in November, and I think you might enjoy them...