One of the more effective horror techniques of the 1970s was the "rude awakening for suburban folks" approach, a frequently gristly, gross, and unsettling theme that broke ground with Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. The play was this: A bunch of normal, average Americans would find themselves hopelessly lost in the wild, at the mercy of bloodthirsty backwood folks and/or plain old degenerates. Much carnage would ensue before a few of the "civilized" folks were able to escape (if they were lucky), and, usually, the lunatics would pop back up for a sequel or two.
In the wake of this new and alarming sub-genre came a few also-ran sorta-ripoffs, namely Charles Kaufman's Mother's Day, Kevin Connor's Motel Hell, and John Russo's Midnight. Thinly veiled attempts at aping the Texas Chainsaw approach, these low-budget yuck-fests were juicy enough to play the grindhouse circuit, but (obviously and deservedly) none of them are held in as high regard as Tobe Hooper's drop-dead classic. (OK, Motel Hell has a half-decent cult following, thanks mainly to a grim sense of humor that's inserted amidst the carnage.)
Best known to the horror hounds as the co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead, novelist / screenwriter / director John Russo attacked this popular sub-genre in the early 80's with Midnight, a flick that's equal parts awful and surprisingly watchable ... if only in a "grim guilty pleasure" sorta way.
The flick opens on an unpleasant spin: A young girl has her leg caught in a bear trap, and when a local family comes across her whiny, bleeding form, they promptly beat her to death with a stick. And then come the opening credits.
Midnight follows a 17-year-old runaway (who's played by a woman clearly 28 years old ... or more) who escapes her disgustingly gropy stepfather, hitchhikes a ride with two petty criminals, and ends up running (seriously) afoul of the aforementioned family of murderers. Indeed, it seems that the family is not just a bunch of crazy killers, but also a blood-crazed gang of Satan worshipers.
Fans of the old-school gritty-gore vibe will absolutely want to give Midnight a weekend rental, at the very least. It's not nearly as scary (be it on a gut or an intellectual level) as its inspirations are, but (aside from a second act that rambles on and on) Midnight offers an unseemly little experience that should semi-delight the horror geeks who've never even heard of the flick.
The acting is terrible, the screenplay is even worse, and the overall mood is that of bleak and unremitting nastiness ... but it's not a puff-piece horror flick, either, plus it features a hilariously absent-minded performance by legendary character actor Lawrence Tierney as the pedophile-turned-hero, and there's more than enough graphic gore-flingings to keep the genre monkeys clapping contentedly. Midnight might not be a well-known cult classic, nor does it actually deserve to be, but as an early-80s footnote to a sub-genre that spawned some truly disturbing horror movies, you could probably do worse. (Like, say, Mother's Day.)
Video: Hoo boy is this an ugly transfer. Presented in a garish fullscreen presentation and boasting tons of source dirt, grime, and grain, the movie certainly looks its 23 years. It's rather grungy, picture quality-wise, but I'd be lying if I said the dingy visual presentation didn't add some old-school charm to the affair. The movie looks like it should look kinda ... gamey, and does it ever!
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which is also rather tinny and muddled. Dialogue and shriekings come through clearly, but this isn't a very impressive piece of aural workmanship.
Recommendable only to the hardcore horror freaks who've already seen all the movies mentioned above, Midnight is a greasy, grimy, and frequently unpleasant little nugget. Whether or not that sort of vibe appeals to you is your call, of course, but if you're even half the genre geek that I am, I could advise you to give this one a rental. Midnight is probably worth seeing at least once, but I doubt you'll find much here that's worthy of multiple revisits.