Weird stuff aplenty transpires in Heart of Midnight, which stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as an alluring, mentally disturbed young woman (oh, wait, that describes every Jennifer Jason Leigh movie ever made). Never-before-released on Blu or DVD in the U.S., Kino Lorber brings this late night cable time-filler out from the mothballs as part of their Studio Classics line.
With an enticing image of Leigh smoking a cig in a kinky lace-up leather dress, Heart of Midnight's Blu-ray packaging offers some promise. The actual movie it delivers, however, ends up being a watered-down mishmash. Basically, it's Polanski's Compulsion in hideous '80s clothes, Kubrick's The Shining on a K-Mart budget, Lynch's Blue Velvet encased in shrink wrap. Despite the movie's total incompetence, Jennifer Jason Leigh manages to be pretty effective in a role that foreshadows her more acclaimed work in Last Exit to Brooklyn and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. If it sounds like cheesy fun, be aware that the opening credits - plain names printed on a solid blue background, accompanied by treacly keyboard music by New Age/mustache god Yanni - pretty much epitomize what this weirdly conceived, opposite-of-an-erotic-thriller is about.
The main conceit behind Heart of Midnight's plot is that Leigh's character, a cynical, devil-may-care woman named Carol, has been irreparably damaged by something that she's unable to identify. She arrives in a run-down city to claim her inheritance: The Midnight, a shuttered nightclub once operated by her barely-remembered Uncle Fletcher (Sam Schact). Carol sees this opportunity as a new start, escaping a humdrum small town, an abusive ex-boyfriend, and her nagging mother (Brenda Vacarro). Carol's attempts to re-do the club's renovation, already in progress, wind up becoming a headache for the unstable girl.
As Heart of Midnight trudges on, it becomes apparent that the weirdness in Club Midnight isn't entirely in Carol's mind. On Carol's first night among the array of weirdly decorated, kink-themed apartments on the nightclub's upper floor, she gets brutally raped by two locals (including a young Steve Buscemi). The police are called, and soon Carol's affairs are handled by a skeptical detective (Frank Stallone) and a sympathetic social worker (Denise Dumont). Despite the protests of the social worker, Carol decides to continue staying in the nightclub alone. Later on, she meets one Sharpe (Peter Coyote), who presents himself as the detective sent to investigate the rape case. The guy is actually a vengeful former associate of Uncle Fletcher's, however, and nearly as soon as he tries to figure out the source of Carol's haunting, dreamlike hallucinations he discovers that he's falling in love with her.
As potentially interesting as Heart of Midnight may sound, the final movie ends up getting derailed by too many out-of-nowhere elements. Director-screenwriter Matthew Chapman incorporates lots of strange stuff in this movie - from recurring images of apples, to a man randomly tearing pages out of a porn magazine, to Stallone doing an Elvis impersonation. The final effect feels thrown-together, however, while Chapman's direction is so inept and amateurish that it kind of surprised me that he went on to do other films (well, one film - 2011's The Ledge). The only scene that impressed me (somewhat) was the climax, done from Carol's point of view. Since Carol went deaf in one ear, the result of an altercation with her ex-boyfriend, the scene is done with a constant, dissonant buzzing on the soundtrack. The scene itself was as silly and random as the rest of the film, yet the clever use of sound design at least had some novelty.
The Kino Lorber Studio Classics edition of Heart of Midnight is done in clean 1.85:1 aspect ratio, a marked improvement over the old Region 2 DVD with a cropped, full-frame picture. The well-preserved print used for the transfer highlights the photography's lurid, saturated color palette. I saw few instances of dust, pin marks, or scratches. The picture also has a good stability, with no jumps or jitter. Fans of the movie (are there any?) will be pleased with the quality on this one.
The 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is a decently mixed affair, with perhaps too much volume emphasis on Yanni's dissonant keyboard score. The track sports a little bit of hiss, but is generally clean and pleasant. An optional English-language subtitle track is also included.
Believe it or not, Kino Lorber actually snagged a feature-length Audio Commentary for this release. Director Matthew Chapman joins actor Peter Coyote in this frequently silent track - Chapman's enthusiasm is tempered by the pleasant, laid-back if puzzled Coyote - who apparently filed this one away among the many forgettable movies he did in the '80s and '90s. Trailers for this and Leigh's film Rush round out the extras.
With a decent Jennifer Jason Leigh as a damaged young woman who inherited a seedy nightclub from her eccentric uncle, Heart of Midnight ought to be worth a look for fans of kinky '80s thrillers. The grim reality, however, is that this is one sloppy, illogical, terribly directed film best left forgotten. Skip It.