Monday, March 03, 2008

The Midnight Hour – review


Director: Jack Bender

Release date: 1985

Contains spoilers

What did Star Trek the Next Generation stars do before Star Trek? In the case of LeVar Burton it was make a kid friendly horror flick like this one. The generic plot of this one is altogether very familiar but the film itself did have some odd moments as well as some stand out moments that pull it back from generic induced obscurity.

The film, having established that it is Halloween and that we are in Pitchford Cove, via the medium of a paperboy, settles upon Phil Grenville (Lee Montgomery) as our central character. Just one step up from lovable nerd, Phil lives with his mother, sister Shelly and dentist father (Dick Van Patten). That night he is going with his friends to a Halloween party. But first school.

Lee Montgomery as PhilHis friends are all there, Melissa (Shari Belafonte), Vinnie (LeVar Burton), Mitch (Peter DeLuise) and Mary (Dedee Pfeiffer) – most of whom were way too old to be teens but there you go. It is established as the film goes on that Phil has a crush on Mary, she doesn’t notice and he doesn’t notice that she is into someone else. He does a presentation on Halloween and the history of the town. It seems that his ancestor Nathaniel was constable of the town. He had a slave named Lucinda (Jonelle Allen), ancestor of Melissa and a witch. On a Halloween 300 years before she cursed the town and caused the dead to rise and demons to come. Somehow Nathanial stopped the curse and Lucinda was hung. Their wax effigies and original clothes are kept in the witchcraft museum.

spookyMitch has an idea. They should steal the clothes as costumes and so the gang break into the museum. Mitch gets Nathaniel’s clothes (and later his ring) and Melissa gets Lucinda’s clothes. They put the clothes into a chest they find and leg it. Where to go, however? Of course, the spooky cemetery that seems to have a constant leak of either mist or smoke.

Melissa reads the wordsIn the cemetery they discover a scroll in the chest, sealed by Nathanial’s ring (and his ring that Mitch takes). They open the scroll and Melissa reads the words – which are, of course, the words of the curse. Having done this they leave. As soon as they are gone all hell breaks loose in the cemetery.

Lucinda returnedThe dead start to rise and soon the graveyard is filled with zombies, including the zombie of serial killer Lester Mitchell (Dennis Redfield). A werewolf leaps about and Lucinda has returned, looking fresh and un-zombie like. Also looking rather fresh and returned from the grave is a cheerleader, Sandy (Jonna Lee). They head towards town.

damn that wigPhil has dressed as a vampire (and the film deserves to loose marks for giving his costume a silver wig, but I won’t be so unkind). On his way to the party, having nearly knocked down a zombie (he looked like one, anyway, but was credited as the Ghoul (Mark Blankfield)), who seems more intent on a paper than mayhem, he sees the cheerleader and has a fantasy moment about her. They then speak for a little while but she wishes to go home and he has no idea that she is dead.

Lucinda attacksAt the party Phil soon realises that Mary has eyes for another. Also the dead are arriving, though their interaction with the living is, at first, quite benign. Lucinda turns up at the party and this leads to our oddness. Lucinda is a vampire. Quite why the witch is now a vampire, the film doesn’t explain. All we really get is that she has a thirst. “One thing can quench the thirst. The thirst of centuries to be passed on,” she explains before biting Melissa.

spreading the diseaseNow I could sit here and relay to you that in some traditions a witch who died would become a vampire and this is why the filmmakers chose to make Lucinda one. Of course that would be wrong. By the strictures of the curse the dead are going to take over the town and the easiest way to have the witch pass on the curse would be to make her a vampire; bite and turn is the order of the day.

Meanwhile Phil has gone off and met Sandy again and through her he discovers, though he never realises she is dead, that the only way to stop this is to seal the scroll with wax, mixed with Nathaniel’s bone and pressed by Nathanial’s ring. If he does this by midnight the curse will be broken and all will return to normal.

the ghoul at the partyThe film has one really awful moment. A, for no good reason, song and dance routine at the party, which involves vampires and zombies and is reminiscent in feel (if not musically) to Thriller. Honestly there was no good reason to have that scene in the film. I did say however that there were some stand out moments.

Jonna Lee as SandyThe whole romance between Phil and Sandy was actually rather touching in the way it was handled. A blooming relationship between a dead girl and a living boy as Hell breaks loose. The reason she helps him is because she came back not to fulfil the curse but experience that which she missed when alive – love.

There is also a scene when the entire town has succumbed to the curse, with Phil and Sandy driving through the streets as the dead cavort and a vampire opera singer sings that was really very well done and was actually steeped in an atmosphere that the rest of the film failed to generate.

vampireRegarding the film as a whole, it is a very generic story and the characters are paper thin. There are some attempts to flesh them out (such as Mitch’s father (Kevin McCarthy) who is a judge but also a drunk and somewhat abusive to his son) but these moments were glossed over pretty quickly. However, whilst there are a few jumpy moments for smaller kids, there is a distinct lack of gore, nudity and swearing that makes this very kid friendly.

Not the greatest film in the world, but competent for what it is. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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