Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Rebekah Brandes, Daniel Bonjour, Mandell Maughan, Jon Briddell, Stan Ellsworth, Greg Cirulnick, Michael Schwartz
Directed by Jack Messitt
Distributed by Peace Arch Home Entertainment
Take a little bit of Popcorn, a little bit of Demons, a little bit of Last Action Hero, throw in just a dash of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and you got yourself a Midnight Movie. The idea behind Midnight Movie is that of a supernatural slasher movie maniac who can exit his own movie to kill in the real world during screenings of his film, at which time the picture on-screen will cut to his point-of-view as he stalks and kills someone in the building where the motion picture is being show. Viewers then see the real world victim’s corpse being dragged back into the killer’s movie lair. No one is safe until the movie ends, during which time the very building its being shown in becomes cut-off from the rest of the world almost as if it and everyone in it are trapped in another dimension.
Thirty years earlier a deranged filmmaker named Ted Radford went on a killing spree after making a horror film titled The Dark Beneath, about a van full of teens on their way to Woodstock who breakdown in the woods and end up at the house of a masked maniac (played by Radford) and his disarmingly crazy mother. Having long been locked away in a loony bin for decades, one of his doctors thinks it a good idea for his therapy to let him see his own movie again after all these years. An insane asylum massacre follows. None of the bodies are ever found, nor is Radford seen or heard from since.
Five years pass and a movie theater that likes putting on midnight screenings of cult movies is preparing to show The Dark Beneath for the first time in untold years. You have your usual small assortment of college age friends in the audience and on duty running the show, along with a burly biker and his babe, and the lead heroine’s kid brother who snuck in without her knowing. Also in the audience are a police detective determined to capture Radford and a doctor who once treated Radford; both believe that given Radford’s obsession with his own movie he won’t be able to resist coming out of hiding for this screening.
What nobody counted on was the movie’s killer coming out of the movie and making a bloody mess of employees and attendees alike. Everyone at first thinks what they’re seeing on the screen is some sort of elaborate prank. It isn’t long before they realize that this is interactive cinema at its most fatal and they’re the real stars of the show.
Sounds nifty, huh? And for the most part it is. Director Jack Messitt and his co-writer Mark Garbett have crafted a very polished-looking low budget slasher flick built around a premise that at times shows real flourishes of imagination and lord knows slasher movies these days could use an infusion of creativity. Even the usual stock characters are played by actors with winning personalities. You root for certain characters to live and can’t wait for certain jack-offs to die, and you’re even surprised when a certain jack-off turns out to be not so bad a guy after all. But – and I really wish there wasn’t a “but” – I couldn’t help be a tad disappointed by how uninspired much of the execution of this inspired concept proved to be.
For a killer who fear is his ultimate weapon, a skinny guy in baggy overalls and a half-skull mask never struck me as being all that fright-inducing. Nor do we get any explanation as to how Radford acquired his supernatural abilities or what his objective is aside from a love for scaring and slaughtering people. I probably could have overlooked the mostly mute slasher essentially being a phantasm if the script had bothered to flesh out Radford just a bit more than what little we come to learn from random hearsay.
Not only does this slasher bore victims to death with his trademark, razor-sharp, hand-grip drill bit, he’s also something of a bore himself. Once you’ve seen him corkscrew a few people to death, burrowing divots into their body cavities with his signature instrument of death, it gets old rather quickly. I mean Jason’s trademark was the machete and Freddy Krueger had his knife-fingered glove but even they didn’t kill everyone the exact same way. Not to say there aren’t any spectacularly bloody kills here, I’m just saying that with one exception there’s a real predictability to the kills, both stylistically and the order of death, that’s in sharp contrast to all the creative possibilities offered by the supernatural premise. I like a little variety in my slasher movie kills. I suspect most people watching slasher movies do to.
I got to say I found the movie-within-a-movie to be a tad on the dull side too. Though the filmmakers certainly captured the aesthetics of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre type of flick – though I’ve no earthly idea why a movie from the 1970’s is presented as the sort of scratchy black & white film that went out of style about a decade prior, we see an awful lot of The Dark Beneath early on and let’s just say I can understand why the screening was so poorly attended.
The detail of this new high-definition transfer is really something to see. Skin tones are accurate, the blacks very deep, colors are razor sharp and everything from bits of grue to even facial stubble is presented in stunning detail. However, just like the DVD soundtrack don’t expect the audio mix to knock-your-socks off just because we’re on a new format.
The special features on the Blu-ray are the same ones found on the DVD and offer the type of behind-the-scenes information that you would expect. Things kick off with three featurettes that run about seven minutes each and are actually quite enjoyable. There’s a lot of personality behind this flick, and nowhere does it show more than here. From there we get a few deleted scenes and outtakes, followed by a trailer gallery.
But – always with the “but” – don’t let my criticisms scare you off. If you like slasher movies, you’re probably going to dig this fun little gorefest. At the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if you, like me, come away thinking with one more rewrite they might have really had something special here. I’m afraid Midnight Movie is going to have to settle for possibly ending up as the very sort of midnight cult movie with a limited following just like the kind of cult movie it both builds itself around. And you know what? There’s really nothing wrong with that.
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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