A tiny theater in a suburban, white town. A few high school couples. A biker and his babe. A pre-teen sneaking in to the show. An obsessed detective.
A 70’s horror flick. The madman who made it out of the psych ward and loose with a special weapon designed to hurt as much coming out as going in.
Join the small gathering of townsfolk sitting down for a midnight showing of “The Dark Beneath”, a grainy black and white flick from the mid 1970’s. The cult horror flick has quite a history. Its director went nuts after filming it and was locked away in a mental health facility until five years ago, when everyone in the place was killed.
This is the first screening of the film in decades and the director has decided to drop in for a very special cameo.
Midnight Movie begins with a steady build up, balancing between getting to know the characters and their motivations and setting them all up for grisly murders. The cast is a broad ensemble without being overly typical (note the lack of stoners). Instead, it’s small and believable enough to make for a good setup. Viewers quickly pick out who might make it out of the movie and who is just plain dead meat.
Once the blood starts spilling, the bodies hit the floor with a rhythm reserved for jackhammers and Slayer CD’s.
This killer is one shifty bastard, running the gauntlet of the theater and making good on his plans to cast each character in his movie. All the while, his original film plays on the screen in eerie harmony to the theater killings. The second act is good old fashioned slasher but with a odd twist. There are plenty of kills, and each moves up the gore scale as required. Unlike other slasher films, Midnight Movie is a slow reveal, making viewers as intrigued with what exactly the killer is as they are with who’s gonna get it next.
Act three takes an interesting twist and provides the big reveal of who (or what) the killer is and what happens to his victims. After a brief exchange (and just the right bit of gore), director Messitt teases viewers with a bit of a Hollywood ending before ripping that piece of candy right out of their hands.
Rebekah Brandes leads the cast as Bridget, the heroine. Brandes is solid, engaging the full range of emotions as she is forced to be both scared little girlfriend and protective older sister. Stan Ellsworth does a great job of making Harley emerge from asshole biker dude to personable big bear. Greg Cirulnick is given the task of playing the guy viewers can’t wait to see killed and he milks it for all it’s worth. The film also features Michael Swan (Bold and the Beautiful) and Brea Grant (Heroes) in smaller roles.
Midnight Movie is written with a great self-awareness of the horror genre and characters. Several laughs in the first act hint at this knowledge with a tease, instead of the club-over-the-head tactic used in something like Scream. The film pays very clever homage to a number of fan favorites, while keeping things updated and believable. Director Messitt balances sound editing, score and quick edits to keep the ride well-paced. Sound plays a big part of Midnight Movie. This is one to watch in the dark with the stereo set to ELEVEN.
Extra credit goes to Brian Hicks and his effects team for putting together a signature look for the killer. The composite mask creates a cool, new image that sticks with viewers long after watching the film.
Midnight Movie was the winner of Best Feature Film and Best Cinematography at the 2008 Chicago Horror Film Festival. The DVD includes several featurettes including pieces on the creative team and the cast. The storyboards, deleted scenes, trailers and outtakes are also included. The film runs 82 minutes and the DVD is presented in Dolby 5.1 with subtitles in Spanish.
Head Cheeze and I get a lot of press releases and notifications every week. When we both took note of Midnight Movie, it was enough for me to drop a few bucks and buy the DVD. Well, that and the slick site (www.midnightmovie.com). The site contains a bunch of insight from director Messitt on the cast, effects and creation process of the killer and his unique weapon.