Billing itself with the rather grandiose claim of being 'the new face in horror,' Jack Messitt's Midnight Movie borrows pretty heavily from both the Friday The 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises but fails to infuse its killer with either menace or intensity that made Jason and Leatherface the icons that they are.
The picture takes place in a small, second run theater that's just getting set up for a midnight screening of an old black and white horror film called 'The Dark Beneath,' a horror movie about a man with some serious mommy issues who runs around in a mask and slaughters people with a big corkscrew. The only people at this ill attended midnight screening are a few of the cute night manager's friends, her younger brother, a cop, and a biker and his lady. What none of them realize is that the film's director/star was committed to a mental facility a few years back and has since disappeared. As the movie plays out, the audience members see some of their friends appear in the picture playing out before them. At first they suspect this is some kind of clever joke but when the people who appear in the movie turn up dead, they start to wonder if maybe there's something more to this... and then a bunch of them get killed.
First things first - there's a big problem with the scrip here in that no effort is made to explain why Radford is such a grumpy Gus that he feels the need to come out of the screen when his movies are shown and kill off bikers and teens, let alone how he actually pulls this off. Is he magic? Is he a wizard of some sort? What's his beef with society? We don't know, and while sure, it's always nice to leave a bit of a story for the audience to figure out on their own, at least giving us some sort of back story to latch on to probably would have helped things out here.
Another problem that you don't have to be a mad genius to pick up on are the technically impossible corkscrew kills that make up most of the murder set pieces. If the killer is going to attack with what is essentially a giant corkscrew, how is it than when he yanks said corkscrew out, there are guts and even organs inside it? Somehow he's able to punch into the chest cavities of his victims and when he removes his weapon, their bits are inside it? If you stab a circle with the pointy side of a triangle, screwed or not, and remove that pointy part from the circle, you don't pull out half of the circle's innards with it. It's not physically possible and while, to the film's credit, some of these kills scenes are moderately amusing, you can't help but get sucked out of the film a bit. If Jason smacks you in the neck with a machete, it would make sense for your head to come off but here the kills don't have that same sort of basic logic and it does hurt the film.
The scenes where the film cuts to the 'Dark Beneath' scenes have had some pretty squirrely post production effects applied to them, but they haven't been done very well. The intent was obviously to make the footage that appears on the screen look like a beat up old black and white horror movie, but what it looks like is some footage with quick Final Cut Pro effects tossed on and in turn superimposed on the screen in the theater. Had his been done well it might have worked, but it wasn't, instead it's black and white footage with loads of vertical scratches but no actual grain or print damage. The result? A severe lack of authenticity in this department, one which completely fails in its intent.
On top of that, the characters in this film are flimsy at best. You don't necessarily need to flesh out your characters so much if all they're to do is stand around and serve as fodder for the killer, but it can't hurt things to at least try and while the film alludes to some childhood abuse on the part of a couple of the kids, it doesn't really do much with this aspect. By the time the movie is over, the only character whose name you'll remember is the biker, because his name is Harley and that makes it easy to remember but everyone else in this picture is completely and utterly disposable.
It might sound then that Midnight Movie is a complete turd of a film, and while it comes close, that's not entirely fair to the picture. To its credit a few of the murder set pieces are good and the movie is quite well shot (Jack Messitt's experience as a cameraman probably helped here). It never overstays its welcome and it moves along at a very quick pace, and the girls are all easy on the eyes. In the end, however, this is a forgettable film - 'the new face of horror?' I think not.
Midnight Movie debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that does a decent job with some iffy source material. Detail is strong, particularly in facial close up shots, and texture is also quite good. Contrast isn't bad but there are definitely times where the black levels are on the murky side. Skin tones look alright and there are no noticeable problems with mpeg compression, nor is there much in the way of edge enhancement to note. Overall, this isn't a bad effort from Phase 4. It never reaches reference quality but it's certainly more than passable.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix sounds... okay. Not much more than just okay. Some kill scenes are nice and punchy and there is some decent surround usage but it's sporadic and sometimes dialogue lacks a certain weightiness and sounds a bit flat. The levels are properly balanced, though the metal track that plays over the opening credits is maybe a bit louder than it should be, but many of the sound effects used in the film sound noticeably phony, almost canned. For a low budget picture, however, this track is decent enough.
Phase 4 have wrangled up a few decent featurettes to cover the making of Midnight Movie starting with a seven minute piece called The Creative Team. Here we meet director/co-writer Jack Messitt and co-writer Mark Garbett as well as some of the producers, the make-up guys, the wardrobe lady and a few others involved in putting the picture together. All involved seem happy with their experiences working on the film. The Cast is an eight minute piece that lets the stars of the film talk about what it was like being killed on camera and how they feel about the movie, while the VFX/Storyboards segment is a six minute piece about how Messitt did his own storyboards before we get a reasonably interesting comparison between these storyboards and the finished footage as it appears in the movie. The last featurette is an eight minute segment called Additional Shooting where Messitt talks about how he used an extra day to finish up a few little touches he wanted for the film and we're privy to yet more storyboard art.
Also included here are three minutes of scenes that were chopped out Rounding out the extras are three trailers for the feature, trailers for other Phase 4 releases, pop-up menus (and pop-up menus only, no standard menus are supplied here which is a bit odd) and chapter selection. All of the supplemental material on this release is presented in standard definition.
Note: The packaging states that there's a director's commentary track on this disc but it doesn't appear anywhere in the menus nor can you find it by switching audio tracks - so we'll assume this is a typo or mistake of some sort.
Phase 4 have done a nice job with the transfer and afforded the disc some decent extra features but the film itself is nothing to write home about. It's passable enough as background noise, something to put on and half pay attention to, but I can't see anyone wanting to go back to this one more than once despite a few fun moments. Slasher junkies might want to rent it in hopes that it'll appeal to their tastes more than it did to mine, but everyone else can safely skip Midnight Movie.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.