Thursday, December 23

Some quick thoughts on John Russo's Midnight (Written & Directed by John Russo) (1982)

Somewhere along the way, my virginal eyes witnessed the image to your right when I was a child gracing the cover of an old Fangoria in the "film reel" sidebar. This might have been the first depiction of such violence I'd had ever seen because it remained buried in the back of my mind. After years of horror consumption, comparatively this is like a bird resting on a branch during an early spring's misty morning to the misogynistic aplomb splashed upon my psyche since. Finally watching the mostly forgotten Midnight last night, now this image is nothing but embarrassing.

I've referred to my intense dislike towards John Russo in spats here in the past. Co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead, Russo seems to have modeled his entire career on capitalizing on that milestone even if it means railroading George A. Romero. From his zombie novels that desperately claw at his writer partner's work (just ask Dan O'Bannon and his extensive rewrite of Russo's Return of the Living Dead) to the absolute figurative rape of the 1968 undead classic with his 30th Anniversary Edition. That 1998 recut/rescored abomination with fifteen minutes of idiotic "new" footage is unforgivable and showed nothing but malice on his part. Sure, the film is unfortunately public domain, but that doesn't mean it's okay for it to be utterly destroyed--especially by the hands of one of its creators. John Russo deserves zero credit for his contribution to Night of the Living Dead despite his credit probably being engraved on his tombstone upon his passing as a last desperate eternal reminder. Thanks for nothing besides one of the worst modern offenses to art outside of the National Socialist Society for German Culture.

Getting back to Midnight, yes, obviously my justified bias colors my perspective greatly. Even without that prism, this horribly dated clash between terrible versions of Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre sucks in a nearly comatose way. It's the tale of a young girl who runs away from a incestuous stepfather (the great Lawrence Tierney looking like he's about to keel over) and hitches a ride with two guys to Florida. They eventually stop off in the sticks and run afoul of a Satanist backwoods family that naturally have horrible intent towards their prey. In the honored tradition of "bad" bad movies, we're treated to a bunch of longwinded driving sequences. In fact, the backwoods shit doesn't slap the fan until a good fifty minutes into the runtime when two members of the murderous clan show up impersonating police officers.

Dragging ass is one thing, but Midnight manages the amazing feat of dragging ass within these drag ass sequences. It's reminiscent of Russo's revisionist bastardization of NOLD, the writer/director just can't help but explain the obvious in an almost condescending way. An example is when the girl is first hitching a ride. Some sleazebag stops and stipulates sexual favors after so many miles while we hear the two guys that she ultimately rides with debating on whether to pick her up in the distance. After a while the slimy dude drives off and the other guys pull up and retread what they already said to her. She hops in and a sequence that should have taken thirty seconds instead takes four minutes. The entire ninety-three minute duration could be reduced to something like forty if all this inconsequential filler was scorn. The term "brevity" isn't in Russo's dictionary.

Here's another example in the first instance of foreshadowing. Instead of a short and sweet Crazy Ralph-like remark, a black preacher looking for a ride delivers this stiff monologue: "I'm scared to be out on the back roads with my daughter. It's too dangerous. There's some people found dead around here in the past couple years since I came here to preach. Some look like accidents, some were obviously murdered. A man and wife in my own congregation was found burnt to death in their cottage. The sheriff ruled accident, but that don't explain a half empty can of gasoline found back in the woods. Some of the lawmen around here don't feel to particularly kind to anybody who isn't white."

All that Midnight offers is Russo explaining everything as if those watching are cavemen that can't grasp even a hint of nuance. Even the special effects supposedly supplied by Tom Savini are terrible and lack the innovation seen in this period of his career. Savini still straight up denies his involvement in Romano Scavolini's Nightmare (1981); although this is the piece of trash he should be most ashamed of. Lionsgate's DVD looks decent enough for an old full frame video master. There's no visible cropping, but a constant stream of flecks and a few millisecond video dropouts. The IMDB states this presentation is two and a half minutes longer than prior releases with extensions to violent sequences. Not that it matters, but hey, did I mention this was written and directed by John Russo...?


Nacho F. said...

And what about Russo´s shoot-on-video "Midnight 2"?????

Jayson Kennedy said...

I didn't even know about it before today. Hahaha.

Nacho F. said...

You´re lucky!

Jason said...

Horrible movie, I am never seeing it again, but great story,

but don't forget these cover scan requests:

Great artwork! Hey, um, I'd like to request some VHS/Beta Cover Scans:

Death Warrant (1990)
The WIld Life (1984)
Terror in the Aisles (1984)
2010: the Year We Make Contact (1984)
Scream for Fear (1984)

Merry Christmas!

Buscemi said...

Surprising fact: the book that this was based on was a best-seller.

Anyways, I found this film pretty boring. You think a film with teenage runaways and a Satanist cult would work but it fails at both. This may have worked under a competent director but it utterly fails under Russo. He should have quit while he was ahead.

John said...

Why waste time writing at length about something you don't like, Jayson? I'd much rather read about what rocked your socks. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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