Judge Gordon Sullivan would rather be trapped in a Sixties travelogue romantic comedy.
Radford is Back
Despite their love of fast-paced kills and excitement, horror fans are generally a patient lot. They only get a truly classic fright flick, the kind of film that scares the pants off of everybody and redefines the genre, a couple of times a year. Then, for the next few years they have to live on the sequels, ripoffs, and remakes of older films until another brilliant film comes along. Rarely, almost as rarely as the great films, another kind of horror film comes along. One that feels almost timeless. It's not groundbreaking enough to herald the new direction horror films take, but it's not a throwback nostalgia film, either. Instead, these films demand to beg taken on their own terms, as good-but-not-great films in their own right regardless of prevailing tastes. Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut is just such a film. It's got a strong premise, a solid execution, and enough tension to keep fright fans riveted until the final twist.
Forty years ago, Ted Radford (Arthur Roberts, Not of This Earth) made a low-budget horror film, The Dark Beneath (which is essentially an homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). He wrote, directed, and starred in the film as the killer. He eventually became obsessed with his role and was committed to an institution. Thirty-five years later he launched a bloody escape, apparently causing the entire hospital staff around him to vanish. Now it's five years later, and The Dark Beneath is being shown for the first time since Radford's strange escape. A group of teenagers watch, heckling the low-budget film. Heckling, that is, until they realize that one of their friends is up on the screen, and Radford must be coming out of the film to get them.
The whole "We're all stuck in a theater with something nasty" iddea has been done before (the Italian Demons comes to mind), and certainly the whole "characters coming out of the film and into real life" thing has been done as well (see The Purple Rose of Cairo, etc.). However, Midnight Movie combines these otherwise old elements into a tight little slasher film that comes out of the gate strong and doesn't let up until the end. Here's what the film gets right:
• A simple (and strong) premise. Guy comes out of the movie and kills people, but the people he's killing become part of the world on screen. It's quick and easy to understand, and more importantly, doesn't require a huge back story to get things started. In fact, the mechanics (and even the motivations) of Mr. Radford remain largely uncharted, which leaves more room on film for thrills and chills while leaving more for the audience to speculate about.
• A pretty diverse group of victims. Sure there's the typical group of teenagers, but we also get a grab-bag motorcycle couple, a doctor, and a detective to sweeten the pot a little. The relationships are pretty standard, but for the most part the acting raises these characters above stereotypes.
• Well-placed kills. A lot of slasher films open strong, then spend half an hour getting to the next kill. Not so with Midnight Movie. The opening starts things off with a bit of blood and intrigue, which segues nicely into the introduction of the main character. Once everything is out in the open, the kills happen in a pretty unexpected order and with enough frequency to be satisfying.
Midnight Movie originally came out in 2008. But as a micro-budget scare flick, it wasn't perfect. However, the filmmakers saved their cash and splurged on Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut, which adds a few scenes, cuts a few scenes, and updates some of the effects. I haven't seen the original cut, but I can say that there's nothing about this current release that screams, "We were poor!" The digital effects as the killer transitions from the film to the "real world" look better than average for a low budget film, and some of the aging effects on The Dark Beneath are pretty impressive.
The Killer Cut is captured well on this DVD. The anamorphic transfer is solid for a film of this budget. I was especially impressed by the solid blacks and the lack of any serious compression artifacts. It's not a reference-quality disc, but it's perfect for this film. The 5.1 surround mix does an okay job with the film as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear in the center channel, and the surrounds get a bit of use during the more tension-filled moments of the film. Extras for the release are pretty extensive. First up is a commentary with director Jack Messitt, who discusses a bunch of production info while also pointing out how this cut differs from his original one. Next up are a bunch of featurettes that focus on everything from the team behind the film to its special effects. More extensive behind the scenes info comes through in the making-of, "Destroying the Illusion." We also get some outtakes and deleted scenes, as well several different flavors of trailer for the film.
Midnight Movie is far from perfect. There are a couple of duff performances, a few too many ideas that hew a little too close to well-worn genre territory, and, quite frankly, not near enough gore to be satisfying to many. I was willing to overlook those faults for a generally well-executed attempt at a clever premise, but not everyone will be so forgiving.
Fans of Midnight Movie are certainly going to want to pick up this Killer Cut for the director's new vision and the added extras. General slasher fans should also give this one a whirl, since it offers enough interesting kills (and even a bit of nudity) to satisfy genre lovers. Those not interested in a masked guy killing teens (or anybody for that matter) should probably steer clear, since Midnight Movie doesn't add a whole lot to the slasher formula.
A director's cut that delivers the goods: not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Bigfoot Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.