Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Midnight"(1982)d/John Russo

I'm willing to forgive NOTLD co-writer John Russo for the folly of much of his cinematic output since his famous collaboration with George A., with special emphasis on his mordacious handling of the so-called 30th Anniversary recut, rescored, (retarded) re-imagining of the b&w Romero zombie classic.Instead, tonight we'll take a look the 1982 film version of his novel, first published in 1980, a mostly uncoordinated, slow moving, minor effort, with occasional moments of eerie backwoods atmosphere and amateur splatter.Working with a skeleton crew, light-damaged cheapo film stock, and mostly unreliable amateur actors, while the cut-happy MPAA censors neutered his horrific theological vision, Russo still manages to insert some quality unease into his directorial debut, sort of a TCM meets Deranged vibe going on here.Until the advent of dvds, most of Midnight's juicy bits ended up on the cutting room floor, with the craptastic Vidmark VHS release from the early eighties still stale on my mind, though Arrow's transfer looks to be an equally murky dub from weathered video source materials(as evidenced by the time coding at the top of some of my screenshots, eh).Apart from Lawrence Tierney and John Amplas, the cast, garbed in what looks like a  J.C. Penny's sidewalk sale run on 1978 backstocked polyester and denim, is mostly forgettable, though antagonists David Marchick, Greg Besnak, and Robin Walsh run the gamut from gleefully sadistic to stiltedly comical as the family of hayseed Satanists.Melanie Verlin as the female lead is neither effective nor particularly swell to look at, for that matter.The headache-inducing AM Gold-esque synth score that perfectly accentuates the disco wear and shag carpeted van interiors within, if you see where I'm goin' here. Russo delights in padding out already snore-worthy driving and walking sequences throughout the movie, still, there's that foreboding dread, sporadic as it may be, that rises out of his frame that's rare for slashers of the era.You could do a lot worse than a movie like this on a Wednesday night, I guess.
Five words no girl ever wants to hear: "Come to Lawrence Tierney, baby..."
We see what looks to be Jimmy Peterson's little sister screaming her fool head off while snagged in an animal trap, before Momma(Jackie Nicoll)  can convince her brood that the terrified girl is really a demon in disguise, and in desperate need of a hearty clobberin' with an axe handle.Back at the farmhouse, we see the girl sacrificed to the dark lord and master with a single plunge of a sizeable dagger, as wielded by Cynthia(Debra Smith) .Over the credits, it gets even more diabolical, as Nancy Johnson(Melanie Verlin) gives a juicy confession(she's committed sins o' th' flaish with her boyfriend...wait, chicks that looked like the leisure version of Prince Valiant got laid in the early eighties? It can't be.) and is told she oughta be burning in Hell for sharing her cunt before marriage the way she's done, by cracky!At home, it might even be worse for the old looking teen, who's drunkenly ogled and groped by her own stepdad(Lawrence Tierney) before braining him with a transistor radio(!) and thumbing her way outta town before he comes to, and she has to hear him say, "Why don't ya just relax and let Daddy make ya feel good?" again.To strains of easy listening AM radio'd be too embarrassed to play, Nancy hops in a shagged out delivery van on it's way to Fla, as piloted by a checkered pair of squares, Tom and Hank, and together, they embark on a corny driving montage complete with racial tensions in a saloon, and a black preacher at a gas station who's barely able to spit out some exposition about missing locals, gas cans, and anti-black sentiment in the area before a yokel can bark at him.The priest gets knifed up in a nearby graveyard and his daughter gets C.T.F.O.ed in the tub by a snickering mountain of a good ol' boy while our heroes steal groceries, netting them anti-climactic cop chase that lands them directly in the center of fucking nowhere.Meanwhile, back home, Nancy's stepdad breaks it to Mom that she's been showing off her little body to him whenever she gets the chance, and he's kept it from her out of love.Larry Tierney a sex magnet?Now I've seen it all...
If you give tonsilectomies with a rusty machete in a rundown farmhouse, you might be a redneck.
Our gang awakens from their camping overnighter with gun barrels in their faces the next morning, courtesy of Abraham(John Amplas) and Luke(Greg Besnak), dressed as cops.Hank, cuffed, makes a break for it, and pays with a point blank execution headshot from Abe, who later plugs Tom in the heart, savin' taxpayers money an' all.The trigger-happy badges chase Nancy through the woods to a farmhouse where Cynthia(Robin Walsh) deals Solitaire while her brother Cyrus(David Marchick) gigglingly saws off a victim's head with a machete.Why, these are the same evil brats from the pre-credit sequence, all grown up and twice as psychotic.I see what you did there.The siblings squabble about having three sacrifices to Satan for Easter(I was unaware Satan even celebrated beyond your obligatory basket full of chocolate bunnies and eggs like the rest of us) while Nancy gets cozy in a dog cage, next to Gwen, another kenneled up cutie for the festivities.The boys burn the burgeoning pile of bodies and snatch another shapely young victim while Luke shanks up her husband in a nearby woodpile, following up on the promise he'd made earlier to his mother's mummified corpse in the attic.The first girl gets herself an extra mouth during the pentagram-heavy ceremony,  her blood caught in a chalice and fed to the siblings' mother's rotting cadaver while Nancy quietly gives an act of contrition from her cage.While the boys make Tom's van disappear, they're spotted by Burt, Nancy's stepdad, who's on the case like Kojak, if Kojak was an uglier, heavier drunk who fancied molesting his own stepdaughter, that is.Burt flashlights the shit outta Luke's domepiece and holds Cyrus and Abe at gunpoint, demanding they return his blow up do-uhhh, daughter, to him.In the melee, Cynthia jabs Burt with her dagger, Burt shoots Cyrus in the head, Nancy scythes Cynthia's throat, and later sets a resurrected Luke ablaze with a gas can and a match in the barn.Abe is dead somewhere too, I think.Cue that rotten title track one last time, thankfully, and let's recoup our losses already.
With her hair and makeup done, Mama was finally ready for the family photo at Sears.
Russo would follow tonight's review up with things like Midnight 2: Sex, Death and Videotape(1993), the direct-to-video sequel, Scream Queens' Naked Christmas(1996), and Santa Claws(1996), while chisel-faced Brooklyn tough guy Lawrence Tierney would  appear in genre offerings like 1987's The Offspring, The Prowler(1981), Chris Gore's Red(1992), The Horror Show(1989), and even that Tarantino cat's own debut, Reservoir Dogs(1992), as Joe 'Mr. Big' Cabot.Juicy.Real juicy, Junior.John Amplas, an always likable  Romero regular and favorite of mine, starred in Martin(1976), got shot off a rooftop in Dawn of the Dead(1978), played a mime in Knightriders(1981), rose from the grave in Creepshow(1982), and donned a lab coat in Day of the Dead(1985).While we're on the subject, Verlin would turn up in Romero's Monkey Shines(1988).Savini would stay busy throughout the decade, lending his effects wizardry to productions like Friday the 13th:The Final Chapter(1984), Creepshow 2(1987), and the 1990 Argento/Romero film, Due occhi diabolici, while appearing in direct-to-video titles like United's The Ripper(1985), which we'll be taking a gander at in the days to come.Despite Savini's credit for providing makeups and effects for tonight's feature, in the Arrow dvd featurette, "“Midnight at your Door: The Shocking Sacrifices of John A. Russo”, we hear the writer/director admit to fabricating much of the film's stabbing/slashing effects himself, even taking a potshot at Savini for his work on the mummified corpse in the finale.Also noteworthy, is Bill Hinzman, NOTLD's legendary 'Cemetery Zombie', who provided still photography for the movie.A technical dud, but worth a look, regardless.One Wop.
Nancy(Melanie Verlin)'s refusal to go on the paper lands her in the 'Punishment Kennel'.


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