The Midnight Hour is a made-for-TV movie from 1985, back in the days when stretching the "Thriller" video into a 90 minute feature seemed like a good idea. Levar Burton stars as a hip young teenager who has moved from New York to a small New England town to serve as the love interest to the local black girl, whose great, great, great, great, great grandma was a witch.
After breaking into the town's Witchcraft Museum and stealing a scroll, the local teens head to the cemetery, which keeps a few fog machines running 24x7. After the witch's descendent reads a curse from the scroll, the group takes off before they can see the dead rise from their graves.
The Simpsons would later condense pretty much the exact same plot plot into an eight minute Treehouse of Horror segment, and this movie probably could have been cut to the same length without anyone missing much. Some people LOVE it, but I kept waiting for it to just stop trying to be a serious horror movie and embrace its inner cheesiness, which never QUITE happened.
Trying to explain the plot beyond this is sort of a fool's errand - I tried to write up a description, but I kept having to end every sentence with the phrase "for some reason." Like, is the witch a witch, or a vampire? Is that one zombie a werewolf, or just a really hyper hairy guy? And how come most of the zombies look like zombies, but the 1950s cheerleader seems so well preserved? And why shoe-horn in the "history of Halloween" lesson that, like most such things, is so painfully inaccurate?
Still, the move has its moments - the "dead rising from their graves" scene is really nifty, if a bit over the top (why shouldn't it be over the top?), and I laughed out loud at the scene where Levar burton splatters his mummy costume with ketchup and raw eggs.
Let's see, we've got milk, soda, purple stuff...ooh, ketchup! All right!
The soundtrack - featuring a bunch of classic rock songs and even a bit of The Smiths (who weren't classic rock yet in 1985) - is really good, and every now and then, whenever people get the radio on, we hear some narration from legendary DJ Wolfman Jack. For a minute, I thought they were going for an American Graffiti thing where Wolfman Jack sort of narrates the teenager's lives over the course of One Night That Changes Their Lives, but the concept sort of fell apart. Also, American Graffiti firmly takes place in 1962, and this movie can't quite decide if it's 1985 or 1955.
Early on, the Wolfman Jack angle had me thinking that this movie might have just been one rewrite away from being a pretty dynamite picture, but by the end, I realized there were TWO good movies stuck inside the script - there's a campy, self-aware zombie comedy and a poignant film about a ghost who gets one night to fall in love. However, the movie as it stands is a little of both but not enough of either. In the end, the curse is broken and the zombies/vampires (which have now absorbed half the town) vanish. They never do tell whether everyone in town is now dead or if breaking the curse turned them back to normal. If they're all dead, the one surviving character takes the fact that all his friends have died, along with the ghostly girl he met a few hours before, remarkably well. Dedicating a song to you on the radio from beyond the graves heals a LOT of wounds.
"We need to make wax from those bones. It's the only way to break the curse." "No kidding?" - actual dialogue.
|Maybe it's just my own prejudices speaking here, but I'm inclined not to blame the writer (William Bleich) for the movie's shortcomings. Maybe he had to write it overnight. Maybe it got chopped up by the ABC executive brass (the plot is RIDDLED with what appear to be the stitches of subplots that never materialize, like the fact that in addition to a notable witch-hanging, the town recently had a serial killer in its midst). Maybe they blew all their money getting the rights to the music (which must have cost a fortune). Or maybe Bleich just knew that something like this met all the requirements for a made-for-tv project that year, which meant a much better paycheck than writing something more MFA-approved (though he now teaches MFA level screenwriting at Northwestern).|
And maybe I'm being too hard on it - it has a bit of a cult following today, and is really quite well-remembered for a 25-year-old made-for-TV movie. But I committed one of the ultimate sins when it comes to Halloween specials - I first saw it at the age of 31, not 10.