‘Oh mighty Lord Satan, we ask thee to help us in the destruction of our enemies.’
John Russo co-wrote Night of the Living Dead all the way back in 1968, and has been coasting off that film’s success ever since. That’s not to say everything he’s done since then has been without merit, but it’s fair to say that George Romero was the real talent of the partnership.
Midnight, adapted from Russo’s own novel, certainly starts off with a bang. A young girl caught in a bear trap is viciously clubbed to near-death by a group of children who are never seen again. That’s because the rest of the film is actually set about 15 years later, and these kids grow up to be the main antagonists, though we are never actually told this. A little clue might’ve helped here, John.
Sometimes, it feels like Russo’s filmmaking technique has not advanced one iota since 1968. Oh well, did someone say ‘Satanic ritual?’
Yes they did!
The poor girl is sacrificed in a Satanic ritual (the best kind of ritual) in a scene that, typically, raised my hopes to unreasonable levels.
But it’s not all downhill yet!
Meet Nancy and her stepfather Bert. Bert is an old drunk who – to the soundtrack of easy listening calypso music – immediately tries to rape Nancy, so she knocks him out cold with a radio and runs away from home.
Remember this, we will come back to it later.
Nancy hooks up with Tom and Hank and the trio set off towards Florida on a wacky adventure. Hank – who is clearly in love with Tom – takes an immediate dislike to Nancy, and warns her that, ‘this trip WAS supposed to be mine and Tom’s.’
Later, the gang is chased out of town by racist rednecks. It could have been a really interesting subplot, but the racial tension seems to be nothing more than a token nod to the politics of Night of the Living Dead and is quickly dropped.
One thing about the film is that it looks stunning, if grainy Autumnal footage is your bag. It most certainly is mine, so I was in ecstasy watching the van drive through miserable rural Pennsylvania while the film’s theme song plays, a dreadful folk pop ballad.
Are you ready to sing along at home? Here we go!
You’re on your own, you’re all alone, you can’t go home anymore.
You’re on your own, you’re all alone, and Midnight’s at your door.
Hank’s day gets even worse when they end up taking on two more passengers, a preacher and his daughter. This guy seems to preach exclusively from The Book of Exposition, as he warns our hapless leads about all the murders that take place in the area.
And sure enough, the preacher himself is soon dispatched, followed by his daughter.
Despite Tom Savini’s name on the credits, there seems to be little of his work in evidence here, with Russo choosing to shoot the murders mostly through close ups of feet.
Think I’m joking? Think again.
It’s a maddening decision, but seeing as how the killer murders the daughter by running the cold tap on her forehead, it was probably for the best.
Despite the warnings, our heroes decide to camp out in the middle of Murder Country, where they are attacked by a pair of cops, one of whom is played by Romero regular John Amplas.
Amplas is a long way from Martin here, but at least it’s not as embarrassing as his turn in Forest of Fear (remember that one? I barely do!).
You see, the cops are actually the murderous kids from the prologue, and they kill Tom and Hank and kidnap Nancy, dragging her all the way out of Midnight and into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Yeah, Midnight fucking wishes. It’s the baddies’ house, decked out like a High School production of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic, complete with the corpse of the head of the family seated at the table.
Where does John Russo get his ideas?
There’s a strange moment where they are tormenting Nancy and someone shouts, ‘Let’s get her clothes off!‘ which is usually the signal for some full-on Nasty style exploitation. But instead, they just take her jacket off! It’s a funny moment that seems to be about subverting expectations, but is probably more to do with the actress refusing to do a nude scene.
And so to the climax, wherein the Satanic ritual takes place to the soundtrack of a yoga relaxation tape. Nancy, locked in a cage, prays to her God for help, and God listens.
So what does God do?
He sends her rapist paedophile stepfather to rescue her.
That’s right, the drunk who earlier forced himself on his 17 year old stepdaughter is presented as the hero of the film, tracking down Nancy and showing up in the nick of time.
It’s mental, it really is. Are we supposed to cheer? I mean, what the fuck?
It’s one of the most jaw dropping, baffling moments in any Nasty, and that’s saying something considering we’ve previously covered a scene where a small hairy monster-man eats handfuls of a woman’s pubic hair.
This is a strictly mid-tier Nasty, content to plod along without ever getting too exciting or interesting. The first half is definitely the best, getting by on the gorgeous Autumnal scenery and strange characters. But once the film moves indoors for the third act, the entertainment is pretty much over unless you have a fetish for woman in hamster cages praying.
Guys, it’s probably a thing.