Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

I read Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining and thoroughly enjoyed it when it was first published. I was eager to see the film adaptation and if it was as satisfying as the book.

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It’s always a brave move to write a sequel to a well known book that is now considered to be a classic within it’s field. The film is seen as a true classic in the horror genre and is regularly in the Top 10 Horror Movies of All Time polls if not occupying the top spot in a number of instances. So, making a sequel to a film with such a lofty reputation was a brave move.

The film starts in Florida in 1980 after the events of the first film and Danny is still haunted and having his life affected negatively by the spectres he saw from The Overlook Hotel which are now haunting and harming him wherever he is. Dick Halloran reappears to Danny to teach him a valuable life less on how to mentally deal with this. I noticed that some of the darker details Dick talked about in the book aren’t here. Maybe the film wouldn’t have been a 15 certificate if they had been.

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Taking the plot up again in 1980 is a brave move. It works wonderfully as the plot points that are raised are crucial to the plot. All actors who are filling the shoes of people who have become iconic since the first film’s release do a great job. But it’s Carl Lumbly (yes, Petrie from Cagney and Lacey!) who is a true revelation here. He is Scatman Crothers reincarnated! It’s a performance that is eerily accurate and absolutely amazing to watch. Thankfully, Dick appears throughout the film to give Danny advice in the way as if he were Danny’s conscience or inner voice.

The film then comes forward to 2011. Danny is an alcoholic. An episode of how chaotic his life is is shown through an incident in bar were he gets drunk, gets into a fight with a fellow bar patron, beats him up and then hooks up with a woman. How chaotic his life is at this point is shown the morning after. We see him waking up next to a woman who has vomited in the bed they slept in, the memories of them doing coke the night before come flooding back and Danny running out on her (after maybe taking money from her to pay her back for her using his money to buy the coke with). Danny is then shown sleeping rough.

Danny then makes his way to New Hampshire. Its here that he meets Billy who he instantly feels a bond with. Billy in return sees Danny as having problems and sets out to help Danny address some of his demons- namely, his alcoholism as this is something that Billy has had to face also. Danny starts to go to the Alcoholic Anonymous group with Billy.

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Whilst this is going on we get introduced to a new group of characters known as The True Knot, a cult led by Rose The Hat. They are a cult whose immortality depends on them feeding off and capturing the ‘steam’ given off by children who also possess the shining when they are tortured and killed. Yes, Doctor Sleep is extremely dark. The sequence when the baseball player who is only 10 is murdered made for difficult viewing. But I’m glad that the film dealt with issues that were this dark rather than feeling like a lightweight and whimsical quick cash-in.

Danny starts working at an old people’s home. The resident cat there will instinctively spend time with the resident who is next to die. Danny sees this and so uses his shining to make the resident’s departure as painless as possible. He is using his shining again and as a force of good after years of forcing himself to repress and not use his gift.

Eight years pass. Danny is shown to have been regularly attending the AA meetings and appears to be conquering his addiction.

A young girl starts to communicate with Danny using her shining which is shown to be the most powerful example of the power that Danny (and later Rose) has ever experienced. She’s only a child but is shown to have shining stronger and more potent than any adult. Abra tells Danny about the 10 year old baseball player who she has visions of being killed. Unfortunately, Rose psychically ‘feels’ that Abra is watching this murder through her own powers of shining/second sight and this alerts her to Abra’s existence. Members of the cult haven’t been exposed to any really strong ‘steam’ for quite some time and cult members have shown to be starting to suffer because of this (we see what happens to members of the cult when this happens during the film as the oldest True Knot member expires into a cloud of steam himself). This makes Abra a target for the group.

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And that’s where I’m going to leave the synopsis. To give any more details away is to ruin the film for everyone!

This is a great sequel. References to the past film are subtly placed here and there (one prime example- the overhead shots of cars driving along in the same style as those used by Kubrick in the opening scenes of the original) but they feel relevant and not tacky. If some fans feel that the references are too sparse they should rest assured. The references start to become more frequent as the film progresses. The final act of the movie then takes part at the Overlook Hotel! It would be impossible not to have past references come in thick and fast at this point. And they do and it feels like old friends coming out to play again rather than a desperate attempt to milk some more bucks from a trusted horror classic. Everything that happens at the hotel feels like it’s being used in a plot that rightly calls for their use in progressing the story towards it’s conclusion.

Danny walking through The Overlook and seeing all of the old sites again sent shivers down my spine. There was even a scene that firstly made my jaw drop wide open and then almost reduced me to tears. I’m certainly not going to give it away but it’s astounding in it’s potency and power.

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There is plenty going on in the film as you can tell from the plotline. On top of all of this there’s even an implied bromance between Danny and Billy which is as intriguing as it’s subtle. Intelligent filmmaking is at play here. I predict that the kind of film analysis that was applied to the original film will also be generated from the material that lies within this film.

Doctor Sleep is also visually stunning and feels genuinely innovative in some scenes. In fact at some points I thought of the hypnosis scenes from Get Out.

Doctor Sleep is a film about addressing the past and confronting demons so that they can be laid to rest and people can progress forward. It’s also a film about closure and making peace with your past, the relationships therein and the wounds that until then never seemed to heal.

Doctor Sleep is a brilliant film and throughly deserves to be the sequel to such a revered and loved horror classic. And if Ewan McGregor doesn’t get a tip of the hat from The Academy then theres something VERY wrong happening.

Which makes me think. This years could have nominations for Joaquin Phoenix for The Joker, Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrence. This years Oscars might be good for a change. Carl Lumbly definitely deserves to win plaudits for his extraordinary performance.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Layabout crazy cat Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler under the hilarious pseudonym Cash Flagg), his girlfriend Angela and his friend Harold go to the seaside to visit a carnival there. After getting their fortunes told they see the fortune tellers sister Carmelita who is a stripper. Jerry is seen by Angela to be staring a bit too intently at Carmelita and so leaves in a huff with Harold. With them gone Jerry decides to go and watch Carmelita’s strip show (the carnival has it’s own nightclub that holds such entertainment. The name of this establishment is, wait for it, The Hungry Mouth which rivals only The Flaming Cave Lounge from John Waters’ Female Trouble in terms of a brilliant name for an establishment of that kind).

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Jerry is then lured to Carmelita’s dressing room where he is hypnotised. This then turns Jerry into a ruthless killer of which afterwards he has no memory of. He had in fact killed two characters whilst he was in his murderous trance-like state. He also tries to throttle Angela to death the next day.

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Hypnosis!

Carmelita’s plot is then revealed. She has been throwing acid into people’s faces which turns them into zombies (!) and then keeping them captive.

But Jerry then decides to confront Carmelita as he keeps having flashbacks and knows that something isn’t quite right ever since he visited Carmelita at the carnival. This all builds to a very eventful climax.

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Carmelita uses the same foundation as Donatella Versace

This is pure Drive-In B movie goodness. Theres so much to like here. The hypnosis scenes, the hallucinatory dream sequence Jerry has, the zombies, the song and dance sequences at the nightclub (one of the girls can be seen chewing gum as she performs her dance moves. Now that’s attention to detail and classy to boot!).

The film also has a colour palate which can make your eyes water. I had several acid flashbacks whilst watching this gem.

I first found out about this film from reading the cult film bible Incredibly Strange films from Re:Search publishing at the tender age of 14. This book treats Steckler as some kind of god in much the same way more pedestrian film fans look up to John Ford. And they’re right. Steckler is an Orson Welles for the perverse.

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And John Waters is a huge fan.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Day 18- 31 Days of Halloween- The Forest (1982)

Two couples decide to go camping in the woods. Arriving separately (darn that wonky radiator!), they soon realise that the woods aren’t as peaceful and reinvigorating as they first thought. It is in fact a killing ground for a father who mudered his philandering  wife, went mad and took his two young children to live in a cave. Unfortunately they got sick and killed themselves. Daddy has been killing anyone stupid enough to camp in his woods ever since and eating their remains. Insanity does that to you.

The Forest is one of the more, erm, extreme entries in the ‘City Folk vs Hillbillies’ horror genre which is really saying something when you think about how outthere some of the other films in this genre are (Deliverance and it’s ‘squeal like a pig’ sequence springs to mind and that was a studio film!).

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The film starts almost like a zany and not very funny comedy movie made for TV about the two witless and dull couples deciding to live in the wilderness for the weekend (you almost expect the TV listing to include the words ‘with hilarious consequences!’). Thank God the makers of this decided on making a horror movie instead. In the genre it’s quite natural to set up irritating characters to have them despatched by the ruthless killer. It puts the audience firmly on the side of the killer as we root for him to kill the boring couples in even more of a sick and twisted fashion.

I love the fact that the couple of guys decide to eat with the hunter whilst being blissfully unaware that a) he is the killer and b) the meat on the barbecue could very well be the remains of one of the women who arrived before them and was promptly bumped off.

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I also love the fact that the ghosts of the killer’s children appear to the campers to warn them that ‘Daddy’s gone a-huntin’!’ and to warn them if he’s near.

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The kills are gory (thankfully) and the scenery is glorious. This isn’t some lost gem of the horror genre but I’ve seen much, much worse. Check out the DVD/Blu ray release of this and compare with the VHS transfer thats on YouTube. The difference is astounding.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween- Unhinged (1982)

Three women are travelling to a music festival but crash their car. They awake in the isolated mansion of an elderly matriarch and her daughter.

I love this film and not just because I found it in Poundland of all places.

This is a chiller that keeps you guessing until the shocking and completely nutty climax. Look at how great the film is framed and notice the tight editing. This film packs in so much but without any unnecessary filler. Also experience one of the sleaziest soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s like the director knew he was making a shocker that was destined to be a video nasty.

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And that just what happened. The film was classified by the BBFC as an 18 but was then placed on the DPP list and banned anyway. This has meant that it has earned it’s place in horror history rather than being a very good movie that faded into obscurity. Thats one good aspect of the Video Nasties list.

The violence is graphic, the tone unique to this film alone. I hope this gets the Blu ray treatment it richly deserves.

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The ending is shocking in a Sleepaway Camp kind of way. Un-PC in these over sensitive times but thats just what makes me love the film even more.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- The Cure- Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park

Review- The Cure- Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park

I was very excited when I learnt that not only had Tim Pope filmed The Cure’s anniversary show in Hyde Park last year but also that it was going to be shown in cinemas worldwide. But first, let me rewind a bit.

I first discovered The Cure in 1986 at the tender age of 11. My brother’s friend was singing some song lyrics which really intrigued me. When I enquired further she said the song was Killing An Arab and that her brother had bought the new Cure singles album ‘Standing on a Beach’. My interest was sparked enough for me to go out and buy said album and dip my toe into the world of alternative music.

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The album was a perfect introduction with every track being perfectly conceived but with the band audibly evolving and mutating over time with each new incarnation of the group.

What also impressed me was that this was a band who seemed to love their back catalogue and wanting to have it fully available in the public domain for fans to enjoy. Hence, in addition to the LP version of the album which contained all of the singles, the band also released a cassette edition that had the band’s B-sides on it’s second side, a video compilation that contained all of the videos, videos that were made for songs that weren’t released as singles and home video interludes in-between each video. The CD version of the album had an extended tracklisting that mirrored the video compliations songlist.

The video compilation Staring At The Sun- The Images was a revelation. The early videos depicted the band as either a band of angry young men stuck in a studio with some very dated looking vision mixing or as long coat wearing gloom merchants with an innovative sound and equally innovative hair.

But then the band allowed possibly the most insane, demented and brilliant pop video director of that era to visualise their amazing 1982 disco (yes, disco!) single Let’s Go To Bed. Just as this song broke the mould when it came to The Cure as a musical entity (it was even recorded the same year as the band’s Pornography album which is one of the most savagely downbeat albums ever made), Pope broke the mould when it came to The Cure’s videos and in fact, anyone’s videos. He depicted the band as just as colourful, multi-faceted and hallucinatory as their music and it worked beautifully. They even started to smile in front of the camera as if they were genuinely enjoying themselves.

The year after the release of Standing on a Beach the concert film ‘The Cure In Orange’ which was also directed by Pope was released. Tim was now established as the only video director who the band would work with and so it was only natural that he would direct the band’s first live film.

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Filmed at The Theatre Antique d’Orange in France the band used the ancient environs as an amazing backdrop for an hour and a half trip through their amazing back-catalogue.

I was gutted at the time that I didn’t get to see the film on the big screen as it was only shown at cinemas in selected big cities in the UK before a video release.

And now here we are in 2019 and I’m getting to see the band on the big screen and with a different line-up. The band’s 40th anniversary gig held at Hyde Park in London in July 2018 was filmed (thankfully by Tim Pope) in 4K with the sound being mixed at Abbey Road by Robert Smith himself.

Was it as good as I hope it would be? In a word- yes. In fact, it was much better than I hoped it would be and I thought it would be pretty amazing before I actually saw it.

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The backdrop this time is the London skyline as we see the time span that the band play change from early evening to dusk and then to nighttime. Who knew that nature would bring such a brilliant and dramatic tone to events but it does and it works wonderfully.

Whilst the band perform some of their best known songs (Friday I’m in Love, Lovesong, In Between Days) this isn’t a Greatest Hits set. There are rare airings of Grinding Halt, Jumping Someone Else’s Train and The Caterpillar- songs that fans of the band will know but may be unheard by more casual listeners.

The film also does the impossible. I kind of switched off from The Cure on the release of the album Disintegration as at the time I found it to be overlong, a bit ‘middle-aged’ (oh, the irony) and somewhat flabby. This film has made me buy said album again and also play other tracks that I didn’t particularly care for on their release such as High, Friday I’m in Love and Never Enough as they were played so brilliantly by the band during the gig. This last track especially shows the brilliance of the group as a touring ensemble. On it’s release I dismissed the one-off single as The Cure desperately trying to ‘go baggy’ and fit in with the whole vile Madchester scene that was so popular with NME and Melody Maker journo wankers. However, within the film the song now truly swaggers with it’s stop/start brilliance and audience participation. Madchester is now (thankfully) a distant memory and so it’s associations don’t marr the track’s brilliance anymore.

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History judges everything and the passage of time has judged these songs very well indeed as it has the whole of The Cure’s back catalogue. The fact that they have evolved in great ways when played live by such a great touring unit also helps immeasurably. And the band are on such top form that they just keep peaking at various points throughout the set. This ensures that the film and the band never drags. The only criticism that has been levelled against the band recently by certain silly music journalists has been that their concerts are too long. This is twaddle. The band are very evidently in love with performing their music and this comes across in spades throughout the whole of the film. If only more bands were like The Cure.

Tim Pope’s direction also brings several different layers to this concert film. He knows when to be restrained and when to work his visual magic. Hence we get songs like Plainsong that need no visual trickery at all. But then the film twists, turns and gets significantly more freaky visually with every song. Pope employs the kind of direction and effects that have never been seen in a concert film before this. I remember at one point during the film watching the band seemingly shifting in size and form whilst beams of colour radiate from them and the stage. I thought to myself that it felt like I had just dropped really good acid whilst actually being at the event. Thats quite a feat for a concert film.

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Pope also references the past (check out The Walk and the way the editing is a nod and wink to the editing of the original video).

With Pope’s relationship with the band spanning several decades the audience gets to peek into aspects of this that would otherwise never be shared and remain private. Hence, there are several moments of humour and insightful behaviour that are captured on film. One of these is the brilliant first moment we see Smith- he sarcastically waves at the camera and instantly breaks the fourth wall…in fact Pope documents many moments that show Robert not to be the morose singer that lazy journalists would have you believe he is but more the master of deadpan humour, an example of which was also seen recently when the clip of him being inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame went viral.

There seems to be a whole narrative of band relations and genuine chemistry throughout the course of the film which is fascinating to watch and partly explains why the band have lasted so long and why this line-up is such a brilliant live entity.

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If there is one abiding emotion I got from this film it’s just utter joy- at seeing a beautifully crafted film of such a brilliant band who are still at the top of their game. And I kept finding myself smiling at finally getting to see the legend that is Robert Smith on the big screen. The Cure In Orange now needs to find a Blu Ray release with it playing cinemas across the country to support it’s release.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Review- The China Syndrome (1978)

Review- The China Syndrome (1978)

On visiting the Ventura nuclear power plant, journalist Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman Richard Adams (Michael Douglas) find themselves witnessing and experiencing a major emergency when something goes wrong with a turbine malfunctioning causing the plant to go through the procedure of an emergency shutdown. This shows that the plant isn’t as safe as the plant’s management would have everyone believe. Whilst this was going on Adams secretly films the whole thing.

When a superior at the TV station where they work won’t let the secret footage be televised, Adams decides to steal the footage from the station’s vault room and show it to experts who can say exactly what happened at the plant and how dangerous it was. They say that the plant narrowly avoided a ‘china syndrome’ in which the plant’s core would have melted down into the ground, hit water there and emitted radioactive steam into the atmosphere which could have spread over a considerable radius.

Add to this that the plant employee who helped avoid this catastrophic event happening, Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) also sees other signs that all is not well at the plant including a pool of radioactive water that has leaked from a pump and radiograph images of welds and how strong they are that are identical showing that the same one was just submitted again and again.

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How the film was reviewed in The Yorkshire Evening Post on it’s original release. 

A quest to get the truth out then ensues with potentially life threatening obstacles being placed in our protagonist’s way. And this is a major theme within the film- should the truth be exposed and will the truth be exposed.

With this premise firmly in place the film becomes a prime (and brilliant) example of paranoid 70’s cinema alongside films like The Parallax View- movies that show once trusted organisations containing people in positions of power that may now have their own darker agendas once corruption and money have clouded affairs.

Within the film theres also a subtle and very perceptive look at gender roles in the workplace and the glass ceiling actively in operation. Kimberley Wells wants to televise this story as firstly, she wants the truth to come out for the good of everyone but also because she wants to make the move into serious journalism. Wells is seen by the station as someone who is ‘paid to smile and not think’ (as the trailer perceptively states) as we see the kind of stories that she gets to report on- usually end of the night, lighthearted piffle designed to lift viewer’s hearts after the more serious, ‘real’ news has been reported.

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A ‘Spot the Difference’ contest in The Yorkshire Evening Post’ used to publicise the film! In keeping with the film’s theme the prize should have been a microwave oven. A missed opportunity. 

The film is another example of a 70’s movie that shows California very well indeed. The cinematography is brilliant with the highways and landscapes looking especially beautiful.

Finally, The China Syndrome is also a very important film as it’s one of Jane Fonda’s best ‘Hair-Do Hall of Fame’ movies. Her tsunami of red hair is just as iconic and epoch-defining as her Klute feather cut or her 9 To 5 do. Just sayin’.

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Screw nuclear power. Look at that hair!

4 stars out of 5.

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

10 To Midnight (1983)- J. Lee Thompson’s Vigilante Slasher Sleazefest

I remember one of the first films my family rented when we first got a video recorder (VCR to my American buddies) in 1983 was the Charles Bronson sleazefest 10 To Midnight. OK, I know it sounds weird that such a lurid piece of exploitation was hired for a cosy night of family movie watching but (luckily) my Dad thought that the Daily Mail moral panic when it came to film violence and the dreaded ‘video nasties’ was just plain bs. Thus I got to see 10 To Midnight and such fare from the age of 8 and onwards. And I turned out OK. Right?!

10 To Midnight was released on Guild Home Video- ahh, the memories of the Guild introductory pulse theme tune…of the many pieces of music which remind me of just how awesome the 80’s were this is one of them.

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I hadn’t seen this piece of celluloid slime in a long time and so I thought it was well overdue for a rewatch.

The plot involves a homicidal maniac called Warren Stacy (an extrordinary performance by Gene Davis who had starred as a transsexual hooker in the masterpiece Cruising three years previous) who kills women who rebuff his advances and the cop Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) who is determined to catch him. By a bizarre twist Stacy sees Kessler’s daughter at the funeral of one of his victims (an ex co-worker who gave him the cold shoulder and paid for it) as she was a childhood friend of the deceased.

Is the film as grimy, perverted and kick-ass as I remember? In a word- YES!

One thing that I found particularly interesting about the film on watching it again was how it perfectly mirrors the general moviegoing public’s populist tastes of the time. 10 To Midnight is a perfect hybrid of both vigilante film and slasher movie which was brave as the filmmakers could have just played it safe and churned out another Charles Bronson vehicle starring a functional but uninteresting adversary.

Instead they made a film with a killer who was just as interesting and quirky as Bronson’s character. In fact, Gene Davis who plays Warren Stacy gives a performance that truly goes the extra mile! It’s a freaky turn that is comparable with Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th or Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry- performances that are so full-on and brilliant when portraying mentally unstable people that they are utterly believeable but without curdling into camp or pantomimesque theatrics.

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Gene Davis as Warren Stacy

Not only were the vigilante and slasher genres popular at the cinema but also with the home video audiences of the day. The video was rapidly building in stature and earning a reputation as a ‘must have’ piece of technology for every home. Thus video shops started to spring up everywhere with the more extreme genres proving to be the most popular with the general public. Ahh, the golden days when video shop shelves were filled with wall to wall horror, action and kung-fu movies, each with lurid and sensationalistic cover artwork. The makers of 10 To Midnight knew this all too well and so made a movie that perfectly tapped into this creatively and without making some obvious cynical cash-in.

You’re probably thinking that as this is a Charles Bronson movie you know the kind of formula to expect. But this film actually subverts that narrative. Instead of a Death Wish vibe this film actually has a Dirty Harry-type storyline in that instead of being a ‘civilian who fights back’ here Mr Bronson is ‘the cop who bends the law to apprehend the bad guy’ but with a sting in the tail.

This narrative is always problematic. Kessler is only acting on a hunch when he thinks he knows who is carrying out the murders of the women in the film. The viewer has the advantage of the ‘all seeing eye’ of the film to confirm that Warren is carrying out these sadistic homicides but Leo doesn’t. Kessler bends the rules in a number of different ways with regards to Stacey during the course of the film based on this ‘hunch’ which in real life would make for terrible policing.

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Charles Bronson as Leo Kessler

In fact this ‘all seeing eye’ awarded to the film’s audience is something that elevates this movie from just being a stock post-Death Wish Charles Bronson film. We get to see the devilish deeds of Stacy and how much of a depraved, sleazy and warped character he really is. In other words, he’s perfect for an early 80’s exploitation movie.

Stacy’s character points the film firmly towards slasher movie territory. Theres also a nod towards the ‘true crime’ genre of documentaries and pulp paperbacks as the film and Warren’s character seem to be influenced by real life felons and ‘serial killer as celebrity’ culture.

The first time we see him in the film he’s getting ready to go out for the night. He’s very good looking, has a perfect body and is very vain with it. There’s a vibe of Ted Bundy crossed with a proto-Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) about him. Stacy even drives a VW Beetle which was synonymous with Bundy.

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Sharply dressed men- Stacy…
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…and Bateman

We then see him chatting up a couple of young women in a cinema but only to make sure they recognise him and can later vouch for his whereabouts. He’s constructing his own alibi whilst the audience can see what he really does. He sneaks out of the movie theater through a bathroom window once the film has started, stalks a woman who rebuffed him at his work picnic (!) and murders both her and her date at a lakeside location. This scene is very important to the film as a whole. It establishes that this is as much a slasher movie as it is a Bronson action flick. The fact that the young woman and her partner were mid-carnal encounter hammers this home even further with such an act being a sin within the slasher genre.

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‘You come here often?!’ Stacy establishes his alibi by chatting up two women at the cinema

It also establishes a key feature of the killer and the film’s sleaziness as a whole. He likes to strip naked prior to killing his victims. In fact, there were two versions of this film made- one in which Davis is completely naked in the murder scenes and another in which he is only wearing briefs. This tactic would make sure that there was at least one version of the film which could be shown on TV without it being deemed too sexually explicit.

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A still from the ‘briefs’ version of the film

With this first murder, notice the way the woman is killed with the camera invading her body space and the prolonged, almost uncomfortably long time that it takes for Stacy to actually bump her off. This allows the audience to fully see her terrified reaction to her impending fate. The film milks this for all it’s worth especially with the fact that both victim and murderer are naked. You get to witness how twisted and perverted Stacy really is with the audience getting the impression that he is enjoying the build up to the murder almost as much as the actual deed itself. The terror he evokes from his victim is very much the foreplay to the terrible deed itself.

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The all-nude first lakeside murder

When Stacy climbs back into the cinema he flushes down the toilet the rubber gloves he was wearing when he killed the lakeside couple. This is another interesting facet of the film. The movie shows the killer to be forensically minded. This was years before the multiple CSI series brought that aspect of policing and criminality into the sphere of entertainment. We later see more examples of Stacy being forensically aware as we witness him thoroughly washing the knife he uses to kill the roommate of the previous victim whose diary Stacy goes to seize. Stacy even uses rubber gloves when we see him making dirty phone calls from various public phone booths as to not leave fingerprints on the receiver.

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The forensically-minded Stacy wearing gloves when going to steal the incriminating diary

When the diary of one of Warren’s victims (who is also one of his workmates) exposes the deceased’s true feelings towards him (‘a creep’) this makes him a suspect in Kessler’s eyes even though the journal also mentions other men in a less than flattering light. Leo and his partner, McAnn decide to visit Stacy at his apartment. It’s when asking to use the toilet that Kessler has a look around in Warren’s bathroom. He spies some porno magazines (these are shown to be gay porn- is Warren, in fact, a closet homosexual? Has the killer placed these there as a red herring for any potentially preying eyes? Are the filmmakers trying to imply that this is why he hates women?) but more importantly, a device used for masturbation.

A major factor to the film’s overall sleaziness is that theres an equal emphasis on sex as there is on violence. We even got some Freudian film analysis as Kessler exclaims that in this case the knife used in the murders symbolises the killer’s penis. Not bad for an exploitation film.

Warren is interviewed. In one of the most notorious scenes of the film, the sexual aid is brought out with Bronson sarcastically asking what the appliance is used for before roaring ‘It’s for jacking off!’ It’s during this meeting that we find out about an incident from Warren’s childhood that adds to Kessler’s sense of unease about him- he cut a small girl, was reported to the police by the girl’s mother and so as retaliation smashed one of her windows and threw a dead cat inside. Kessler also becomes a bit too ‘hands on’ during his interrogation of Stacy, at one point grabbing his head to make sure he looks at pictures of the murdered women. Leo is firmly from the ‘act first, ask questions later’ school of policing. But, whilst a policeman like Leo may be great in an exploitation film from the 70’s and 80’s, would we really want such authority figures operating in real life?

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A different kind of juice extractor

Kessler is willing to bend the rules and even resort to violence to get a confession. This is extremely problematic and will backfire on Leo later on in the film.

Kessler asks his superior to get Warren brought in on a spurious charge that he didn’t commit just to keep him off the street where he might kill more women (even though Leo doesn’t know for sure that he’s the killer). McAnn has a dual role in the film. Not only is he Kessler’s ‘by the book’ police partner but he also acts as some kind of moral balance to Kessler’s ‘make my day’ gung-ho method of policing.

Kessler’s view on law and order is also extolled when he states that he sees the law as protecting the ‘maggots’ such as Stacy as if they were ‘an endangered species’ after he learns that a lack of concrete evidence would prevent Warren from being arrested and tried in a court of law.

Stacy stalking the nursing apartment complex where Leo’s daughter Laurie lives and making the nuisance phone calls also mines into events that a lot of viewers could relate to that are very much of their time. During the early 80’s these kind of calls were all too commonplace with telephone companies not yet having mastered the practice of tracing where a call was coming from.  Sourcing a call in those days was a laborious task and hadn’t really advanced from the same method so brilliantly depicted in Bob Clark’s masterpiece Black Christmas in 1974.

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Stacy makes nuisance phone calls to his victims. Note the rubber gloves and ‘Equalizer opening credits’ style chic

The houseshare of nurses also points the film towards the ‘slasher’ genre. There have been other examples of this conceit used in stalk n slash films before and since with one of the most innovative being the movie Slumber Party Massacre in which girls are in a confined space which provides easy pickings for the deranged psychopath. Within 10 To Midnight this scenario also echoes real life events, primarily the Chi Omega murders carried out by Ted Bundy after he escaped from jail. Bundy appears to have massively influenced this film and it’s narrative.

But before the film shows this sorority house invasion by Stacy we see more of the corrupted version of ‘justice’ which is engineered by Kessler. He goes into the crime laboratory whereby he sees the lab technician smoking marijuana. He tells the tech that he will turn a blind eye. Obviously this will work both ways later on as when Kessler asks for the tech to retrieve a file for him he sneaks into the DNA evidence room and extracts a sample of Stacy’s blood. Kessler’s thinking is that if he is willing to turn a blind eye then the lab technician will surely do the same for him.

When blood is suddenly found on the forensically fastidious Stacy’s clothes, Warren is informed of this by his crooked lawyer. He doesn’t react to this news well and becomes extremely agitated and violent. We get the feeling that with Stacy taking such pride in being methodically precise with all of the circumstances surrounding his killings, this forensic indiscretion is known to him to be both false and an example of him being framed. This news is a distinct slap in the face for him and the professionalism of his methods.

Kessler meddling in affairs by trying to engineer the justice he desires so much sets into motion a domino effect of events which 10 To Midnight is brave enough to depict. Within a vigilante or rogue cop film we normally only see the positive effects of such law bending rather than what can go wrong.

Stacy’s lawyer, Dave Dante, states to Kessler’s ‘by the book’ partner McAnn that he believes that the blood was planted on his client’s clothes. McAnn follows up on this with the lab tech who mentions that Kessler disappeared to the room where the blood samples are kept. When McAnn mentions this to Leo he confirms that he did plant the blood on Stacy’s clothes.

Because of this Leo confesses during Warren’s trial that he did in fact plant the evidence himself. The film then shows the dire consequences of such actions- the waste of public money for the trial being held, Warren Stacy being set free when he could be guilty of the alleged crimes (something that the audience knows to be true but the film’s characters don’t for certain), the fact that Kessler has snubbed his nose at due process. Leo is then fired because of his actions. Such resultant actions that occurred because of Kessler’s meddling with justice shows that the movie is much more than just 42nd Street and drive-in fare. It’s great to see that the movie is well-rounded enough to show that such tactics can have the opposite effects instead of what was hoped for.

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Stacy is set free with Dante beside him (right)

Dante also tells Warren something very telling during their pre-trial consultation. He advises his client to ‘act crazy’ as a last resort. This could involve saying that he thinks he is in fact two people and hears conflicting voices from both- a ‘bad’ personality telling a ‘good’ personality what to do. It’s a widely held presumption that a criminal can have a cushier time serving their sentence in a mental facility rather than permanently looking over their shoulder in a maximum security prison where a prisoner’s survival isn’t always guaranteed. This view also resonates with similar views held in real life. A prison guard overheard Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe tell his wife Sonia that if he just convinces the jury that he is ‘mad’ and not ‘bad’ then his sentence served in a psychiatric hospital will be a doddle and he could even be released sooner. Another nod to real life ‘true crime’ culture that the film references.

On being set free, Stacey rings Kessler to taunt him about his deeds backfiring. He also intimates that he will continue with his terror campaign. This in turn spurs Leo on to wage war and intimidate Stacey in a number of ways that include breaking into Warren’s workplace and placing crime scene photographs on the staff noticeboard for all and sundry to see, driving next to Stacy to unsettle him, loitering outside Stacey’s apartment block (McAnn again acts as Leo’s conscience and approaches him to tell him that he shouldn’t be there) and breaking into Warren’s apartment and sabotaging his stereo so that it starts playing loud music when Stacy enters. These are deliberate intrusions of Warren’s territory by Leo and a clear indication that Kessler can infringe on Stacey’s private space just like Warren has to countless other women.

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Kessler drives next to Stacy and makes his intrusive presence known to him

Stacey knows that Kessler is watching his every move outside his apartment and so decides to shake him off so that he can deal with a more prescient task- the dispatching of Leo’s daughter as an act of superiority over him and to hit Leo truly where it hurts.

The audience gets a sudden detour into nocturnal downtown L.A. with it’s peepshows, hookers and grindhouse theaters. Stacey picks up a hooker fully knowing that Kessler will follow but then slips out of a window in the motel he has lured Kessler to. He then goes to Laurie’s shared accommodation.

This is where the slasher component of the film comes to the fore again. In an incredible moment of self-reference, the nurses in the houseshare even refer to Stacy as ‘the slasher’ when McAnn is setting up a tap on their phone for when Stacy calls them again.

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Whilst Kessler is on the phone urging one of Laurie’s roommates to not open the door to anyone, another roommate is opening the door to what she thinks is a delivery of roses for Laurie from McAnn. But this is instead Stacy, naked and armed with a knife. He even has his trademark rubber gloves on, forensically aware to the end.

This sequence is quite extraordinary even within the extreme genres of the vigilante movie and the slasher film. Firstly, it’s audacious that a film should attempt a scene with a killer who is completely naked and somehow manage to do so whilst not inadvertently exposing any of the villain’s ‘crown jewels’. In a number of shots this is even done by the filmmakers with tongue firmly in cheek (pun not intended). Witness the scene where the killer’s modesty is masked by the body of one of the roommates being held close to him. In another, Laurie is under a bed hiding from Stacey but watching his every move. His manhood is hidden from view when he steps in front of a bedpost.

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The bare cheek of the film: the nursing apartment home invasion

This scene also goes the extra mile as it feels extremely uncomfortable to watch just like the earlier lakeside murder sequence. The extreme terror of the women going through these traumatic proceedings is there for all to see and feels like a nod of the cap to films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left. This kind of gritty and unflinching capturing of sheer fear was, with this film, transported from the sidelines of drive-in and grindhouse cinema and now made an ingredient within a mainstream Hollywood film with a ‘name’ leading actor. That was a very brave move to make.

Within this sequence it’s obvious Stacy is getting off on the terror he is evoking and so he takes his time before the actual dispatching of his quarry to elicit as much pure fear from them as possible. These scenes feel necessary to the plot because of this rather than being a cheap and very sick device. This isn’t just the pornography of terror.

The end of this sequence is also noteworthy. Laurie evades Stacey’s clutches by hitting him where it hurts- but not where you think with him being naked. As Laurie tries to leave the apartment she is grabbed from behind by Stacy but retaliates by scolding his face with a pair of curling tongs that were being used just prior to Warren’s home invasion. Aside from kicking him in the balls, this is the worst place to attack someone that the film has established as being so vain.

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‘Not the face!’ Laurie hits Warren where it really hurts

We then see the leadup to the final scene and confrontation between Stacy and Kessler. This involves seeing Stacy (still naked!) chasing Laurie outside (thankfully for Stacy the street is very quiet). Warren is catching up with her when we see her run into the arms of her father. When Leo admonishes Warren for his actions, Stacy tries to say that he only did them because of Kessler’s treatment towards him which cajoled him into further action. Warren then adopts the ‘I’m mad!’ narrative that his lawyer prepped him with earlier. The police arrive but Warren momentarily evades their clutches only to be shot dead by Kessler.

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The final scene. Bronson as judge, jury and executioner

This final scene is the perfect meeting point of the slasher and the vigilante movie genres. The bad guy is meeting justice from the gun of the flawed good guy who has assumed the mantle of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. The bad guy is naked. He’s also just exclaimed to the world how insane he really is and that when he gets out he’ll continue his murderous ways.

Apparently Kessler and Stacy were supposed to fight at the end of the movie. However, Bronson objected to this as he didn’t want to roll around with a naked man!

10 To Midnight also has two other distinct advantages that seal it’s ‘classic’ status.

Firstly, it’s a Cannon Film- an obvious seal of exploitation excellence.

Secondly, ‘esteemed’ film critic Roger Ebert despised 10 To Midnight when he reviewed it which, if nothing else, should propel any self-respecting exploitation fan to want to investigate the film further. Did he not know that his review would actually send gorehounds to the cinemas in droves to see it? Tell me if these titbits from his review don’t whet your appetite-

”This is a scummy little sewer of a movie, a cesspool that lingers sadistically on shots of a killer terrifying and killing helpless women…”

”The movie lingers on the faces of screaming women. It revels in its bloodbaths. Gore spurts all over the screen. The final sequence is so disgusting that I wrote the first sentence of this review in my mind while I was watching it.”

Nice job, Roger. I’m there!

10 To Midnight is out now on Blu ray on the ever brilliant Scream Factory