FEBRUARY 5, 2009
One common thing horror writers/directors will say when defending the poorly drawn characters in their films is “We want you to be able to identify with one of them”. So if you’re a jock, you’ll identify with the jock, as long as they don’t give him too many details. Because if he’s the cornerback on the Vipers and has a busted knee and a steroid problem, and you’re the 2nd string QB for the Gators and you’re hooked on coke, then you lose that connective tissue, I guess. Anyway, it’s rare I see a horror movie where I can identify with anyone on that level - Randy in Scream is probably the closest thing I’ve ever seen. So I was really excited for Midnight Movie, which concerns folks that will go to an independent theater to watch an old horror movie at midnight, much like I do on a weekly basis (speaking of which - tomorrow @ the Nuart: Ken Russell’s The Devils!).
Unfortunately, identifying with the folks can only buy a movie so much goodwill (which isn’t much - most of the characters don’t even really want to be there, and the “film geek” is of course presented as a bumbling loser). You gotta deliver on the other levels, and that is where Midnight Movie blunders. For starters, the killer makes things hard for himself. He can go in and out of the movie at will, which not only severely undercuts the suspense, but makes his actions nonsensical at times. Why does he bother stalking anyone when he can just appear behind them and kill them?
Also, the movie within the movie is so obviously brand new film made to look old, so it’s impossible to buy into it. Not to mention that the film is apparently making fun of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, hardly a worthy target for mockery. It’s interesting, at the same time I was watching this movie, my buddy Ryan from Shocktillyoudrop was watching Last Action Hero, and we were texting about that film’s problems, which kept it from being a classic. One was the fact that the “Jack Slater” movie, with its cartoon cats and farting mob men, was completely unbelievable as a legit action movie, which deflated a lot of the movie’s point. Same thing here - the movie centers around the “power” of this particular obscure horror movie, but its as generic as they come, and incredibly amateur to boot.
Another issue - the killer is somehow able to project live footage onto the screen (he films himself killing the moviegoers). I can just assume that one of his supernatural powers allows him to instantaneously splice a 40 year old movie with live footage, but why is it all scratched and in black and white? Is that another power of his? But again, if he’s so powerful, why does he need to pick the kids off one by one anyway? All of this stuff just kept me from ever really buying into the concept, which is a big problem for a “high concept” movie. Had it been a straight up “guy kills people in a movie theater”, it would be a lot easier to digest.
Director Jack Messitt also has an unfortunate hardon for Wes Craven, which also kept distracting me away from his movie. The movie as a whole is a mix between the opening of Scream 2 and New Nightmare, the killer drags his foot a la Horace Pinker, and even the damn score sounds just like Charles Bernstein's Nightmare on Elm St theme. I’m never one to bemoan a Shocker reference (this may actually be the first I’ve seen), but when added in with the other stuff it’s a bit of an overkill. At least he spreads the homage wealth a little bit - the killer bears more than a passing resemblance to Behind The Mask’s Leslie Vernon (itself a deconstructural slasher movie).
One final gripe - the ending sucks. The killer is chasing our Final Girl and her little brother through the movie world, and suddenly the girl sees “The End” in front of her (?). So she throws the kid, and he lands back in the real world (wouldn’t running while holding him take just as much strength/time?). Then in the real world, the cops are like “We’ll get to the bottom of this!” and then the movie ends. Huh? It’s even more annoying since the DVD promises an 82 minute running time and yet the movie is only 79.
It’s not a totally negative experience though. The kills are good, as is the killer’s weapon, this sort of corkscrew top-shaped thing, and he uses it in a variety of ways (including the best answer to a “You’ll have to go through me first!” threat I’ve ever seen). And while the characters are as generic as can be expected, the acting for the most part is good - impressive considering the roster of no-names on a low budget indie. The one exception is Brea Grant (the cute "Speedster" from Heroes) as one of the theater employees, though strangely she is not listed in the opening credits or on the DVD box. You’d think they’d want to point out their one known actor.
The DVD is also packed with above average extras. There are a few featurettes on the makeup/effects, cast, and overall making of, and they are long enough to be informative while short enough to keep you from getting bored. Messsitt even presents the deleted scenes and outtakes as featurettes, though they are a bit misleading - the “deleted scenes” are actually a few snippets that we saw, albeit with the original actor (he was forced to drop out so the role was recast), and the outtakes section concerns one shot, where the characters are banging against a supposedly locked door. In the first the door opens, which is kind of funny, but then in the 2nd the glass door smashes and two people are hurt. Uh, “haha”? Messitt and the cast also provide a lively commentary, though he doesn’t really address the story much.
It’s not a terrible movie, but again, I hate when I see a great concept executed poorly. Maybe it was a money issue or whatever, but at the end of the day, the final film doesn’t live up to the potential of its idea*. The supernatural stuff is never really explained, and it just feels like a throwaway excuse to mask any logic/plot holes. And since when does an indie theater like this have three employees at once? Christ, at the Bev, Julia sells you your ticket and then runs over to serve you popcorn.
What say you?
*According to the opening credits, the original story was by Sean Hood, who co-wrote some of the absolute worst movies ever made (Crow 4, Halloween Resurrection, Cube 2 Hypercube). I wonder if the changes, credited to Messitt and Mark Garbett, were for better or worse. Anyone got the original draft?