The Midnight Hour (1985)

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 (mixed-race couples were still pushing it in the 80s, I guess), 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." I was left with a lot of questions. Like, is the witch a witch, or a vampire? Is that one zombie a werewolf, or just a really  hairy hyperactive 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. 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 characters 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 Halloween Night That Changes Everything, 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.

Let's see, we've got milk, soda, purple stuff...ooh, ketchup! All right!
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 us 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. Apparently edicating 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.


Anonymous said...

ok, here's a challenging one (I think!) I remember a mid-80s Halloween special with a witch. She had a small glass vial with a potion, maybe a youth potion. I think she was locked up in a glass cage of some kind and she broke the glass potion bottle and, along with it, her beauty. It was live action. Any ideas?

C-Man said...

Happy Halloween!!!!

mlw33 said...

So glad you posted about this movie. It is one of my favorites since it was shown on network TV and I watch it every year since then.

CA said...

You can find the Midnight Hour for free on cinemaggedon. I collect halloween specials and love your blog!!

wholesale womens clothing said...

I just take a peek and I discovered your post I find it cute also. Thank you for sharing.


Coloring Pages said...

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Anonymous said... just read my mind. For years I could vaguely remember a Halloween special that I loved but was scared of at the same time. Tonight I thought I would see if it actually existed or if I was just dreaming. You described it that way and you are right! It was the Witch's night out.....thanks for finally putting my mind at ease.

Steven McFly Jr said...

This is one of the best things that Levar has ever done & has definitely fallen under the radar!

The VHS rip of this I have on disc backed up from the web is awesome! Even if it's a bit grainy!

Anonymous said...

This is the Monster Ring episode that was posted on lost episodes page.

Modern Grace said...

Love this movie. It had a good soundtrack by Brad Fiedel, now that's impossible to find. Especially the song playing while the girls are doing their makeup upstairs.


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