Ghastly Ghouls. Angry zombies. Vengeful Vampires. And Dick Van Patten, oh my!
Return with me, dear reader, to a distant time when happy, cheesy synthesized pop sounds ruled the airwaves, parachute pants were the fashion rage, fluorescent laces adorned all footwear, feathered hair was the hairstyle of choice for the discriminating young male, and bad Michael Jackson's "Thriller"-inspired zombie flicks popped up on an all-too-regular basis. That's right…it's time to go way back to the foolish '80s, specifically to 1985, for The Midnight Hour, a mediocre made-for-TV horror/comedy that originally aired on ABC during the Halloween season. With a seemingly endless amount of Hollywood B-list "talent" featured here, this shoddy production will have genuine kitsch appeal to all fans of charming trash and monster-movie schlock.
Facts of the Case
When five teenagers (all played by actors well into their post-collegiate years, no less) unwittingly unleash an ancient witch's curse, the dead humorously return to liven up Halloween night. Phil Grenville (Lee Montgomery) and his friends Melissa (Shari Belafonte-Harper), Vinnie (LeVar Burton), Mitch (Peter DeLuise), and Mary (Dedee Pfeifer) make the fateful decision to break into the neighborhood Witchcraft Museum (doesn't every small town have one of these on Main Street!) and steal a trunk full of authentic 300-year-old costumes for their Halloween celebration later that night. When the teens drive to the old cemetery to try on the outfits, they come across a scroll tucked away within the trunk. Kicking it old-scroll style, Melissa, who just happens to be a direct descendent of the notorious local witch named Lucinda (Jonelle Allen), reads the sacred passages aloud, and in true Evil Dead fashion, unknowingly awakens hordes of hellish minions of the undead, along with Lucinda herself, to wreak Halloween havoc upon this quiet New England town. Hilarity and horror ensue as the meddlesome gang attempts to reverse the curse by midnight and save their town from impending doom. Will they succeed in thwarting the wicked vampiric sorceress Lucinda, or will evil finally prevail in the end?
This tame ABC horror/comedy tele-movie was surely made to cash in on the then-huge mainstream popularity of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. Thus, numerous graves explode in garishly over-lit '80s rock-video style, and the living dead emerge in true "Thriller" fashion. There is singing, swaying, and a synchronized undead dance number, along with frequent appearances by a werewolf and loveable midget zombie (I kid you not). To be fair, The Midnight Hour also features competent direction and typically good makeup and special effects by the Tom Burman studios. There are enough tawdry morsels here to satisfy even the most non-discriminating fan of grade-B filmdom. So for those purveyors of bad taste lusting after forgotten trash cinema, I give you a teaser list of potential justifications for seeking out and giving The Midnight Hour a spin. Dim the lights and cue the music, maestro:
See Cindy Morgan (best known for her role as Lacey Underalls in the timeless comedy classic Caddyshack) playing the tipsy Halloween party chaperone dressed as a "Let's Dance"-era David Bowie and still looking quite luscious!
See Kurtwood "bitches leave" Smith (RoboCop's Clarence Boddicker) as the zombified town sheriff with a fistful of fire!
See Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as the drunken, craggy old town judge trying to bash in his own son's head with a chunk of concrete…Judge Mills Lane he's not!
See a post-"Eight is Enough" Dick Van Patten as a decaying vampire dentist dispensing typically cheesy fatherly advice!
See a pre-"Star Trek: The Next Generation" LeVar Burton wrapping himself in toilet paper, ketchup, and egg, all in the name of getting his groove on!
See Mark Blankfield (Jekyll & Hyde…Together Again) as The Ghoul, 'nuff said!
Hear a vampirified Shari Belafonte-Harper, before settling into her regular gig as a weight-loss spokesmodel, earnestly sing, "I'm dead, you're dying, everybody should try it. Get dead"!
Hear the distinctive voice of Wolfman Jack as the radio DJ, spinning yet another ironically titled rock 'n roll classic to coincide with the onscreen action!
See party-crashing zombies getting some wholesome undead action on the couch, while a midget-sized ghoul looks on with envy!
If any of this intrigues you, then by all means give The Midnight Hour a whirl. You will be presented with a decent full frame 1.33:1 transfer. For an obscure 15-year-old TV movie, the image quality is surprisingly good. Sure, there are a fair number of scratches and dust particles along with areas of heavy graininess, and the colors and flesh tones can be murky and muted at times, but this throwaway tele-material looks decidedly better than many well-known feature films on DVD. Given the age and negligible nature of the source print, Anchor Bay is to be commended for doing a fine job on The Midnight Hour.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio track is merely acceptable. Everything seems to sound rather subdued, even muffled at times. You will always be able to follow the dialogue and action onscreen, but you'll still find yourself longing for a little better sound clarity and dynamic range. Finally, The Midnight Hour contains absolutely no extras on the DVD. You get the film and nothing else, not even subtitles or production notes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I could go the traditional route and bemoan the lack of any extras on the DVD, but can anyone honestly say they crave a Dick Van Patten/Peter DeLuise commentary track, or lost outtakes of the cast and crew practicing their moonwalk for the big zombie dance number? I thought not. The packaging doesn't deceive here folks; you pick it up, you know just what you are getting from the fine people at Anchor Bay. They are not misleading the public into thinking they are getting some lost Fulci splatterfest or Romero masterpiece. The Midnight Hour is a playful horror spoof that is most certainly a creature of its time, and like all things '80s, it eventually wears out its sentimental welcome.
I don't know, maybe it's just me here, but as I sat through The Midnight Hour, I could not help but think that it's just plain wrong that television drivel like this is now available on DVD, in a decent transfer no less, while true classics of the cinema like Citizen Kane and The Godfather series remain conspicuously absent from the medium. I am sure there is a market for this film somewhere though…maybe young Billy lost his virginity to Betty Sue way back in '85 on his parents' rec room couch while The Midnight Hour played in the background during its tele-film debut, and the grown Billy now looks to rekindle those nostalgic memories of yore through repeat viewings of this disc. Or maybe you are a parent just looking for some fun Halloween family viewing kid-safe bubblegum entertainment with a little '80s edge for the adults in the room. To that end, you could do worse than The Midnight Hour, I suppose.
Anchor Bay is reprimanded for wasting precious time and effort in meticulously transferring such forgettable TV dreck onto DVD, lost time that should have been spent putting together a definitive Dawn of the Dead package. The Midnight Hour, however, is hereby found guilty and sentenced to return back to its rightful place in the mid-1980s, right between that stack of "Frankie Say Relax" T-shirts and box of Michael Jackson sequined gloves. Like, totally bodacious dude.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
Review content copyright © 2000 Gary Militzer; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.