EVIL Strikes at the Stroke of “Midnight” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Severin)

Teenager Nancy searches for forgiveness through reestablishing her faith in God after being dumped by her sexually active boyfriend.  When her alcoholic, police officer stepfather learns of the relationship’s abrupt ending, he moves in quickly to take advantage of Nancy while under the heavy influence of the bottle.  Escaping his grasp, she flles home and hitchhikes a ride with two men travelling South on a getaway from Pennsylvania to sunny Fort Lauderdale, but when facing trouble with small town local law enforcement after attempting to steal groceries, the three find themselves right in the middle of a Satanic cult’s sacrificial ritual that requires the killing of three women for eternal life, one a night at midnight for three days.  Held in a dog cage, Nancy anxiously awaits her turn at the bloodletting alter surrounded by the cloaked-cladded cult and their decomposing mother’s corpse  Praying to God to save her soul, little does Nancy know that her stepfather has tracked down her whereabouts, leading to a bloody showdown of one cop pitted against a family of satanic psychopaths. 

Based of his 1980 novel of the same title, “Midnight” is known to be John Russo’s heart-and-soul project that ended up suffering one mishap after another in the two years of its production and post-production until it’s final release in 1982.  Also known as “Backwoods Massacre,” the “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer Russo helms the low-budget occult slasher out from his usual stomping grounds in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “Midnight” showcases a story themed with a depraved sense of race intolerance for African Americans and all varieties of religious convictions to be innately false in an atheistic Russo viewpoint amongst a glorified surface level of enrapturing inhumane violence seasoned by brainwashing.  This West Pennsylvanian born and bred grindhouse exploitation found producers in  Sam Sherman and Daniel Q. Kennis of “Blazing Stewardesses” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”) along with Donald Redinger under the now defunct Independent-International Picture Corp.

In a sea of smaller fish of Pittsburgh actors in “Midnight’s” casting tow is a larger and rougher around the gills grouper embodied by the singular Lawrence Tierney (“Reservoir Dogs,” “The Prowler”) in the Officer Bert Johnson role. Tierney’s no stranger to the horror genre, flaunting his thick New York tough guy accent that typically typecasts the veteran actor into authoritative roles. In being no exception, “Midnight” has Tierney playing a sleazy, alcoholic, police officer who winds up more-or-less unearthing sense in his old age and utilizing his skills for good to fully satisfy his character’s arc, but Tierney alone is wonderful to behold and easy to be disgusted by as he solicits his underage teenage stepdaughter with a perverted proposition. That stepdaughter, Nancy (Melanie Verlin), is the face of “Midnight’s” protagonist whose attempting to get back on track with God after a sinful bedroom relationship with an ex-boyfriend, but her plans are slighted by a brood of young Satanists keen on keeping their now long deceased mother’s irreligious convictions intact. David Marchick, George Romero regular Ted Amplas (“Day of the Dead” 1978, “Martin”), Robin Walsh, and the face of “Midnight” on many of the posters, Greg Besnack, size up as the Satanic terrible and merciless foursome. The cast fills out with Charles Johnson, John Hall, Bob Johnson, Lachele Carl, Jackie Nicoll, Doris Hackney, and Ellie Wyler.

After the success of a collaborated run with George Romero on a handful of projects, John Russo ultimately branches off to do his own creative output after their production company, Latent Image, brought on newcomers’ and the shared ideas on the direction of their company didn’t sit well with Russo – an irk that Russo still harps upon to this day, according to the special features’ new interview from the latest Severin Film’s release.  Yet, I digress into the review of “Midnight” that has feral narrative with an irregular plotted blueprint of teenager exploitation, racial injustice, and backwoods barbarians.  Somehow, Russo’s able to juggle his jotted down on a budget scrambler with a threadbare satanic family baseline that unsettlingly feels snagged in a randomizing generator spitting out scenes to see if they cohesively connect into the next.  Nancy’s traversing into the thicket of terror story cuts into and undermines more of the sibling’s unholy ritual, which the title “Midnight” becomes an important piece to the ceremony, with a subplot of the teen running away from a handsy stepfather and into the Mystery Machine modeled van-driving hands of a pair of cavalier friends on a road trip and then find themselves in an endgame of rotten luck with bad company.  The whole lead up to the two groups running into each other is suddenly dropped like a bad habit, forgoing much of the racial tensions, the youthful subverts, and even the attempt at pedophilia when the main, overarching theme of cult mayhem and religion inadequacies come to the forefront.  “Midnight” inarguably a gargantuan piece of good ole American hicksville victimization with some underappreciated manic performances by John Amplas and Greg Besnak, but there’s difficulty in shaking “Midnight’s” stark story division that leaves much to be desired.

“Midnight” is the particular video nasty that’s surpassing all of it’s other formatted counterparts with a Severin Film’s 4K scanned Blu-ray of the full uncut negative.  The 1080p Full High Definition, region free BD50 is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a respectable color correction, but the correction sees unstable moments regressing near the cuts revealing the lifeless yellow tinge of unmastered quality. A right amount of grain, a great amount of detail, and hardly any damage to the thought-lost uncut negative proves Severin found buried treasure of the John Russo shocker. Two audio options grace the release with an English language DTS-HD 5.1 surround and an English 2.0 Stereo. While the 5.1 offers a more robust audio option of funneling individual tracks through their respective channels, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Midnight” has an overwhelming yield for audiophiles. Soundtrack comes across just enough to know it’s there, the dialogue is clean and unimpeded, but what unfolds out of clarity is the wonky foley ambience that just render solemn scenes silly. Severin offers up a new interviews under “Midnight’s” mediocre cult status with director John Russo – Making Midnight – as top bill in a lengthy discussion about his long career, his acquaintances including George Romero, and, of course, his recollections about “Midnight.” Other interviews include producer Samuel Sherman – Producing Midnight, actor John Amplas – The Midnight Killer, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini – Small Favors – who barely remembers working very little on this film by providing pre-fabricated headshots and sliced throat prosthetics. An isolated score selection with audio interview with Mike Mazzei, an alternate title card for “Backwoods Massacre,” the trailer, and radio spot round out the bonus content inside the blackout snapcase. Prolific as John Russo may be in horror literature, filmmaking, and in legendary regards with his work alongside Romero, “Midnight” reflects poorly on his cinematic vocation and while many problems plagued production and post-production, Russo somehow managed to root out a passable working cut of crazed satanic panic.

“MIDNIGHT” available on Blu-ray from Severin!

Small Town Evil Under a Full Moon! “Silver Bullet” review!


A small town is under sieged by a callous killer, ripping victims to bloody pieces and shreds without an ounce of mercy. As the town goes into a lockdown curfew, a paraplegic young boy named Marty decides to enact his own version of rebellious fun with a stroll in his gas-engine powered wheelchair for some nighttime fireworks, despite a killer on the loose and lurking in the moonlight. Marty’s fun turns into a terrifying nightmare when the killer stalks the boy and when Marty comes face to face with the killer and lives to tell the tale, he discovers that the town maniac is no ordinary deranged person but, in fact, a nasty, snarling werewolf whose also living in plain sight amongst them in the small town community. The only two to believe Marty’s harrowing tale is his older sister, Jane, and his drunk Uncle Red, whose still on the fence about Marty’s werewolf encounter. When the moon is high and full, the three devise a plan to lure out the monster to definitively put it down with a single shot from their one and only silver bullet.

A true piece of Americana horror, “Silver Bullet” remains a staple werewolf flick for those who grew up watching genre films in the 1980s. Daniel Attias, his first and only ever feature film, had embraced a larger-than-life monster movie from a script written by the legendary macabre novelist Stephen King, based off his novella “Cycle of the Werewolf.” Attias and King were practically novices when in regards to directing and screenplays; yet, “Silver Bullet” offers much in the way of comedy, drama, and the frightening scares with a practical effects wolf and snippets of gruesome, violent death at the hands of the beast. “Silver Bullet” goes beyond just being a thrilling story of good versus evil by also blurring the lines of the conventional establishment that spark up the old idiom, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and dives into a satirical outlook of certain religious faiths and their viewpoints.

What makes “Silver Bullet” as one of the most recognizable and rememberable films, regardless of some microscopic sloppy screenwriting and first time directing woes, is the cast. Before his life altering motorcycle accident, Gary Busey (“Predator 2”) as Uncle Red brings flesh and bone, and booze, to akin King’s Uncle Al character from the novella. Busey fabricates a wonderful, heartwarming performance dynamic with Marty, whose played by the late Corey Haim (“Lost Boys”). Haim is fresh to the scene with his chubby cheeks and doughy soft eyes that would eventually make him a heartthrob idol later into his career and at the young age of thirteen, Haim’s paraplegic performance is respectable and empowering. Uncle Red and Marty are pitted against a sleeper antagonist in Revered Lester Lowe, a role who I could see no one else being in aside from Everett McGill (“People Under the Stairs”). McGill has a face for television, or the big screen in this case, as his chiseled, dark features make him a formidable foe that’s hidden behind a clerical collar. Longtime television and TV movie star Megan Follows plays big sister Jane whom factors in as Marty’s only ally despite their dysfunctional relationship which Follows portrays well with verbal jabs of adolescent wickedness toward her disabled little brother. Rounding out the cast is Terry O’Quinn (“The Stepfather”), Bill Smitrovich (“Manhunter”), and “Reservior Dogs” Lawrence Tierney.

Television cooking show host, Giada De Laurentiis’ grandfather, Dino De Laurentiis, produced the film who was no stranger to the horror genre, such as “Orca” and “Amityville II,” nor to films adapted from Stephen King’s work like the “Dead Zone.” Under Luarentiis’ wing, “Silver Bullet” delivered brutal, traumatizing werewolf kills spun from the werewolf suit creating hands of another Italian, Carlo Rambaldi (“The Hand That Feeds the Dead”), and together, the two Italian filmmakers, along with an apt cast and crew, saw their installment flourish amongst an overcrowded werewolf subgenre in the early 1980’s with competition from films such as John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London,” “The Howling,” and, yes, even “Teen Wolf.” “Silver Bullet” didn’t just arrive on the scene without some challenges to the storyline. For instance, a killing spree has already established with more than five townsfolk dead and a strict curefew has been set in place, but Marty, ignoring his Uncle Red’s solicited advice about staying near the house to set off fireworks, sneaks out in the middle of the night to shoot off fireworks away from the house. Marty’s fairly bright through the entire story and a nice kid, but the initial encounter between him and the werewolf is by far one of the most unintelligent and dim-witted action any character to make in the history of horror films. What makes the scenario even worse is that Marty is handicapped.

Umbrella Entertainment presents Daniel Attias’ “Silver Bullet” on region B Blu-ray home video in a widescreen 2.35.1 aspect ratio. Image quality of the full high-definition 1080p picture has an agreeable color palette, sharpness, and pinpoint details that especially come to light during the memorable church of wolves scene. A very few scenes have transfer instability where, in a blink of an eye, a revert to a faded frame comes into the fold. The English 2.0 DTE-HD master audio poises and harmonizes the elements and the dialogue into a vat of consistency that isn’t flawed by track damage. Jay Chattaway rallying, chilling score is a candor testament to the quality of the soundtrack that follows suit right behind the beyond par quality of the dialogue and ambient levels. Special features include audio commentary with director Daniel Attias, interviews with special effects artists Michael McCracken, Jr (“Deep Blue Sea”) & Matthew Mingle (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”), an interview with actor Everett McGill, an Umbrella exclusive interview with producer Martha De Laurentii’s remembering “Silver Bullet,” isolated score selections and audio interviews with composer James Chattaway, theatrical trailer, TV Spots, radio spot, and still gallery. A complete and definitive set from Umbrella Entertainment! “Silver Bullet” is a howling success story of classic American horror that has timeless practical effects, a riveting narrative, and cast enriched characters that invest into the lycanthropy film paralleling David versus Goliath.