Midnight is a gritty 1982 satanic slasher from John Russo the co-writer of Night of the Living Dead (‘68). When devout teenager Nancy runs away from her abusive stepfather she and two friends fall prey to a family of backwoods Satanists. Starring Lawrence Tierney, and John Amplas, this low budget shocker showcases special makeup effects from the great Tom Savini. Severin Films brings this hidden gem to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package and plenty of special features to please fans. Recommended.
“Obviously she’s jailbait.”
The film opens on a devil-worshipping mother and her four kids coming across a young girl caught in a bear trap. As the injured girl screams out in pain the mother explains to the kids that this girl is in fact a demon hiding in a girl’s body. They knock her out and later on daughter Cynthia sacrifices the girl on an altar to Satan at midnight. Those familiar with director John Russo will know him from either his involvement with George Romero's Night of the Living Dead or his line of filmmaking seminars. Midnight marks the director's most popular foray into independent horror.
After devout teenager Nancy (Melanie Verlin) goes to confession she chats away on the phone hoping to get the family car for the evening. Her cop stepdad Bert (Lawrence Tierney, The Prowler) comes home drunk after the night shift and attempts to rape her. Nancy clocks him in the head with an Am/FM radio and leaves hoping to hitchhike to California and stay with her sister. She is picked up by two guys named Tom (John Hall, Surf Nazis Must Die) and Hank (Charles Jackson) who are heading to Florida for spring break. Cruising through country roads the crew encounters plenty of racist yokels while they shoplift groceries and evade the police. Finding a secluded spot to camp out the trio is discovered by a family of backwoods Satanists who terrorize them to please the matriarch of the sadistic group.
Midnight is mostly an uneven endeavor until Nancy starts running from the cops. The introduction to our satan worshipping family gets the proceedings in high gear but until we’re met with the same energy again it falls flat. Nancy’s journey allows for some moments showcasing the racism in the small towns they pass through, adding tension to the mix. Director John Russo leans heavily into social, religious, and race themes, but exiles the real horror to the third act. Influenced by Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Mother’s Day, the film’s rural Pennsylvania setting and religious themes make this an interesting low-budget slasher. Ultimately what makes this cult curiosity work so well is that no character is ever safe from an untimely and gory end.
Special effects makeup is credited to Tom Savini whose work here is limited in scope but doesn’t disappoint. His effects are very solid with stabs, gunshots, and throat slices producing believable blood draw without appearing over the top. It all works well for a horror/thriller that never feels committed to the idea of gore. Midnight approaches kill scenes with a slight hesitation whether through performance or editing which stalls the momentum and instead kills the tension rather than the victim.
Performances are solid for a low-budget horror flick. Melanie Verlin’s portrayal of Nancy is believable as she navigates the gritty landscape of rural Satanists while holding onto her own beliefs for salvation. She has this androgynous Jodie Foster thing going which works surprisingly well. John Amplas (Martin) and Greg Besnak (Knightriders) are excellent as the unhinged brothers hoping to please their mother while scouring the countryside for girls. Lawrence Tierney kills it as Bert the drunken stepdad! He may be sleepwalking through the performance a bit but compared to the others involved it's great to see him stumbling around hunting Satanists.
Russo presents the futility of organized belief whether it's Satanism or Catholicism to the viewer as we’re taken deeper into the underbelly of this rural community. Running this theme in parallel to the gory violence and fear of backwoods locals, Midnight ultimately chooses an unlikely earthbound savior to redeem themselves before committing the ultimate sacrifice. While it could be an unsatisfying watch for those looking for a Backwoods Massacre (alternate title for the film), John Russo’s NOTLD adjacent work is worth exploring for its regional charms and ambitions.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray?
Midnight makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Severin Films. The Region Free BD-50 disc loads the Severin Films logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
MIdnight arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p. Scanned and restored in 4k from the original 35mm negative, the HD image looks quite good given the film’s VHS pedigree. Black levels are excellent with inky black presentation from the opening sacrifice of Jimmy Peterson’s sister to sweaty Cyrus waiting in the dark ready to pounce. Nighttime scenes offer plenty of detail in shadow though some instances of soft lensing occur.
Primaries pop nicely from the bright green shag carpeting in Nancy’s house to the reds populating the ritual room. Colors in costuming are vivid from Nancy’s red jacket to Hank’s blue jeans. Fine detail is evident throughout the film from the stitching on the Preacher’s pants to the logos on the stolen groceries. Skin tones are even and offer plenty of detail from the fear in Sharon’s eyes as she is sacrificed to the stubble on Luke’s shaved head. Outdoor scenes retain a moody atmosphere with dark grays and browns setting the tone nicely. There is no noticeable print damage or edge enhancement on this presentation from Severin making it the best the film has ever looked.
Previous home video versions of Midnight have used a similar video master which pales in comparison to this new 4k restoration. Those with the 2011 Special Edition Arrow Video DVD or the 2005 Lionsgate DVD should consider upgrading to this disc from Severin Films.
Midnight arrives on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 stereo track. The 5.1 mix utilizes the surround channels effectively with scoring elements and atmospherics filling the room nicely. Dialogue is clear and clean on both tracks without the detection of hiss or pop. The 5.1 is my preferred track as the addition of surround elements elevates the experience of Midnight though purists should favor the stereo mix. Keep the volume at mid-level to fully enjoy composer Mike Mazzel's eclectic work.
Severin Films has provided plenty of special features for fans of the film. Start with the Russo interview and work your way through the featurettes. Pop on the isolated score feature while you fold some laundry!
Midnight is an entertaining Satanic Panic thriller that missed the slasher wave and was relegated to the VHS era as a cult oddity heralded by George Romero and John Russo junkies looking to satisfy their need for more gory goodness. Its regional horror charms and social themes are aided by a committed cast and grimy settings. See it as an ambitious thriller with religious themes rather than a full tilt cult slasher. Severin Films brings Midnight to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package and enough special features to please fans of the film. Recommended.