BR: 10 to Midnight (1983)

October 17, 2015 | By

 10ToMidnight_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  September 8, 2015

Genre:  Action / Crime / Cannon

Synopsis: In this revenge / serial killer hybrid, a detective tracks down a limp yet sadistic serial killer before the cop’s daughter becomes the next bloody victim.

Special Features:  Audio commentary with film historian David Del Valle, producer Pancho Kohner, and casting director John Crowther / Isolated stereo Music and partial mono Music & Effects track / 3 Radio Spots / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.





Mashing up two source materials to create a hybrid film isn’t a new concept – Stirling Silliphant morphed a pair of novels to create The Towering Inferno (1974), the writers of the disaster film satire Die Hard (1988) accomplished the same feat with particular finesse, and its later sequel Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) took an unrelated terrorist novel and upgraded it to fit the franchise – so Cannon Films’ production of 10 to Midnight (1983) similarly fits the build of fitting various elements to suit the tough guy persona of Charles Bronson.

Critically derided (but with affection) as the silver screen’s most ‘stone-faced’ actor, Bronson had just complete Death Wish II (1982) for Cannon, the exploitation studio that would prove to be his chief employer for many of his subsequent feature films, as well as veteran director J. Lee Thompson, whose own career had started to slowly wind down after reaching a creative apex with The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962).

Thompson was actually a replacement director for 10 to Midnight, after the production’s first choice was dismissed, and one presumes his selection stems from an existing collaborative relationship with Bronson, having directed the actor in St. Ives (1976), The White Buffalo (1977), and Caboblanco (1980).

With a background in diverse genres and a director who seemingly pre-edited films in his head, Thompson was well-suited for the thriller genre, with several genre classics already under his belt: the taut sociopath thriller Cape Fear, the eerie drama The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), and the CanCon slasher classique Happy Birthday to Me (1981).

Perhaps due to Cannon’s house style of fast cutting and keeping scenes moving with minimal dialogue, 10 to Midnight is a vast improvement over Birthday, a lumbering thriller that drags in spite of featuring some outrageous kills, but in Midnight there’s also William Roberts’ script which, like it or not, does the job with a certain aplomb in assembling and balancing a variety of mean-spirited genres into one slick commercial product.

The film’s production backstory had Roberts taking an unproduced slasher film script titled “Bloody Sunday” and melding it with elements redolent of the first Death Wish (1974).

In Roberts script, Death Wish‘s vengeful daddy Paul Kersey becomes Leo Kessler, a hardline detective investigating a series of brutal killings that ultimately puts his daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher) in danger when serial killer Warren Stacy (Gene Davis, brother of Brad Davis) sets his libidinous knife in her direction. Kessler abuses his power and goes rogue, pushing Stacy into overdrive and essentially causing a horrific massacre at Laurie’s dorm before the finale pits ex-cop against Stacy in a finale that’s evocative of the taunting / face-bashing relationship between Dirty Harry and scumbag rapist / killer Scorpio.

There’s nothing especially new in 10 to Midnight – the kills are mean but not graphic on screen (Thompson relies of facial expressions rather than gore) – but it has a certain sleazy allure, much like John Frankenheimer’s equally sadistic 52 Pick-Up (1986), also produced & released by Cannon.

Novel aspects have killer Stacy conducting his murders completely in the nude to avoid being stained with his victims’ body fluids and viscera, and using a knife as a proxy phallus (an aspect central to Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher), and very specific elements taken from fairly recent (and highly publicized) crime cases.

Like iconic serial killer Ted Bundy, Stacy drives a VW bug to cruise to and from his victims’ homes and sexual rendezvous, and the massacre in a nurse dormitory is redolent of Richard Speck, the monster who killed almost every student during a long and bloody night.

Over the years, the film’s evolved into a cult favourite, perhaps because all the right elements (cast, director, writer, classic L.A. locations, and its ties to true crime cases) clicked in spite of the film being thoroughly poo-pooed by critics during its original release; one can see it being instantly derided, and yet it’s slickness and mélange of action, anger, blood, and nudity made it a natural international hit.

There’s also the cast which is especially unique. Bronson’s fine, delivering a limited dramatic performance for a rarely content character, and Eilbacher is fine as the pretty heroine / potential love interest for Kessler’s partner Paul McAnn, but as the latter, Andrew Stevens has perhaps the best dialogue and delivers a deeper character than the tormented son he portrayed in Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978). Stevens never had great range, but the actor seemed to enjoy having the most verbose yet eloquent lines, delivering wry statements which Bronson hacks apart with short burst or a scowl.

Small roles are filled by veteran character actor Geoffrey Lewis (always fun as a sleazy defense lawyer), Wilford Brimley as a (what else?) gruff police captain, and doomed dorm-mates played by Kelly Preston in her first feature film, and Ola Ray, best known as Michael Jackson’s terrified girlfriend in the “Thriller” music video.

Robert O. Ragland’s score fits the film as an eighties thriller, but like many scores of the era, there’s a disconnect between the thumping synthetic action cues and some elegant orchestral tracks. Twilight Time’s striking Blu-ray features a hybrid isolated score track, featuring music from the stereo soundtrack album and previously unreleased cues from a surviving mono music & effects track to create a complete score. As frustrating as Ragland’s music may be, it’s a pity Cannon didn’t feel the need to bankroll a stereo mix for the film, as those boomphing synth hits would’ve added greatly to the film’s sleaze factor.

The real gem on this release is the commentary track, which functions (like the film) as a detailed chapter in the history of Cannon Films, as well as an addendum to Mark Hartley’s superb documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014). Moderator / film historian / reviewer / former Cannon story editor David Del Valle has producer Pancho Kohner and casting director John Crowther discussing both the making of the film and the environment of a classic Bronson-Cannon production. Fans of the studio will find their discussion of great value, and fun, as the trio share an affection for the studio, its product, and especially Menachem Golan, the colourful director-producer who was hands-on with many of Cannon’s productions.

Thompson’s final films were produced / distributed by Cannon, including The Ambassador (1984), the atrocious King Solomon’s Mines (1985), and highly unfunny Firewalker (1986), plus another slew of Bronson thrillers: The Evil That Men Do (1984), Murphy’s Law (1986), Avenging Angels (1988), and his unlikely career swan song, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989).

Bronson would finish his career with roles in both TV movies and franchise productions, with Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) being his last feature film, and the TV movie trilogy Family of Cops (1995-1999).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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