PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: MIDNIGHT MOVIE (2008)
By Michael Arruda
An actor playing “The Killer” in a slasher movie is so obsessed with his role that he fancies himself to be The Killer in real life. After spending years in a mental institution, The Killer escapes, when his doctor thinks as therapy he should watch his own movie. Where did this guy get his degree? The Killer watches the movie and then promptly kills everyone around him.
Four years later, The Killer’s horror movie is about to play at midnight at a small town theater, staffed only by young twenty-somethings and teenagers. How convenient.
The young manager Bridget (Rebekah Brandes) has her hands full. Not only has her boyfriend Josh (Daniel Bonjour) and his friends showed up to tempt her to watch the movie with them, but her kid brother has also snuck out of the house to see the movie.
Detective Barrons (Jon Briddell) thinks that the midnight showing of the movie will draw out The Killer (Lee Main), and The Killer’s doctor, Dr. Wayne (Michael Swan) agrees. This isn’t the same boneheaded doctor who suggested The Killer watch his own movie for therapy in the hospital; that idiot died in the opening bloodbath. Dr. Wayne actually argued against showing the movie, and so he wasn’t there at the hospital that night and escaped the mass murder. Anyway, Dr. Wayne and Detective Barrons attend the midnight movie together hoping to catch The Killer.
The only other patrons in the theater besides these two, and Bridget and her friends, are a biker Harley (Stan Ellsworth) and his girlfriend.
The movie begins playing, and this is when the fun starts. When one of Bridget’s friends leaves to use the restroom, The Killer, wearing a scary skull mask, leaves the movie and appears in the real world in the restroom.
When this happens, the movie playing on the theater screen switches to the point of view of The Killer, as the camera becomes The Killer’s eyes. Bridget and her friends see their friend on the screen and they mistakenly think he’s filmed the sequence himself and spliced it into the movie on his own. When he’s killed on camera, they all think it’s a great big hilarious joke, the best stunt their friend has ever pulled. It’s a believable scene that works, and as a result it’s quite funny.
However, when the next murder takes place in the lobby of the theater, and the victims are theater employees, Bridget and her friends begin to suspect something is wrong, and apparently Dr. Wayne and Detective Barrons had never seen the movie before, because they don’t react to these new altered scenes. Curious, they check out the lobby and there discover the dead bodies of the employees.
Naturally, everyone tries to leave the theater, but all the exits are locked. Detective Barrons tries to shoot through the glass doors, but for some reason his bullets can’t penetrate the glass. Their cell phones don’t work. And worst of all, when the police do arrive and peer through the glass doors, they see only an empty lobby, rather than our screaming victims inside. Very bizarre. Are these weird occurrences explained? No, but for some reason, the movie still works, because its creative premise keeps the proceedings lively and fun.
Even when the movie appears to settle into a more routine formula, as the group must defend themselves against The Killer, it still manages to keep a creative edge that is very refreshing. For example, this group isn’t your standard variety of slasher movie victims. Yes, there’s your cliché group of young people, but there’s also a police detective, a doctor, and one bad-ass biker dude who’s extremely pissed off at what’s going on around him.
Plus, this group eventually discovers that when The Killer appears in real life, they can see what he sees by watching the movie screen, and they realize they can use this to their advantage.
By far, the best part of MIDNIGHT MOVIE is the screenplay by director Jack Messitt and Mark Garbett. In addition to the creative premise of The Killer coming off the movie screen into reality, a gimmick that reminded me of the Woody Allen film THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), there’s also some neat dialogue which pokes fun at the genre, a la SCREAM (1996).
For example, Josh and his friends try to guess which woman in the movie will take her clothes off since that’s what happens in horror movies. There’s also a conversation about why people like horror movies, because they’re like roller coasters, scary but safe.
There are some things about MIDNIGHT MOVIE that aren’t so good. The most glaring weakness is the quality of the acting. Most of the acting here is pretty weak. Stan Ellsworth as Harley the bad-ass biker dude stands out as the best of the bunch, and he was my favorite character in this movie by far. The two leads, Rebekah Brandes as Bridget and Daniel Bonjour as Josh are okay, serviceable, but the rest of the cast is largely forgettable.
Now, I liked the look of The Killer, with his cool skull mask, but his character isn’t fleshed out at all, and there’s nothing in Lee Main’s performance that brings this maniac to life. He’s like a stunt man wearing a mask. Ho hum.
The Killer’s movie—which is supposed to be a 1970s grindhouse film—is strangely in black and white. I would have expected a film from the 1970s to be in color. In spite of the grainy lines on the film, it’s not really that authentic-looking. It looks like a new movie made to look old.
Director Jack Messitt may have written an excellent screenplay, but as a director, he doesn’t really distinguish himself with this movie. The murder scenes are average at best. There’s sufficient gore, as The Killer rips his victims’ hearts out, but there’s not a whole lot of suspense generated here, nor are there many memorable scenes. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse.
The ending is predictable, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the rest of the movie. There’s also a horrible hard rock tune over both the opening and end credits which gave me a headache.
But I absolutely loved the script. I think someone with a better budget should re-shoot this movie. As it stands now, it’s a clever story hampered by low production values, sub par acting, and uninspired direction.
It’s still a fun movie, though, best watched at midnight, of course!
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda