There’s an in between zone that parents often look for if they’re easing their kids into horror. If they’re fans of the genre themselves, the urge to take the tykes from Scooby-Doo to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is very tempting. I was one of the fortunate ones who was allowed to cut out the middleman and dive right into the heady stuff. So it was then that I missed out on a great bridge between the two extremes, The Midnight Hour (1985), ABC’s successful bid to get the Thriller-crazy crowd on their side.
Originally airing November 1st as part of The ABC Friday Night Movie (really? There was no Thursday slot open to make it for Halloween?), The Midnight Hour fought off CBS’ Dallas for its first half and NBC’s Miami Vice for the back, but those shows weren’t the ideal demographic anyway – this show was for the tweens and teens (at least the ones mindful of their folks) who were addicted to MTV.
Open up your Crystal Pepsi coated TV GUIDE and find out what we’re ogling:
THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (Friday, 9pm, ABC)
A long forgotten witch is accidentally resurrected by a group of 25 year old teenagers and wreaks havoc during a Halloween bash. The kid from Burnt Offerings and Harry Belafonte’s daughter star.
Phil Grenville (Lee Montgomery – Burnt Offerings) is just your average American teen; dad (Dick Van Patten – Eight is Enough) is a dentist, his sister is annoying, and he wears ladies frames eyewear that would give Elton John pause. However, Phil’s great, great grandfather was responsible for ridding the town of one Lucinda Cavender (Jonelle Allen – The Hotel New Hampshire), the resident vampire/witch (yeah, she’s both – is that a problem?) 300 years prior, and his friends (Shari Belafonte-Harper, Peter DeLuise, Dedee Pfeiffer) decide to steal costumes to wear for Halloween that night as well as a hidden chest from the local witch museum (mhmm) and open it up at the graveyard. This is, of course, a very bad idea. Shari reads an inscription which leads to not only Lucinda being resurrected, but all the deceased, and a few other creatures of the night as well. Will Phil and friends be able to stop Lucinda’s reign of terror?
The Midnight Hour has a lot of things going for it; a solid cast, enthusiastic direction from Jack Bender (High School U.S.A., Child’s Play 3), and an amusing sense of self. What it doesn’t advertise up front is how strange it is tonally, which only adds to its charms. One minute an actual ghoul (played by Mark Blankfield) is bumping into costumed teens at a house party, the next DeLuise’s drunken father (Kevin McCarthy) is pushing him around. It veers from slapstick to genuine jolts (the scene where Lucinda attacks Shari’s character in the wine cellar is very creepy) and back again, but this helps the telefilm from becoming rote and gives it an air of unpredictability. (Or you could call it haphazard filmmaking if you wanted to poo poo the good vibes on display.)
But few jarring transitions aside, The Midnight Hour thrives on youthful energy and a sincere love of the genre. In addition to witches, vampires and ghouls, you also get a werewolf, and, at no extra cost, a teenage girl from the ‘50s lost in time who helps Phil with his dilemma. It is mostly played for laughs, but occasionally reminds you that it has the capacity to frighten. The graveyard scene is so well staged; the dead burst from their graves and tombs, dirt raining out and down around the grounds, zombies shuffling and mingling with ghouls and other denizens of the night. And the makeup is terrific throughout; colourful undead in classic grey visage with sunken eyes lurching towards the screen with a funhouse look that lets you know they’re not too scary.
That fun really takes off though with a soundtrack that mines the same humorous vein as An American Werewolf in London (1981); Clap for the Wolfman, Bad Moon Rising, In The Midnight Hour, Sea of Love, and in the aforementioned cellar moment, The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?”, the one nod to the then contemporary music scene. Okay, there’s one more nod, and I’d be remiss in not mentioning it. Take it as a warning if you like, but Shari pulls essentially a faux Thriller at the party after everyone there has been turned; it’s a full on music video for a song called Get Dead, and to say it’s a show stopper is an understatement – it almost buries it. But, it’s a five minute bow to the altar of MTV, and an understandable one; Shari was a huge star on the TV show Hotel at the time and was looking to get her own music career off the ground, and what better way than to showcase a music video on national TV? It can’t be said that ABC didn’t like to keep their stars happy. No guarantee for the audience, though.
Regardless of that blip. The Midnight Hour still plays very well. The (mostly) oldies tunes refuse to nail it down to any particular era, and the schizophrenic tone will keep the more discerning horror fan on their toes. As for those ‘tweens? Throw it on and see. I’m pretty sure they’ll leave behind Scooby in the rear view as they cautiously look forward to chainsaws and butcher knives. The Midnight Hour is a good place (and time) for them to be.Next: It Came From The Tube: MIND OVER MURDER (1979)