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!

Satan’s Evil Indestructible, Hairy Servant! “Beast of the Yellow Night” review!


At the tail end of the second great war, Philippines based U.S. army deserter and Japanese sympathizer, Joseph Langdon, runs for his life as the Philippines police and guard track him down through the jungle for committed heinous acts that not only include treason, but also rape and murder. Exhausted and dying from his wounds, Langdon will do anything to stop the process of pain and death, including making a deal with Satan himself. In exchange for saving his life, Langdon commits himself to eternal servitude at the malevolent pleasures of Satan by inhabiting various souls and bodies through the decades and extracting the latent evil from his interactions with people, but Langdon finds himself again exhausted and exacts free thought and a rebellious stance against his master after inhabiting an American business man and given back his own face. The Dark Lord, as amusing as he wicked, bestows upon Langdon the ability to transform into a flesh hungry man-beast whenever his desires boil to the surface and he becomes the most wanted man in the Philippines, but how can they stop a monstrous fiend they can’t kill? The answer lies solely with the damned Langdon himself.

Rarely does a horror film birthed from the Philippines reach my critical virtual desk and, fortunately, “Beast of the Yellow Night” lands smack-dab in my lap as an absolute jewel from the early 1970’s from writer-director Eddie Romero. The 1969 “The Mad Doctor of Blood Island” director, who’s heritage is Pilipino, had visions of grandeur for his large scale features that stem from an infinitesimal budget, but with enthusiastic energy from former musician and beach party, teen heart throb John Ashley, the duo cofounded their theatrical finance company, Four Associates Ltd, to produce their very own horror feature films straight out of the Philippines which “Beast of the Yellow Night” was one of first to be released, if not the very first to be produced. Additional funding was provided by a little known distribution company, New World Pictures, jointly founded by the genre-setting Corman brothers, Roger and Gene, and thus forth “The Night of the Yellow Beast” was built upon a rich and solid cult foundation that began a Philipino-film circuit conversely well-known in the U.S. and put Eddie Romero on the proverbial map of relatively unknown and granular cult directors while providing a branching out of yet another successful credential façade for John Ashley that doesn’t involve country music or being just another pretty face in the beach party moviegoer crowd.

If you haven’t guessed by now or if you’re just as dense like myself, John Ashley also stars in his co-produced creature feature and Ashley, who goes without saying that he stands in his own rite, is also the Paul Naschy equivalent of the Philippine Islands with his all hands on deck attitude toward filmmaking and being the man behind the gnarly man-beast makeup that more than likely takes hours to apply. His performance as even tempered Joseph Langdon is a stark contrast from the wild and vicious beast with a flesh appetite and knack for mauling that herd this film into the werewolf category according many descriptive plots, summaries, and reviews, but “The Night of the Yellow Beast” actually resembles more of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde familiarity as Langdon doesn’t transform when the full moon is high, but rather at the whims of his tormentor, in this case it’s Satan rather than an ill-fated elixir, and then he morphs more rapidly and explosively during exhilarating and endorphin stimulated moments like intimacy to further exacerbate his dreadful curse on Earth. Langdon and beast Langdon are befriended by a blind, long-tooth ex-con, Sabasas Nan, played by “The Big Bird Cage’s” Andreas Centenera and Centenera captures the gentle nature and extended wisdom of a man at the tail end of life and looking to right the wrong for his past mistakes. Sabasas Nan is similar to the blind man in the tale of Frankenstein that doesn’t judge, become frightened, or even shun the ugly shell of a monster, but though visionless, both blind men are able to clearly see into the soul of what used to be once a man. “Beast of the Yellow Night” also stars leading lady Mary Wilcox (“Love Me Deadly”), Leopoldo Salcedo, Eddie Garcia (“The Woman Hunt”), Ken Metcalfe (“TNT Jackson”), and labeled as the Filipino Peter Lorre, Vic Diaz (“Black Mama White Mama”) as the pot-belly Satan and Langdon’s mischievous master.

Eddie Romero’s deep and intellectual script sticks out amongst the fray of time lapse and post-skirmish makeup effects that teeters “Beast of the Yellow Night” on a B- to C- movie. Not that the special and makeup effects were completely awful or subpar by any means, but the directing filmmaker pushes the boundaries to scribe the pull strings of a man’s soul, really digging into the anguished flesh of redemption and mankind’s mortal coil, which puts a lightly coated dampening on Langdon’s transformations from man-to-beast that hasn’t yet reached the Paul Naschy level of editing and progressiveness toward his horror films. In fact, the “Yellow Beast’s” effects are merely one step below that aforementioned level. However, the beast is no wolf of any sorts, but nor it isn’t a man in a cheap leathery or latex rubber mask that materializes a rather mangled, mangy beheld fiend with razor sharp canine teeth shown through a ferociously hungry and breathy-snarling maw set below equally ravenous eyes that yearns for the blood of man. For 1971, the effects are exceptionally marvelous, but Romero’s script just blows the practicalities out of the water being ahead of its time and sorely overshadow the effects work.

MVDVisual and VCI Entertainment proudly gift to us “Beast of the Yellow Night” onto 2-disc all region DVD/Blu-ray home video. Produced from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative, VCI Entertainment’s widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation in full Metrocolor is mondo cult cinema exhibited on a high level and despite some blotchy patches, the corrected coloring and cleaner picture are by far the best we’ll ever see while still sustaining a healthy amount of beneficial cinematic grain. The prologue has coloring issues with about 20% of the right side of the film strip in sepia harboring in sepia town, but becomes corrected after the title and credit sequence. The English and Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, mono audio track has lossy bite that’s expected and yet, still maintains ample dialogue track and a solid and balanced in range ambient track. Optional English subtitles with SDH are also included. Bonus features include a 2018 commentary track by writer and filmmaker Howard S. Berger and the head of Mondo Digital, Nathaniel Thomspon, old and insightful video interviews about John Ashley and the Filipino films of the 19870’s with Eddie Romero, Sam Sherman, Patrick Wayne, Peter Tombs, Eddie Garcia, Gloria Hendry, Sig Haig, and Jan Martin, a Remembering John Ashley featurette that includes interviews with wife Jan Ashley, filmmaker Fred Olen Rey, Steve Stevens, and Andrew Stevens, original theatrical trailer and TV spots. Plus, a thorough inner liner essay from Howard S. Berger that goes examines “Beast of the Yellow Night” and the films of that era that are a metaphor for much, much more. “Beast of the Yellow Night” is a simple message cause and effect. If vileness becomes you, then villainy will forever run fluidly through your icy veins in this Eddie Romero and John Ashley monstrous picture that pulls at the tattered strings of a downtrodden soul.

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