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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Ten to Midnight J. Lee Thompson 1983

Hot. Cross. Buns.

Once in a blue moon a film will toddle along that was so flagrantly misguided in both premise and execution that it resulted in a certified freakbaby. These unfortunate creatures are the bottled mistakes on display under dim lighting in the last, creakiest car of the traveling circus; they are the two-headed, forked-tongued thalydamide babies of the film world. And while some of these off-center offspring are similar enough to legitimate entertainment to "pass" as standard studio film fare (Baby Geniuses, Battlefield Earth), others are sadly too deformed and unpredictable to play with the other kids.

Such a film is Ten to Midnight.

If Ten to Midnight had a real, living mother, she would have been a Cirque de Soleil contortionist with a serious crack habit who worked part-time in a radiology clinic and drank kerosene with tonic -- all while pregnant. Part thriller, part slasher, part crime drama, part action, and part nudie, this movie tosses just about everything you can think of into the Genre Cuisinart and gleefully presses Liquefy. Still, despite its varied associations and questionable genetic makeup, the film does share some similarities with its closest affiliation, the Creepy White Man movie.

Creepy White Man movies had a heyday in the late seventies and early eighties, when the people of America looked around and, not having the Communists to yell at anymore, decided that they'd pick on their next-door neighbors instead. Often as violent as slashers, CWM's are distinct in that they abandon the whole "mystery killer" device in exchange for putting the killer right in front of the camera where we can watch him squirm (see also: Eyes of a Stranger, The Seduction). The fun of watching the action unfold is then no longer trying to figure out who the killer is, but rather how he's going to outwit the heroes (who are usually involved in law enforcement or journalism) and how many people will get caught in the crossfire. In the course of the story we are usually exposed to a seedy underbelly of sex and drugs and violence buried just beneath the calm surface of idyllic middle-class life, and the protagonists are usually dragged lightly through the muck, only soiling the cuffs of their trousers and hems of their (pleated) skirts.

Considering that the "buy-in" for a CWM movie is how clever and discreet the killer is going to be, that's where Ten to Midnight really stands apart: this man is fucking loony-tunes. From start to finish, this CWM displays the uncanny ability to go totally apeshit for no apparent reason, behave like a complete insaniac, trash persons and property, and still manage to get away.

You're probably wondering by now what kind of insane things our antihero does. First, he kills people. More importantly, he kills them in the nude.

Yes, folks - in what I believe to be a sadly underexplored subgenre, we have our first "All Nude, All the Time" Killer. Whenever things get tense and he needs to kill someone, he has to get naked. I mean, REALLY naked. And thanks to some clever direction and well-placed pieces of furniture, we get to see him stalk and slash in all his glory - and I've gotta say that they picked the right guy in casting Gene Davis in this role. Brother of Brad, Gene may not have the angelic face of his sibling, but BOY does he make up for it below the neckline! And why not? If we're gonna be seeing this character naked more often than not, he'd may as well have the pooper to back it up. I could literally spend hours rhapsodizing on the swing of Mr. Davis's shit-box, but I'll refrain mostly out of fear of developing carpal tunnel in the process. From typing, of course…

So anyway, here's the deal: Warren Stacy (the exceedingly well-jibbed Mr. Davis) is a man with a mission: to get back at his skanky co-worker who dissed him at the company picnic. He goes to see a movie and insults a few girls in the audience. I'm thinking, "that's very aggressive for a CWM", who are usually a little more reserved. But wait - as he sneaks out the bathroom window, we understand that this is all part of some kind of plan, a plan that involves...

Walking around ass-naked clutching a knife. The inexplicably nude Stacy approaches the van where the lady and her beau are boffing, and dispatches them. Satisfied, he returns to the moviehouse, flushes an enormous plastic bag filled with bloody rubber gloves down the toilet (so THAT's who those signs in restaurant bathrooms are always complaining about…) and takes his seat for the end of the picture, at which point he re-harrasses the girls he'd met earlier. The chick is dead, his alibi is tight, and he's now got an all-over tan.

Detective Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) attends the funeral. Wait - did I not mention that Charles Bronson is in this movie? Yes, THE Charles Bronson. Yes, that one. He actually appeared in the first scene of the film, but it was so boring that I forgot that it was even there, but here he is, back to investigate the murder of the chippie, who it turns out used to be his neighbor's daughter. Leo also has a daughter, a nurse at the local hospital (Laurie, played by Lisa Eilbacher), who whines about her inattentive dad and immediately starts up and improbable plot device - I mean, romance - with Leo's partner, Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). Stacy overhears someone talking about a diary that the hoochie kept, and sets out to get it. Unfortunately he is caught nude-handed by her roommate Karen (the horribly named Jeana Tomasina, of Six Pack), and he is forced to kill her - but not until after allowing her to cook a complete egg breakfast. I'm not sure if they were hoping to repurpose this footage as an orange juice commercial or what, but we get to spend literally 5 minutes watching Karen cook eggs and toast, including insert shots of her breaking the eggs, the toaster popping, everything. It's the equivalent of having Janet Leigh spend 5 minutes shelf-papering the closet before taking a shower at the Bates Motel.

After some initial investigation, which includes confiscating Stacy's sex toys and screaming such great lines as "It's for jackin' off!!" at him in questioning, Leo is sure that he's their man, but they have no proof. Almost without hesitation, Leo decides to plant evidence, sneakily diverting the stoner lab tech and stealing some of the first victim's blood, which he plants on Stacy's clothes during a search. Now, WE know that Stacy doesn't wear any clothes during his killings, and now we know why: the writer needed a plot device. So although we're not just watching him kill women in the nude for purely ass-thetic reasons, the frequent sight of those firm seed bags sauntering about is a delightful side effect.

But let's not get distracted. Stacy is called in on this new blood evidence, and understandably throws an absolute HISSY FIT when he hears it: I say understandably not because he's innocent of the crime (because he isn't), but because he actually did a good job of covering himself and has been appearing naked for the last hour for no apparent reason, since Leo is just going to frame him anyway. His outburst includes one of the best chair-beatings I've ever seen (even competing with the footstool-to-the-head from Vice Squad, although in this case he's beating the chair against a door, not a hooker) and is truly a highlight of the film - after the merciless egg-cooking scene, of course.

So where were we… oh, did I mention that Kelly Preston (star of Mischief and wife of land-living sea cow John Travolta) is in this picture? Well, she is, as one of Laurie's dormmates, as is Ola Ray (from the Thriller video), as "Ola", another co-ed. Unfortunately, by this time Stacy has figured out that Laurie is Leo's daughter and is ready to play hardball: he goes after the bitch. In a surprisingly bloody and prolonged sequence, Stacy (yes, nude again, even though by this time it really defeats the purpose, as the cops are planting evidence on his clothes anyway…) slaughters Laurie's three roommates (including Preston) and comes after her as well. She manages to evade him and get out of the apartment, and of course he tails her, running naked down the street like a frathouse streaker selling steak knives door-to-door. Just as he catches her, papa Leo (who was several blocks behind them at the start of the chase) pops out of nowhere in front of them and holds Stacy at gunpoint. As the police arrive and surround him, he laughs and delivers a threatening monologue (or as threatening as a monologue can be when delivered by a nude guy) about how the state will consider him insane and he'll be out again in no time and come back to finish his work. No he won't - Leo changes his mind and pops a cap in the nutso's head (if he'd have missed he would have pegged one of several policemen standing right behind him), and yet another perfect set of glutes is lost to the living world forever.

Whew. Needless to say, this film is intensely watchable, and not just because of Mr. Davis's buttery buns. Bronson is completely committed to the project, even though it's absolutely trashy and preposterous.The action is well-paced, the violent moments are pretty harsh, and it's actually quite fun to see this guy squirm like a worm on a hook and then run around naked like a total freak. If only all Creepy White Men were so fit and so free... There's also a thinly-veiled vigilante message here -- the tagline alone, "Forget What's Legal -- Do What's Right!" sounds like a cheer for breaking sodomy laws but unfortunately refers to shooting down naked murderers in the street. Only one thing bugs me -- what the fuck is up with the title?!

Rating (out of 5):