EVIL Ditches Satan, Picks Up a Camcorder. “Midnight 2: Sex, Death, and Videotape” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

The sole survivor of the murderous, devil-worshipping cult family, Abraham Barnes, continues to kill under a new outward show as amateur videophile recording everything and everyone to gain their trust.   Instead of harboring his mother’s dark intentions of eternal life, Abraham simply thirsts for killing, documenting his premeditated methods using a camcorder.  When his latest victim goes missing, her friend initiates an investigation with a police detective, but Abraham is always recording, always one step ahead of them both, always on the hunt.  With the trap set and the play button pressed, the blood-lusting survivor of the maniacal, serial killing Barnes family preserves a lineage legacy of death. 

Screenshot from AGFA

Ten years after releasing his moderately successful All-American shocker, “Midnight,” John Russo returns with the Barnes family.  Well, at least one of them in the 1993 release of “Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape.”  Also known as simply just “Midnight 2,” the secondary title references the widely popular 1989 Steven Soderbergh film of sexual testimonial video-tales in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell.  The sequel gives way to a new motive and theme that’s very different from the satanic panic aspect of the original.  “Midnight 2” enters the mind of a serial murderer with every calculated and cold thought and whim that crosses the killer’s mind laid out in detail to paint a compulsive picture. Behind the scenes, conjuring up resources to make the sequel exist as it stands today, is “Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja’s” J.R. Bookwalter, the head-honcho in production and distribution of his own created company banner, Tempe Entertainment. Bookwalter, who also wears the director of photography and editor hat on this film amongst others, produces the Russo sequel that was shot on location in Bookwalter’s home city of Akron, Ohio.

If you’re expecting or anticipating seeing John Amplas (“Martin,” “Day of the Dead”) return to the Abraham role 10 years later, be prepared to be severely let down as Amplas does not return for “Midnight 2.” Instead, profound schlock horror screenwriter and composer, Matthew Jason Walsh, brings a whole new peculiarity to Abraham Barnes and I’m not just talking about his face or mannerisms. Walsh, who penned such David DeCoteau C-list gems as “Witchouse,” “Young Blood, Fresh Meat,” and “The Killer Eye,” goes face-to-face with the camera in a hybrid performance as lead actor and lead narrator of his own exposition into his own executions. Being a sociopath is never fleeting from Walsh who can sink into the sardonicism of the Abraham character naturally as one of the two only traits to carryover from the original film with the other being a killer. Aside from a boat load of archival footage and a verbal recap of nearly the entire first film, the whole Devil-worshipping aspect of the Barness family is dropped in favor of a more undisclosed truth in the hidden agenda of a person who thrives off the hunt and the kill. Abraham goes through verbatim his daily, stalking routine in a publicized manner of videorecording everything and everyone to capture as much detail as possible as well as capture their last moments. Russo does throw in escape clause caveat for Abraham in that if he meets the right girl, the love for her will be strong enough to break him away from killing and possibly start a family and while Russo plays into that tangent a little with Jane (“Killer Nerd’s” Lori Scarlett), nothing much more materializes significantly as a romantic conflict that circles back to that subtheme. Russo ultimately gives in to a more cat-and-mouse game with Jane’s worried friend Rebecca (“Chickboxer’s” Jo Norcia) and the detective who rather slip into Rebecca’s pants than actually solve the case in a stiffer than roadkill performance by Chuck Pierce Jr. (“The Legend of Boggy Creek”).

Screencap from AGFA

I wonder how much ‘Midnight 2″ is actually from the mind of John Russo or if it’s more of the J.R. Bookwalter show in calling the shots from the producer’s director’s chair as the film feels very much like Bookwalter’s usual fare, a SOV, DIY, home brew production of local Ohioan talent. “Midnight 2” also goes from the backwoods suburbia of Pittsburgh to the concrete structures of Akron, leaving behind any remnants of Abraham’s satanic past in the ground along with his dead siblings, but the sequel very dutifully leans into us with a heavy archival footage recap with Walsh narrating the entire damn thing. I kid you not, the recap is approx. a third of the runtime and so essentially, “Midnight 2” is a two for one straight-to-video special. Granted, the archival footage remains in its untouched up state so don’t expect the Severin grade video quality. In one way “Midnight 2” is discerned to be more of a Russo film is the very hesitancy of graphic, blood-shedding violence. Bookwalter’s a bit of gorehound in making some gruesome grisliness out of the singles from a Podunk stripper’s Kmart thong. There’s none of that imaginative ingenuity here with a surprising severe lack of that adored shot-on-video nastiness common of its era, especially from the likes of John Russo in filing a rated 13 release according to the DVD back cover, enervating “Midnight 2” as a inferior sequel that tries on a new pair of shoes but ends up limping with a lame gait.

Screencap from AGFA

Russo might always be remembered for his contribution to the start of the “Living Dead” franchise. The cult legendary filmmaker surely found modest success with his first directorial run with “Midnight.” Yet, “Midnight 2” will have a tough time keeping out of the celebrated shadows of Russo’s credits, but the indie, underground horror label SRS Cinema pulls back the shrouding curtain with a newly released, MVD Visual distributed DVD featuring two cuts of the film. Fitted with a retro look and ghastly illustrated cover art, a superb upgrade from the VHS cover, the region free DVD is presented shot-on-video in a 4:3 aspect ratio on both cuts. Essentially, both cuts are the same with reworked scenes and narration with the except of the 90-minute rough cut having extended archival footage of the first film. The main version runs slimmer at 72-minutes. The lossy image quality abides within both versions with a flat color palette that, at times, had a singularity about its choice of unflattering hue, compression macroblocks consistently flare up, and dimly discernable innate tracking lines with video recording destabilize the image. The anemic English Language single channel mono mix is a bottom of the barrel budget sound design and that was to be expected. Dialogue does come over clear enough but lacks vigor and crispness as there is just too much electrical interference shushing in the background. Depth’s a bit awkward too with the actors conversing in the background but have foreground decibel levels. Aside from the two cuts of the feature, the only other bonus content is the theatrical trailer and other SRS home video trailers. “Midnight 2” works as a standalone in a different shot-on-video horror light but is crammed with unnecessary recapping on a story built around the destined, convoluted conjecture of a homicidal narcissist and his videotape addiction.

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

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