Pete’s Peek | Does John Russo’s satanic 1980s chiller Midnight still chime with the cult crowd?

Not unlike the occult thriller Race with the Devil made seven year earlier, 1982’s Midnight is a mixture of road and horror movie, but minus the spectacular car chases.

After her step-dad tries to rape her, Nancy (Melanie Verliin) starts hitchhiking to California. On the way, she joins up with two petty crooks before falling victim to a backwoods family of devil worshippers – who plan to resurrect their mother’s mummified corpse through a blood sacrifice.

The film does drag a bit, with the first hour taken up with Nancy’s road trip and her fleeing two homicidal cops (one of whom is John Amplas of Martin fame). But when Nancy is locked up by the Satanists – basically from Chapter 8 onwards – things do pick up pace. And veteran star Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) is excellent as the heroine’s wicked stepfather – he starts off as the film’s villain, but ends up Nancy’s unlikely protector.

Director John Russo is best-known as the co-writer of 1969’s Night of the Living Dead, and you can see shades of the zombie classic here – both in its nihilistic outlook and its themes of race and prejudice. A scene in a graveyard involving a black minister even looks like an out-take from the cult hit.

Midnight might not have big set pieces or great special effects, but it does have elements that go beyond its production values (it was shot on the cheap, and looks like it). It’s more about what it’s saying than how it shows it. The violence on display might not be as horrific as you’d expect (especially by today’s standards), but the real horror Russo wants to portray is the darkness that lurks inside ordinary folk (be they cops or satanists). A modern, more visceral equivalent might be Lucky McKee’s The Woman (about a feral woman who finds herself at the mercy of a seemingly normal domestic family).

And just one last thing – the music reminded me of the TV movie Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. Now that’s a satanic dud I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

The extras on the Arrow Video release includes an introduction from actor turned acting teacher John Amplas, plus a look at his work in the horror genre; and an interview with John Russo, who has become a respected film studies lecturer.

Midnight is available on DVD through Arrow Video

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