Despite some poor acting from the supporting cast in places 10 to Midnight remains a hugely entertaining cop movie/slasher hybrid and the new Blu-ray from Scream Factory is a must-have.
Plot: An outraged police detective (Charles Bronson) and his rookie partner (Andrew Stevens) skirt the law to catch a killer of women.
Review: 10 TO MIDNIGHT is a Charles Bronson vehicle from the mid-1980’s that has taken on a cult appeal that far out reaches his still loyal fan base. The main reason for this, other than that it is a well-made film starring Charles Bronson, is that the movie successfully combines two genres that are very much a part of the 80’s popular film culture. On one hand it is the obvious, a detective movie cum action revenge thriller, but it is also a horror picture in what Siskel & Ebert dubbed “the mad slasher” mold. What’s more, and this more than likely the secret to its long-lasting cult status, it melds them together flawlessly.
When 10 TO MIDNIGHT was released (in the U.S.) in the spring of 1983, audiences were accustomed too and expecting another gritty and violent Bronson macho tough-guy movie, which it is, but they were caught off guard by the movie’s vicious horror film-style content. By 1983, the “slasher” sub-genre was full of extremely violent and graphic movies like with questionable production values such as FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) and MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1982), but 10 TO MIDNIGHT had a professional polished too it that made it look deciding “mainstream”, also this level of vicious and vivid violence hadn’t really yet infiltrated the action genre, which was seen as being a tad bit more respectable than horror. 10 TO MIDNIGHT was a good move to try and bridge the gap between entertainment for an older audience and that of the youth market. The picture continues to be popular with audiences of both age groups, mostly those who discovered this little gem on VHS tape and later DVD and Blu-ray (the latest, a collector’s edition, out this Tuesday from Scream Factory).
Now one thing to remember, the “slasher” genre was reviled by film critics, most of whom were far older than the target audience for the movies were. Charles Bronson movies were also fodder for vile spearing critics. So it’s not a surprise that 10 TO MIDNIGHT ended up being just as savaged by most critics at the time, though not really any more than the usual Bronson fare was, which if anything were more berated than the “slasher“ pictures of the time. However, thirty plus years has painted a better and more fulling picture for the movie. It would seem that Bronson’s Cannon Group pictures, which were produced by Israeli cousins and mini-movie moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are now getting their due being reevaluated by movie fans, Blu-ray aficionados (Cobra, another Golan-Globus picture, is also out on a collector’s edition today), and film critics alike.
Bronson, the legendary stone faced tough guy stars here as a veteran Los Angeles police detective named Leo Kessler, inspired in part by a real-life lawbreaking Scotland yard detective named Herbert Hannam, Kessler along with his fresh faced but naive young partner, Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens) find themselves investigating a double homicide involving the daughter of an old family friend. The situation leads to a creepy cold-as-ice young man named Warren Stacey (Gene Davis), a would-be serial killer that covers his tracks with an elaborately staged alibi. Kessler knows Stacy is the guilty party, “police intuition“ I suppose, but he is unable to catch him legitimately within the bounds of the law. After Stacy starts harassing Kessler’s daughter (Lisa Elbacher), the experienced cop will stop at nothing to nail the scum even going as far as planting false evidence and ultimately turning to vigilantism, as Bronson so often did or had too(?).
10 TO MIDNIGHT marked the fourth of nine collaborations between Bronson and director J. (Jack) Lee Thompson, and the first of their Cannon pictures together. The British-born Thompson often appears as just a minor figure in cinema and is often unfairly dismissed. Starting out in “kitchen sink” dramas in his native country before moving onto American movies beginning with the undisputed classics THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) and CAPE FEAR (1962), both starring Gregory Peck and the former resulting in an Oscar nod for the often maligned director. Bronson liked Thompson’s swiftness and precision, as such Thompson helped to bring the aging action star into the 80’s. A solid technician at generating suspense, just prior to this movie Thompson had directed another “slasher” film, the above average HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1982) with Glenn Ford(?).
The script for 10 TO MIDNIGHT was written by William Roberts, who was an uncredited writer on the classic western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), which of course, also starred Bronson. Roberts’ script here is sleazy, aggressive and on occasion depraved, but also revising and features well defined characters with solid dialogue. Illustrating that the “slasher” movie connection, Roberts script was originally titled “Bloody Sunday”, of which I wonder just how much had to be rewritten to make it a suitable Charles Bronson vehicle.
The film takes unsettling inspiration from the real life mass-murder Richard Speck who in 1966 killed eight student nurses in a dormitory. Speck’s crimes was like something straight out of a “slasher” horror movie with his systematic killing of each helpless nurse while one woman escaped by hiding under a bed. This horrific crime is partially recreated as the movie’s exhilarating and intense climax.
Bronson caries the movie with his stoic demeanor and iconic screen presence, but the movie benefits from an above average supporting cast starting with Andrew Stevens, a-should-have-been-a-bigger-star, here seen as Bronson’s young sidekick, the two actors paths had previously crossed in the extraordinary adventure film DEATH HUNT (1981), only on opposite sides of the law that time, here they manage to work well off of each other. The two actors have real chemistry together while Lisa Elibacher (BEVERLY HILLS COP), a Saudi born actress is excellent as Bronson’s daughter and again the chemistry between the two actors is important, these two have good repot that comes across authentically. But the movie is really made by Gene Davis (brother of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS star Brad Davis) as the vicious killer, seeing the role come together as a handsome sadistic psychopath, a forerunner to the Patrick Bateman character played by Christian Bale in AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000). Davis is a human monster that is far scarier than anything out of the more fantastic contemporary horror pictures. Also be sure to keep an eye out for a sexy young Kelly Preston, who plays one of the nurses and victims, under her real name of Palzis.
The obvious faults of the movie seem to stem from its relatively low budget and its apparent rushed production. At times, the movie does seem to lose focus of its place as a thriller. Sadly, the suspense isn’t exploited to its maximum potential and some of the small parts are rather poorly acted.
This was the second of Bronson’s collaborations with producers Golan and Globus, a partnership that would dominate the decade. This is arguably the best of their collaborations and while it has been suggested that the duo somewhat hampered Bronson’s potential, they managed to help bring Bronson into the then modern-era. His Cannon output was very much a product of the 80’s and had only a superficial resemblance to his 70’s action movies. For this, and perhaps the sleazy and scummy nature of the film, some of the actor’s fans may be turned off by this one.
For others, the very material may be the main drawing point. Successfully bringing together a number of 80s movie elements and genre stables, 10 TO MIDNIGHT is able to draw a much larger canvas than just a simple cop movie from the me decade would ordinarily have. As such, it is one of the most intriguing genre pictures of the decade and is deserving of its ever growing reputation.
Remember to spread Bronson awareness.
NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Camera Negative
NEW Charlie’s Partner – An Interview With Actor Andrew Stevens
NEW Producing Bronson – An Interview With Producer Lance Hool
NEW Remembering Bronson – An Interview With Actor Robert F. Lyons
NEW Undressed To Kill – An Interview With Actress Jeana Tomasina Keough
NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Historian Paul Talbot (Author Of Bronson’s Loose! And Bronson’s Loose Again!)
Audio Commentary With Producer Pancho Kohner, Casting Director John Crowther, And Film Historian David Del Valle