Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Midnight Hour, The (1985) (TV)

... aka: Creeps
... aka: In the Midnight Hour
... aka: Notte di Halloween, La (Halloween Night)

Directed by:
Jack Bender

It's Halloween in the small town of Pitchford Cove, Massachusetts. According to local legend, three-hundred years earlier, Lucinda Cavender, "one of the most powerful witches who ever lived," supposedly set free all of the demons from hell and awoke the dead in the process... until she was put in her place by "witchhunter general" Nathaniel Grenville. A group of high school students, among them Phil Grenville (Lee Montgomery), the great great great grandson of Nathaniel (and perhaps the hairiest-chested high school student ever to have lived) and Melissa Cavender (Shari Belafonte), the great great great granddaughter of Lucinda, decide to break into the town's witchcraft museum to steal vintage costumes for Melissa's party later that night. They, along with Melissa's boyfriend Vinnie (LeVar Burton), jock Mitch (Peter DeLuise, son of Dom) and Mary (Dedee Pfeiffer, sister of Michelle), who Phil has a major unrequited crush on, load up a bunch of stuff and take it to a cemetery. Inside a trunk they swiped, they find a ring and a parchment that appears to be written in blood. Lucinda reads it, and soon after they leave a curse is unleashed as all the denizens of the cemetery rise from their graves.

Among the resurrected creatures are a former serial killer, a werewolf, a slew of zombies and, of course, Lucinda herself (Jonelle Allen), a vampire-witch who can't wait to pick up right where she left off. Caught up in the mix is Sandy Matthews (Jonna Lee), the ghost of a cheerleader who died in 1959 and - dressed for the times and with lingo to match - now just wants to live free and fall in love while she still has a chance. Meanwhile, at Melissa's Halloween party, some of the zombies show and blend right in eating popcorn, laughing, dancing, drinking punch and even necking. Lucinda shows up, gets Melissa alone in the cellar and bites her while bottles spurt red wine in slow motion and "How Soon Is Now" plays on the soundtrack. Now a vampire herself, Melissa transforms Vinnie and so on until everyone at the party has joined the undead and are breaking out into a choreographed musical number ("Let's Get Dead") celebrating that fact. Thankfully for Phil, he left the party early on after being rejected by Mary and can avoid all that. He's even more fortunate to run across Sandy, who's not only good for a little back seat romance but also knows just what to do to save the town before the evil can completely take over.

The Midnight Hour made its prime time debut on ABC on November 1st with the tagline "Caution: Halloween didn't end last night!" I remember seeing it one time as a kid (in the early 90s) and loving it. That by itself was enough to make me go into this second viewing with apprehensions. After all, as adults we'll often re-visit the things we loved when we were younger just for the nostalgia factor only to ultimately walk away disappointed, scratching our heads and thinking, "I can't believe I used to like that." I figured this would be another of those cases. Surprisingly, it was not. This movie is still an absolute blast to watch, and with an HD transfer now on the market, the movie looks better than ever before. The makeups (from Tom Burman, Steve LaPorte and others) are actually quite outstanding for a TV movie, the acting is good, the plot is fun, the music is great and the movie affectionately captures the spirit of All Hallow's Eve, with trick-or-treaters running the streets, foggy cemeteries and even Wolfman Jack on the radio playing songs like Wilson Pickett's "The Midnight Hour" (of course), CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Li'l Red Riding Hood." This is one of those rare genre movie with plenty for both parents and kids to enjoy, without the former having to worry about too much objectionable material.

Most of the cast is very good, but the standouts for me were Lee and Belafonte. Lee is highly amusing and quite wonderful in her role as the transported 50s teen out of her element and she and Montgomery even manage to make the doomed romance subplot - which really should have been extremely corny - oddly charming. Belafonte was 30 or 31 years old at the time she played this role of a high school student, but she certainly doesn't look it. Not only is she nice on the eyes, but she also sinks her teeth into her newly-transformed vampiress character; playing it with sultry enthusiasm to spare. Unfortunately, neither actress' career really amounted to much over the years.

There are numerous other familiar faces on hand. Cindy Morgan (from the 80s favorites Caddyshack and TRON) plays a hottie substitute teacher and the party chaperon. Kevin McCarthy, as a mean drunk judge, and Dick Van Patten, as a goofy dentist who doesn't like to administer Novocain before drilling, both get turned into zombies. Dennis Redfield is a tobacco-chewing hick who gets transformed into a werewolf, Kurtwood Smith and Hank Garrett are cops and comedian Mark Blankfield plays the main ghoul. This was also supposedly the film debut of Macaulay Culkin, though I don't recall seeing him anywhere (IMDb lists him as playing "Halloween Kid"). Director Bender also made Deadly Messages (1985), another made-for-TV horror film about a OUIJA board (which is seen on a theater marquee here) and Child's Play 3 (1991). He'd become better-known later on for his work on the hit TV show "Lost" (2004-2010).

Midnight received a video release from Vidmark and was later distributed on VHS and DVD by Anchor Bay here in America. In Germany it was called either Creeps or Halloween - Besuch aus dem Jenseits ("Halloween: Visitor from Beyond the Grave") and in Spain it was released as La noche del baile de medianoche ("Midnight Prom Night").



spookyx3 said...

what a soundtrack! shari belafonte should have done more in film after this.

> This was also supposedly the film debut of Macaulay Culkin, though I don't recall seeing him anywhere

try around 29 minutes in. freeze on the kids who appear just after kevin mccarthy bawls out his son. i think culkin's the one on the left, in the clown makeup.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I just re-watched that scene and I'm not so sure that was him as the clown. That kid looked awfully tall and Macaulay would have been 4 or 5 when this was filmed. There's another much smaller kid on the left wearing a skull mask with the three others. I suppose that *could* be him but who knows? I wonder if Culkin ever acknowledged the film in any interviews? If this credit first originated on IMDb, I'd be a bit skeptical about it.

spookyx3 said...

the clown kid is older than four/five there. don't know that i was thinking.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I just asked about this on the IMDb board, so maybe someone knows for sure one way or another.

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