Any real horror buff has pictured themselves in a film of their sub-genre of choice, whether it be imagining how they'd elude a slasher like Jason Vorhees or Michael Meyers, cope with a haunting by an apparition, escape a torture porn factory, or survive an outbreak of the undead. With so many films in the genre being made every year, and with an ever-growing pile of corpses from the victims of these films, it's hard to not let one's mind wander in such a fashion.
Of course, the genre has also had to face a somewhat hilarious conundrum due to the near-perpetual number of films released each year: should a movie show its characters being completely self-aware of the horror conventions and films and know how to survive them due to such knowledge, or should they pretend that those involved in such a tale have no knowledge of horror whatsoever, falling prey to cliche after cliche?
Such is the line that films like 'Midnight Movie' must toe. When a classic horror film audience consisting of a small group of friends (in addition to two cops and a biker pair) witness the dispatch of someone they know, they think a prank is being pulled on them, especially when the "victims" cannot be found, only pools of blood. But as the coincidences start to add up, the characters begin to realize they're not in some candid camera show...they're in a horror film!
The setup for this film is perfect. The star/writer/director of 'The Dark Beneath' is committed to New Haven, a mental facility, and requests to see his film, which he is obsessed with. When he finally gets his wish, he disappears, but a puddle of blood spelling out a warning in another language is the precursor to a slaughter at the facility, which, only five years later, is more urban legend than fact, setting up the events to happen in the theater where 'The Dark Beneath' is to be screened as a midnight movie.
'Midnight Movie' wants to be as realistic as possible, with its group of young moviegoers being quite diverse in attitude, though excessively annoying, much like modern audiences, talking over the film with complete disregard for other paying customers. Sadly, these same characters think outloud, as they cannot express opinions without speaking them, a rookie mistake from a rookie writer (and director), Jack Messitt.
I found the film to be quite refreshing, and somewhat believable, in an unbelievable way. The characters at first laugh along with what they think is an elaborate hoax, only to stop laughing when they realize it's real, and instead start to think only about survival, with many abandoning friendship or love for the chance at life. The Killer (who is not given a name, and is only credited as Killer) is a Leatherface rip off of sorts, but that doesn't change him from being any less enjoyable for a one and done villain.
'Midnight Movie' is short (82 min), and absolutely flies by for the first half, even through the awful acting jobs (even Brea Grant is subpar). The latter half reduces the film to a bumbling mess, however, one that seems to crawl and prolong the viewing experience in a bad way. The characters' actions stop making sense, and the film takes a turn for the bizarre...as if a film villain attacking a real life audience weren't bizarre enough. Plot is abandoned for sake of a series of slash and hack kills that lack innovation, for the most part, and the entire experience is reduced to a horror music video of sorts, only with shoddy special effects.
Horror fans may get a kick out of this, as it feels very much like a well made episode of the Masters of Horror series, with the main difference being the veteran presence of the defining directors vs. the youth and enthusiasm of a newcomer, often leading to mistakes. The bottom line is that, while very flawed, the film was still entertaining.
'Midnight Movie' comes to Blu-ray from Phase 4 Films with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's natural 1.85:1 ratio. For a film with a budget this low ($1 million), that was made two years ago but is barely seeing the light of day, I went into this with low expectations. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised.
Detail is sharp, with facial features like bumps, stubble, gray hairs, lines, and wrinkles popping off characters' faces. Skin tones are accurate, colors are sharp, blacks are deep. There is no sign of edge enhancement whatsoever. What's more, there's no evidence of DNR application or any other post-production tinkering.
There are a few shortcomings to this transfer, but nowhere near as many as I was expecting going into this. Shadow delineation is awful, with blacks absorbing any detail around them, while grain levels don't stay consistent, from nearly non-existant to about average, and back again. Lastly, in 'The Dark Beneath' sequences, the "aging" of this fake film is so artificial that it's a massive distraction, with no dirt, skips, or stutters, but more vertical lines than every New York Yankees uniform in history.
While the video looked much better than most films of this relative obscurity, the audio end of 'Midnight Movie' sounds about as cheap as the film itself was, and despite the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, there is only so much that can be done.
Dialogue is always intelligible, but isn't always prioritized, as the film plays to horror convention by highlighting bass whenever possible. My subwoofer rumbled at will, sometimes prolonged to accent entire scenes, highlighting the motorcycle's engine, and every right foot drag from Killer had a roar that was akin to the sequences with him sharpening his blade on the grinder. The electricity kill has a gorgeous bass rumble, accompanied by a high pitched squeal that pulsed and danced throughout the sound stage.
Sadly, many lines have a light feedback behind them, or sound muted when they're clean. Many noises in the film sound utterly artificial, while the film had an amazingly front heavy feel, rarely truly utilizing the surrounds, despite the constant capability. Still, for a cheap indy horror, 'Midnight Movie' doesn't sound all that bad.
Since the DVD release of 'Midnight Movie' was barebones, all of the extras on this release are exclusive to the Blu-ray.
I've always been a fan of Hollywood on Hollywood films, and 'Midnight Movie' very much appeals to this sensibility, much like 'Scream,' a horror film taking on horror films. Very strong video with average audio, supplemented with an actual supplement package, a lower MSRP than the barebones DVD, and an early release at many Wal-Mart stores (for the bargain price of ten bucks) makes this a release with minimal risk, but great potential gain.