Monday, September 21, 2009

Keep your ticket stub for a Midnight refund

Midnight Movie (2008)

Never believe the blurbs on a DVD cover. This little low budget number had several “thumbs up”-type recommendations from a couple of online sites, like So expecting a little gory fun, I popped it in.

Midnight Movie is about deranged movie director Ted Radford who shot a notorious Texas Chainsaw sort of movie in the 1960s, went bananas, killed a bunch of folks and was sent to an insane asylum. He escapes one night after an attempt at therapy by showing him his own gore film goes horribly wrong. I would seriously consider changing HMOs if that’s their idea of rehabilitation treatment.

Cut to six years later and a little local theater is showing a midnight movie screening of Radford’s masterpiece, Springtime for Himmler. Just kidding. No, it’s really - and strangely - titled The Dark Beneath, about a doofus in a weird mask (part skull, part hockey, part leather, all goofy) and overalls that kills a bunch of hippie kids driving a Mystery Machine. The mask looks seriously whack, as in cobbled together, and the overalls, well, they worked for the portly, slovenly, mucho-crazy Leatherface, not so much for our guy here.

For a midnight showing of such an infamous movie, only a handful of people show up: a biker dude and his chick and three friends of the three teens who are running the joint that night. Add to that the doctor who was treating Radford and the cop who investigated the killings. They both hope Radford will show his twitchy mug for this screening of his opus. He does, but not in the way they anticipated.

The killer doesn’t just stalk the theater, he pops out of the movie, a la Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (and The Last Action Hero) and kills his victims with a “corkscrew knife” which looks like the offspring of a giant spinning top and a drillbit. Not only does our masked/overalled killer Radford pop out of his movie, he puts the current theater killings up on the screen in real time, like a reality show. Then like a good little editor once the killing is done he cuts to a hallway back in the film where he dragged his old victims, and now his new ones, into some chamber of horrors.

Once the people realize what is going on, they rush for the front door, made of glass mind you, only to find it’s locked! THEY'RE TRAPPED! Their cell phones don’t work! The back exit is also locked! THEY’RE TRAPPED! A policeman stops by and peers through the locked door into an empty lobby, but on the lobby side we can see and hear our frantic heroes but the cop cannot. Hey, I told you, THEY’RE TRAPPED!

At this point you’ve seriously gotta call What The Fuck on the movie. Let’s sum up the bullshit, shall we:

1. The killer can step OUT of the movie.
2. The killer can simulcast his current killings and splice them into the movie showing on the screen.
3. Then the killer can pop not only himself but his new victims back INTO the movie.
4. The killer can pull an Anthony from The Twilight Zone and seal the theater off AND make the people frantically yelling in the lobby invisible to a cop who’s stopped by to check on the place.
5. The killer can stop cell phone calls AND calls from the land line (by magic apparently).
6. I'm betting the killer can also scoop popcorn with his drillbit-top knife AND dispense Junior Mints at the same time.

Yes, there are a couple of cute ideas here, but they are so sloppily handled that they are neutered. And all the shit the killer can do is just ridiculous. I mean come on, he can pop off and on the screen AND scramble cell phone transmissions AND pull a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility number on the lobby so the cop doesn’t see or hear the kids (plus he does this when he’s not even around). It’s like Superman in the comics of the 1950s and 1960s when they invented a new power for him every fucking month: Need to talk in the airless vacuum of space? No problem, here’s super-ventriloquism! Need to alter your face to catch a crook? Presto chango, chum! Need to shoot a miniature version of yourself from your fingertips to handle a deadly kryptonite meteor? You got it bubba! (All super-true; I did NOT make any of that up.)

The Friday the 13th and Halloween movies are unfair enough when they give the killers a supernatural advantage – that they CANNOT be killed – over everyone else. But when you pull magic powers out of your overall-covered ass as the killer in Midnight Movie does, that’s just not fair. It’s also very poor writing.

The acting is fair to middling. It starts off pretty bad with a pair of doctors at the asylum; these guys were really terrible, like they stepped out of a Three’s Company episode. Seriously I expected Chrissy to be a nurse. The cop is also pretty terrible, and you could tell he’s never held a gun in his life before, which is a bad sign for a supposedly veteran police detective. The kids are the better actors, especially the lead, Rebekah Brandes.

The killing scenes, which is why you rent one of these stupid things to begin with, are mostly boring. Early on they cut away and don’t show anything. Yes, it’s low budget but that’s not an excuse. Watch Psycho to see how to do an effective killing scene without elaborate makeup effects. Later they do use prosthetics, but they are so ham-handedly done, they’re silly and sloppy not scary or cool.

When you find a really good low budget movie – see El Mariachi, Pi, Clerks, Evil Dead, Primer – which uses creativity and not a wad of cash to get its point across, it’s a wonderful thing. Don't be fooled by the accolades on the cover, though; Midnight Movie isn't one of them.

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