NOVEMBER 19, 2010
I was in the mood for a slasher, so I looked in the slasher section on Netflix and found After Midnight, which claimed to be about a professor with unusual means teaching a class on fear at his own home. So I figured it would be like The Fear, except with him in the Morty role, and, you know, hopefully GOOD. But that turned out to be the wraparound (and not really slasher at all) to a rather dull anthology movie. Five yard penalty, Netflix.
Now, one could assume that it was my disappointment that kept me from enjoying it, but it was only the first story (the one that made me realize it was an anthology) that I enjoyed, since it had a ridiculous setup and a pretty hilarious finale, with a guy accidentally cutting off his wife’s head in front of all of their friends after her idiotic prank went poorly. It’s gloriously inane, and had me thinking the movie might not be too bad after all.
Then the second story started, and it pretty much all went to hell. Four girls get lost in downtown LA, run out of gas, and then get menaced by a crazed killer and his three dogs. So it’s sort of like a female Judgment Night (there’s even a climb the fence scene!), except with Denis Leary’s lapdogs replaced by actual dogs, and also not particularly suspenseful. And this is really damning, because I myself have been in the same situation as the girls! A couple months ago, I was downtown for a movie (LA film fest) and my gas light came on. The gas station near the movie theater was inexplicably closed (at 10 pm!) so I started driving around looking for another, but due to the one ways and generally annoying downtown LA layout, I got further from the city and into the less desirable part, with my gas supply running ever lower (it was also sweltering hot and thus I had to shut off the AC to conserve gas, adding to my anger). Luckily I found one as the damn thing started to sputter on fumes, instead of running afoul of any axe wielding psychos, but still, the basic scenario should have given me some sort of personal connection to the goings on, right? However I found it the most tedious of the lot. I’ll give it a point or two for killing off the nice girl instead of the random redhead (the other two were recognizable – one was Final Chapter’s goddess Judie Aronson, the other was Jennifer from Dream Warriors, sans cigarette burns on her arm – so they were safe).
The third one is a little better, though it hilariously takes place in downtown LA as well. Part of the appeal of an anthology is the ability to have a bunch of different locales in a single movie, it’s rare to see one literally take place a block away from one of the other stories (not counting stuff like Trick R Treat where the stories are entwined). I half expected to see the girls running past our new heroine as she entered her office. Anyway, this one’s about the night shift operator of an answering service (luckily, part of the point is that the business model no longer makes sense with everyone getting cell phones, keeping it from being too dated a scenario), and of course she gets a creepy caller.
Here’s the thing – phone calls aren’t really that scary when you know where the caller is (we see him at a phone booth, and we know her building has a guard to boot). So until the guy actually shows up, it’s a total snoozefest. It would have been far more interesting if he was calling from the building the whole time or something, but instead he’s out and about, and by the time he DOES show up there, it’s almost over. It also ends before the two even face off. I’m all for a downer ending, but there’s gotta be a moment of triumph for the heroine first, or else it just doesn’t carry any weight.
Then the wraparound goes completely off the rails, with a girl being sucked into a wind vortex of some sort and a stop motion skeleton chasing the “main character” around through all of the other stories (like, she opens a door and finds herself in the office building from the phone service story, after seeing the wife’s disembodied head from the first one). And thus, of course, we find out it’s all been a dream. Throughout the movie she’s been sort of weirded out and even clairvoyant, and now we know why – she’s apparently stuck in some sort of time loop (in a dream) reliving all of this over and over. Yeah, awesome. This movie actually managed to make me annoyed that a big chunk of stuff I didn’t even like didn’t happen.
I mean, it’s WATCHABLE, and I like that (save for the dream nonsense) it’s the rare anthology featuring only real-world dangers instead of supernatural elements, but it’s just so painfully average and generic. None of the stories have twists, none are particularly exciting, and it doesn’t even offer any gore to make up for the other faults. Plus, it doesn’t even really live up to its own concept – none of the people in the segments are afraid of anything, and nothing that happens in the wraparound segments really play on the students’ fears. The crazy professor is kind of interesting, because he apparently feels no fear (in the film’s best moment, he gets set on fire but rather than scream and run around, he just keeps attacking some other dude). Ultimately, the only thing it really offers for entertainment is seeing future star Marg Helgenberger slumming in a junky horror movie (she’s the phone operator). Also, Pamela Segall, best known as the voice of Bobby Hill, plays the main girl’s best friend in the wraparounds, and you can hear a bit of Bobby in a few of her whinier moments. If that’s enough for you to sit through a 92 minute movie on Netflix (with a fairly lo-res transfer to boot), I wholly recommend After Midnight.
And who is responsible for this nonsense? Jim and Ken Wheat, who were behind the oddly compelling Silent Scream, and wrote the awesome Pitch Black, but also were two of the writers behind NOES 4. Oh, and a fucking Ewok movie (Battle for Endor). I’m sure they are nice guys, but I think I will start lowering my expectations quite a bit the next time I see their names involved with a film.
What say you?