Charles Bronson is motherfuckin' back in 10 to Midnight, a seedy action film that Roger Ebert once called a "garbage disposal." With all due respect to the late Mr. Ebert, I tender my objection to that critique. This fourth collaboration between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson is a captivating mix of police procedural, blue-badge action and psychological horror. Bronson plays L.A.P.D. Detective Leo Kessler, a hardline veteran who spent years on the beat instead of raising his daughter, Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher). A sleazy serial killer begins slicing up young women all across town, and Kessler's daughter gets thrown into the man's path. With one of Bronson's better performances, 10 to Midnight is entertaining, hardboiled pulp.
The leering glances and queasy interludes of violence here remind me of Michael Mann's Manhunter, but unlike in that film, you know exactly who is killing the women in 10 to Midnight. That is Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), a socially awkward office rat who strips nude to avoid leaving evidence at crime scenes. The film quickly places Stacy near a young couple having sex in the woods. He surprises them by killing the man and chasing the naked woman through the trees before stabbing her in the stomach. Stacy likes to observe: Women, sex, violence, fear. The audience gazes alongside the killer. 10 to Midnight has voyeuristic undertones and some ugly violence, which is likely the root of Ebert's criticisms, but movie fans familiar with sleazy '80s horror and schlocky action will not be caught off guard.
Bronson's Kessler is sick of all the bullshit, and is not above planting evidence to nail a suspect. His daughter, Laurie, gets hilariously obscene phone calls from the killer, who starts picking off her friends. Kessler knows Stacy is his guy, but Stacy collects alibis like stamps and manages to consistently evade prosecution. 10 to Midnight clumsily floats some commentary about the killer planting the seeds of his own insanity plea, but is more successful when it lets Kessler off his leash. Davis is the perfect mix of sleazebag and average Joe. His character could pass for a handsome, normal bachelor, but the facade quickly fades when the opposite sex enters the room. The killer's bold, calculated behavior is sometimes unbelievable, but this performance works within the film's heightened reality.
The mix of cop drama and horror is sometimes clunky, and it is clear director/writer Thompson and co-writer William Roberts pulled elements from other, more successful genre entries. Even so, 10 to Midnight is thoroughly entertaining and hardly subtle. The violence and sex is frequent, and characters speak in frank, often obscene terms. Bronson is rock solid, as usual, and his Kessler is often at odds with his younger, more ethical partner, Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). The strained relationship between father and daughter is believable, and it adds something interesting to the narrative. The climax is over-the-top and puts Kessler in charge of his own morality, while Stacy pushes all of the old cop's buttons. They don't make movies like this anymore. 10 to Midnight never backs down, and it certainly does not go quietly into the night.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is more than serviceable, with a mostly clean print and little to no digital manipulation. Grain is often heavy but unspools appropriately, and fine-object detail is good. Colors are bold and skin tones accurate. Black levels vary, and there is some crush during nighttime scenes.
The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix provides clear, articulate dialogue and reasonable depth for effects and score. Effects and music never overwhelm the dialogue, and I noticed no hiss or distortion. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases 10 to Midnight as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 units were produced. The Blu-ray comes in a clear case, and includes a six-page booklet with stills, poster artwork and an essay. Extras include an Audio Commentary by Film Historian David del Valle, Producer Pancho Kohner and Casting Director John Crowther, which provides excellent context for the film. You also get an Isolated Score Track, in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, several Radio Spots (1:34 total/audio), and the Theatrical Trailer (2:13/SD).
Charles Bronson re-teams with director J. Lee Thompson for this thrilling drama/horror concoction. The violence is ugly and exploitation factor high, but Bronson grounds the film with his steadfast performance as a world-weary detective investigating a string of brutal murders. Less a mystery than an uneasy suspense thrill ride, 10 to Midnight is genuine '80s pulp. Highly Recommended.