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At a run down theater in a sleepy suburban town, a group of friends get together for a midnight screening of an early 1970's horror film. The director/star is thought to have died five years earlier in a psych ward massacre. But the detective and doctor who witnessed the aftermath of the bloodbath suspect that the director was not a victim, but the perpetrator of the killings and is still on the loose. What none of them understand is that he has enshrined his soul into the film itself. As the film starts, the kids heckle the old black-and-white scenes, but are jolted when the movie's gruesome killer butchers one of their friends on screen! They realize that it is not the prank that they had hoped it was as they soon become the stars of the very movie they are watching on the screen. Caught between the world of reality and the screen's flickering shadows, these unsuspecting viewers fight to stay alive in the locked theater.
For more about Midnight Movie and the Midnight Movie Blu-ray release, see Midnight Movie Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on November 12, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Jack Messitt
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Midnight Movie Blu-ray Review
An innocent night at the theater becomes a gruesome scene of terror.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, November 12, 2009
Have you ever contemplated why the horror genre has become so successful over the years? What is it about fictional depictions of depravity that invokes such an immense element of fear in the masses? Perhaps it's the sense of realism achieved by modern gore effects, or the feeling of unease that accompanies a storyline capable of delivering the unthinkable. There's even a chance we feel heightened adrenaline and fear as a result of that strange little voice in the back of our head telling us this could all really happen. Whatever the reason may be, scores of movie-goers file into the lobby of their local theater each year, hoping to be scared out of their wits by the latest frightful feature. All they ask for is 90 minutes of spine-tingling entertainment, before they return to the normalcy of everyday life. Midnight Movie flips our expectations upside down, turning a harmless theatrical experience into a nightmare from hell.
Back in the 1970's, a low-budget horror film called The Dark Beneath was written and directed by Ted Radford (Arthur Roberts). The film eventually turned the director into a psychopath, leading to his confinement in a mental facility. Believing Radford could be desensitized through exposure to the film, one of the lead specialists at the facility allows him to watch his masterpiece, which inexplicably leads to the disappearance of Radford and a bloody massacre of the attendants in the facility. Several months later, a local theater arranges a midnight showing of Radford's legendary film, attracting a small crowd of local high-school students, a menacing biker couple, the young brother of the theater manager, a local detective in search of Radford, and the doctor who first arrived on the gruesome scene of the facility following Radford's escape. As the film opens, the eclectic mix of theater patrons assume they're settling in for a routine black-and-white slasher film, with a shoe-string budget and simplistic scares. However, the seemingly innocent experience takes a turn for the worst, when a member of the audience turns up on the floor of the bathroom with a hole through his stomach. To make matters worse, everyone in attendance saw the murder take place within the frames of the 40-year-old film.
Just when you think you've seen it all, a film comes along that completely defies logic. Some stories demand the ability to embrace the creative side of your brain by rejecting the need for an explanation, while other movies simply rely on style over substance to keep the audience entertained. Midnight Movie falls completely within the latter category. During the first 20 minutes of the film, I expected something rational to take place, drawing a link between the escape of Radford and the eventual showing of his creepy film. When it finally became clear that wasn't going to happen, a degree of frustration began to set in. For example, the film constantly presents us with new situations where the characters believe they have a way to stop the murderous rampage of the psycho killer (or at least escape with their lives), but there's always an inexplicable occurrence that dashes their hopes. By the time you reach the scene where the projector acts like a transformer in piecing itself back together again, you'll probably wonder why any of the characters bother looking for a way out of their inevitable fate. To make matters worse, the last 10 minutes of the film dash any hope for a cohesive ending, presenting an "Ah ha" revelation that's far from memorable (and makes about as much sense as using a fork to eat soup).
Despite my overall disappointment in the lack of a cohesive plot, first-time writer/director Jack Messitt manages to maintain a reasonable level of tension throughout Midnight Movie. In that regard, the weaknesses in the story actually work to the film's advantage, by keeping the audience in the dark regarding the motivations of the killer, and the rules he must follow during his murderous rampage. We're never really sure where the killer is going to show up, or why he disappears back into the film at random moments, but we are aware that the terrified band of movie patrons seem powerless against him. Beyond the villain himself, Messitt does an excellent job creating an atmosphere that oozes dread. There's something inherently creepy about an aging movie theater that seems perfect for a story of this nature. With stained walls, yellowing décor, and theater seats that creak while returning to their upright position, we can all appreciate the character and history of these entertainment landmarks. The next time you visit a theater, stop and think about the variety of film-goers you're surrounded by, and the likelihood you're sitting in a seat once occupied by a stranger with a story you'd rather not hear.
Midnight Movie Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 19Mbps), Midnight Movie offers a clean presentation that largely surpasses its low-budget roots. Fine object detail possesses a high level of clarity in most aspects of the image, revealing every atmospheric nuance on the surroundings of the grimy theater. Unfortunately, I'm a bit concerned with a discovery that one of our old transfer-related enemies has cropped up on this release. Looking closely for blemishes, pores, or stubble on the surface of faces reveals moderate definition, and there appears to be a slight haziness that obscures the finest textures. The same thing can be said for fibers on clothing, causing a degree of concern regarding the use of DNR. It's certainly not bad enough to warrant a significant markdown in my video rating, but is still worth mentioning. Moving along to the color scheme, I'm fairly certain this reflects the director's intentions in recreating the source material, but viewers expecting a vivid spectrum will need to look elsewhere. Between the heavy incorporation of yellow filters during indoor sequences, the dark interior shots of the theater auditorium, and the black and white photography of the vintage film, there's simply not much room for colors to pop off the screen. When they do get a chance to shine (see the early scenes in the theater lobby for a good example), the transfer does a fine job delivering robust hues. Equally impressive, are the depth of black levels, and the proficiency of contrast in delivering differentiation through difficult material. Dark interior shots are usually the breeding ground for lost shadow detail, but my worries were soon put to rest on this release.
Midnight Movie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio presentation is equally proficient, creating a strong, atmospheric sound design that's laced with a mixture of subtle and jarring environmental noises. From the shrill screech of the grinding wheel sharpening the killer's instrument of destruction, to the trickling of water droplets in storage hallway of the theater basement, every minor detail comes to life with a wonderful sense of clarity. As with any good horror film, Midnight Movie manages to immerse the viewer in a world of fear, utilizing extensive surround activity that never lets up. Bullets zing from speaker to speaker, and the tell-tale shuffle of the killer's bum leg can be heard creeping up behind you from the rear sound field. Beyond the impressive surround activity throughout the film, the lossless mix also contains a perfect volume balance between the dialogue, effects and music. I never found myself straining to hear the conversations between characters, and although the music is a bit generic, it rarely pulled my attention away from the pervasive tension created by the environmental effects. It's rare to hear such an impressive sound mix on a low-budget film in the horror genre, making Midnight Movie a stand-out presentation among its peers.
Midnight Movie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Creative Team Featurette (480p, DTS 2.0, 6:52 min): Most of the main players involved in the film's production are interviewed regarding the concepts they hoped to touch on, and the difficulties involved in shooting a low-budget horror film. More than anything, you can tell these folks possess a healthy level of pride in the final product.
Cast Featurette (480p, DTS 2.0, 7:56 min): This supplement is a continuation of the prior interview session, but instead of focusing on the themes of a horror film, the cast interviews center on the personalities of various characters in the film. If you've already watched the film, this extra is completely unnecessary.
Storyboard and VFX (480p, DTS 2.0, 6:46 min): As the title implies, this making-of featurette takes viewers behind the scenes during several gory sequences, to demonstrate how the effects were completed.
Additional Shooting (480p, DTS 2.0, 8:34 min): Director Jack Messitt takes the audience on a tour of his final day of shooting, where he was able to go back and re-film several scenes that didn't work as he'd originally intended. Throughout the scenes, we're shown some hilarious stick-figure storyboards drawn by Messitt.
Deleted Scenes (480p, DTS 2.0, 3:10 min): The title implies there are multiple scenes here, but what we really get is a single three minute segment showing the initial kill, but using a different actor (who apparently took a different acting gig during the first week of production).
Rounding out the extras, we have three high-definition trailers for Midnight Movie.
Midnight Movie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Midnight Movie is somewhat hard to judge, since it fails as much as it succeeds. If you know what to expect going in, you might find more redeeming value in the production than I did. However, the shortcomings in the plot will likely become more and more apparent on subsequent viewings, reducing the film's residual value over time. If you consider yourself a huge horror fan, or you're simply looking for a new take on the slasher genre, this might be worth your consideration. For all others, I'd recommend you stick with a rental and spend your hard-earned cash on a more deserving entry in your collection.
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