Remember back when anthology horror films were all the rage? Films like Cat's Eye, and Nightmares? These weren't anything new, as anthology horror films have been with us for nearly as long as the genre has existed, but there was a resurgence in the 1980's, most probably brought on by the success of the Romero/King collaboration of Creepshow, that lead to a handful of these flicks popping up throughout the latter part of the decade and into the early 90's. Some of these films featured some great standout stories, but also their share of duds (who can forget the young Emilio Estevez being sucked into a super cheesy videogame world in Nightmares?).
In 1989's After Midnight, the anthology aspect was given a novel twist as it was presented within a sort of “master” story about a group of college kids studying the effects of fear under the tutelage of the creepy professor Derek (Zada), a man whose first lesson in class resulted in the school's tough guy/jock persona pissing his pants in terror as Derek waved a gun in his face. Forced by the school to bring his teaching methods down a notch, Derek invites his students to his home to continue his lessons. He asks each student to relay the most terrifying story they've ever heard, and those stories make up the anthology portion of the film. We get the humorous tale of a yuppie couple breaking down outside of a purportedly haunted castle, a story of a group of teenage girls being chased through the rough side of town by the guard dogs of a twisted, homeless psychopath, and a bit about a worker at a messaging service (a pre-CSI Marg Helgenberger) dealing with a potentially homicidal stalker. In between stories, we see the angry jock that Derek humiliated planning his revenge, and are also given some spooky words of warning from the seemingly prescient student, Allison, who sees where this evening is going.
After Midnight came nearly a decade before 1998's Urban Legend, and I'd be surprised if Urban Legend didn't at least borrow a bit from this obscure little film, as the stories the kids tell one another are all based on urban legends, and Ramy Zada's Prof. Derek seems to have served as a model for the character Robert Englund would play in Urban Legend. The similarities don't end there, but I'll keep those to myself, lest I ruin the film! Of course, it wouldn't take too much to ruin After Midnight, as much of what happens here is pretty sub-standard stuff, with only a few moments of genuine terror, and only one really decent story amongst the lot. I was also puzzled by the film's ending, as it jumped from a plausible story of a twisted teacher to something else entirely.
The DVD from MGM is a barebones budget title offering up only the choice of widescreen or full-screen versions of the film. There are no other extras to speak of, but, at under $10 bucks, one really can't complain.
While I would say that only 50% of After Midnight worked for me, that's not surprising, especially seeing as how anthology films always tend to be a mixed bag anyway. This is neither a good or bad example of the genre, but probably would have been better than simply average had there been less focus on the wrap-around story.
Still, it could have been worse; there could have been another Emilio Estevez videogame story!