Soul's Midnight (2008)
Directed by Harry Basil
Take a plot straight out of a 1970's made-for-TV "satanic panic" horror flick, film it with the visual aesthetics of a modern Lifetime Movie Network original movie that would air around Halloween, sprinkle in moments of the kind of intentional camp found in New World Pictures' horror flicks from the 1980's, add just a dash of gore and a hint of sex, and you get Soul's Midnight, an acceptable recycling of a variety of horror movie clichés that never successfully melds its straight-faced and cornball tones.
The movie opens with a couple fleeing from a gothic Texas hotel in 1975. They try to get a local priest to baptize their baby in the backseat of the car as it's surrounded by torch-carrying devil cultists in black robes. The cowardly priest flees, leaving the father to get out of the car with a pistol to shoot a path through the satanists. After doing so, he tells his wife to drive off with the baby without him even though there's no logical reason why he couldn't have easily gotten back in the car with her. Actually there is a logical reason - the film's plot hinges on him having been captured and enslaved by the satanists for decades in order to set the stage for his grown son to show up thirty years later with his own very pregnant wife in order to repeat the process anew.
Charles Milford and his very pregnant wife Alicia now find themselves venturing to the small Texas town of Guthrie to attend the funeral of the father Charles' mother had told him had been dead since he was born. This is all just a ruse to get them to the same hotel in the same town just in time for the Feast of St. George, a local festival supposedly honoring the venerated Christian martyr legendary for having been a dragon-slayer. Is it a coincidence that Charles just happens to be a direct descendant of St. George?
Charles, who looks like the lovechild of Nathan Fillion and Will Wheaton, should probably have the word "twit" tattooed across his forehead because that's exactly what he comes across as. Everyone he meets in Guthrie has a tendency to act suspicious or, in the case of a husky Mexican named Ramos who worked for Charles' father's meat-packing business and the cowardly priest who abandoned his parents during their hour of need all those years ago, give Charles cryptic messages about how he ought to get his wife out of town immediately. Instead, Charles and Alicia are ready to move to Guthrie ASAP - as in very next day - even after the caretaker of the house they plan to rent warns Charles that the town is populated by devil worshippers. The grinning idiot responds to this news by merely grinning some more.
Enter Armand Assante as Simon, hotel owner and local cult leader. When Assante lets his long hair down he looks disturbingly like a very ugly transsexual. But for most of the movie he's attired in his finest Johnny Cash black wear with his hair pulled back in a pony tail and often smoking a cigarette; he comes across more like a sleazy European porn director than the leader of a vampire devil cult.
I guess I forgot to mention that part. They're not just satanists - they're vampire satanists! Big difference. Not really. Sort of.
The Feast of St. George is actually a vampire ritual designed to resurrect their "father" by using the blood of a newborn descended from the dragon-slayer and then sacrificing the final members of that bloodline to their resurrected vampire lord, who is the fabled "dragon" that St. George so famously slain.
Simon uses some supernatural mind games on Alicia, including a little psychic rape action, while a gothic burlesque vampiress tries to seduce Charles. Then the fanged duo go around attacking random townsfolk that try to warn Charles, turning them into vampires in the process that'll then try and kill Charles. Simon will then act surprised later on when he realizes that Charles has become suspicious that all is not right in the town of Guthrie. Gee, I wonder why? Good to know Charles isn't the only mental lightweight in this dopey movie.
And dopey really is the appropriate word here. This is a wildly uneven movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too by playing it straight one moment and then venturing into the level of camp pulled off far more seamlessly in such 1980's New World Pictures like House or even Vamp. The comedic highlight, a battle between Charles and a crazy old lady vampire, plays like a lost scene from Fright Night Part II. An attack by a very Deadite-ish hag floating in mid-air invokes better memories of Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. By the end, we've got a spiffy looking rubber-suited gargoyle demon randomly attacking cultists while a husky Mexican temporarily rescues the Milford’s by going on his own personal Texas chainsaw vampire massacre. Moments like this livens things up, for sure, but the horror aspect never quite crackles and the humorous side doesn't tickle quite like it should and neither side fully gels with the other. Though moderately entertaining enough for a late night time waster, you'll nonetheless have completely forgotten about Soul's Midnight by the time you eject the DVD from your player.
The hit and miss attempts at humor should come as no surprise given that Soul's Midnight was directed Harry Basil, he of the upcoming Urban Decay (which I'm very much looking forward to), but whose past credits, according to IMDB, reveal his having played an integral part in the production of numerous comedies Rodney Dangerfield starred in during the latter stages of his movie career that I suspect the late Mr. Dangerfield probably wasn't particularly proud of. Soul's Midnight is, thankfully, much better than Back By Midnight - funnier too.
One final word of warning: never bitch about the ice machine in a hotel run by vampires. You won't live to regret it.
2 1/2 out of 5