John Russo’s ‘Midnight’ Offers a Tiny Taste of Classic Romero [Blu-ray Review]


Looking for a bit of classic George A. Romero flavor but exhausted the man’s filmography several times over? Then you might want to check out writer/director John Russo’s Midnight (1982). It’s a no-budget Satanic cult pic shot in the Pennsylvania area that employed a number of Romero’s troupe, including legendary FX maestro Tom Savini.

Now, I know that information has likely piqued the interest of many but keep those jets cooled. Midnight might have some of the vibe and style of Romero’s early (we’re talking 1960s) work. But the story is a mess. While the FX are good, there’s no memorable eye candy either. Russo, for those unaware, co-wrote Night of the Living Dead (1968) with Romero and produced his little-seen second feature, There’s Always Vanilla (1971). Russo is also an author and Midnight is an adaptation of his own 1980 novel of the same name. But perhaps the task of taking on so many duties at once was a bit too daunting because this never quite comes together in any successful way.

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An ominous opening scene features a young girl caught in a bear trap who is beset upon by a group of children at the behest of their “Mama”, with orders to kill the “demon”. Cut to years later and teenager Nancy Johnson (Melanie Verlin) has just run away from home because her alcoholic stepfather, Bert (Lawrence Tierney), a cop, tried to rape her. Nancy decides to hitchhike her way to San Francisco, where her sister lives. She manages to catch a ride with a couple of cool, respectable dudes, Hank (Charles Jackson) and Tom (John Hall), in their van.

The three make a pit stop in a small backwoods town and run afoul of the local cops after stealing groceries because they’re all broke. After a brief chase, the trio decides to sleep in the woods for the night, hoping they can lose the cops for good by morning. Only when morning arrives do they find their situation has only gotten much, much worse. They’re in the backyard of a satanic cult that’s always on the hunt for new victims.  

A couple of casting bright spots helps tremendously. Lawrence Tierney, whose role is small but his name lends some gravitas, and John Amplas, a regular Romero player best known for playing the titular vampire (?) in Martin (1977). The acting is often no more than a step above a student film. But nobody here is outright bad; fans of classic regional horror will know the level we’re on here. Savini’s FX work in Midnight delivers a few bloody moments but is fairly pedestrian by his own standards. There isn’t a grand gory set piece or anything like that.

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There is a nasty little undercurrent that runs throughout the picture I do appreciate. A scene involving Hank and Tom and a couple of redneck cops starts tense and then turns chilling once a fatal reveal is made. Even though this is mostly a mess I find myself enjoying the various elements—a cult of child killers, a small town, brutal deaths, woods, the Pennsylvania countryside—despite the fact Russo can’t seem to gel everything into a cogent narrative. I can’t say with any certainty fans of Romero’s earliest works will like Russo’s wannabe shocker. But with so many players behind the camera who worked on George’s old material the aesthetic holds some appeal.

Severin spared no expense making sure Russo’s Midnight belies its low-budget origin because the 1.66:1 1080p image comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative and, man, it sure is a beaut. Clarity is exceptional, with this picture looking so sharp you’d hardly guess it was shot on a shoestring in 1981. Nighttime scenes remain dark, with black levels that are pretty much perfect. Fine detail is just as impressive, too. The colors look great. A few shots are soft, nothing worth complaining about. This is easily some of the best work I’ve seen from Severin.

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Available in English DTS-HD MA with either a 2.0 or 5.1 options, the track is mostly dialogue-driven aside from an ambient synth score that has no credited composer (it’s Mike Mazzei, who is interviewed on this disc). I went with the 2.0 since that matches the original mono mix and the experience was error-free and nicely balanced. No hissing or pops, though everything does sound a little thin on the whole. Subtitles are available in English SDH.  

Isolated Score Selections featuring an Audio Interview with Composer Mike Mazzei is available, giving the uncredited writer a chance to discuss his work on the film.

“Making Midnight – Interview with John A. Russo” (1080p) runs for 22 minutes and 44 seconds. This is a fairly interesting chat with the longtime multi-hyphenate who has plenty to say about his work on this feature and his time with Romero.

“Producing Midnight – Interview with Sam Sherman” (1080p) runs for 10 minutes and 25 seconds. These old producer types from New York City always tell the best stories.

“The Midnight Killer – Interview with John Amplas” (1080p) runs for 10 minutes and 37 seconds. Amplas talks about his work on the film and being part of the PA acting scene.

“Small Favors – Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini” (1080p) runs for 8 minutes and 35 seconds. The FX vet recalls how he came to be involved with Russo’s project and what work he did on set.

“Alternate Title Card for Backwoods Massacre” (1080p) runs for 15 seconds.

A trailer (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 33 seconds.

One radio spot runs for 1 minute.

Special Features:

  • Interview with Writer / Director John Russo
  • Interview with Producer Samuel M. Sherman
  • Interview with Actor John Amplas
  • Interview with SFX Artist Tom Savini
  • Trailer
  • More TBC
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
  • Midnight
  • Special Features


Charming despite its many flaws Russo’s marginal cult hit is best recommended to fans of D.I.Y. regional horrors and perhaps those who also like the beginnings of George Romero’s career. Severin’s disc is a winner still, with excellent a/v quality and a handful of worthwhile interviews.

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