What’s more frightening than a serial killer who stalks and preys on young women? A naked serial killer who stalks and preys on young women, that’s what!
Such is the premise behind 10 to Midnight. From 1983, 10 to Midnight was directed by J. Lee Thompson from a screenplay by William Roberts. Frequent Thompson collaborator Charles Bronson stars as LAPD Detective Leo Kessler. When a filmmaker needed an aging tough guy to star in his thriller in the 1970s or ’80s, they couldn’t go wrong with Bronson. To give an idea of the type of actor he was, Liam Neeson currently fills the niche once occupied by Bronson.
Kessler is a real old-school Hollywood cop. The world is a black and white place of good and evil, and rules are mere guidelines a cop can choose to ignore in order to keep evil off of the streets. He’s partnered up with Andrew Stevens as Detective Paul McCann, an educated cop who uses lots of big words, much to the annoyance of everyone around him.
Their quarry is Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), the aforementioned serial killer who prefers to do his business in the buff. There’s no mystery to this film. Stacy is revealed as the killer before Kessler is even introduced.
The film, then, is a game of cat and mouse between the stalwart detectives and Stacy. Also along for the ride is Kessler’s daughter, Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher), a student nurse who, coincidentally, was a childhood friend of Stacy’s first victim. She’s become somewhat estranged from her father, following the death of her mother. But there’s nothing like a good old bloody serial killer to bring a family back together in the wake of grief. Stacy sets his sights on Laurie, so not only is the movie a race to stop an insane killer, it’s also personal.
There is far more cliché and far more familiar tropes in this flick than can be written down in a simple review. Just know that the cavalcade never ends. Should one be looking for a sophisticated cinematic experience, one needs to look elsewhere. This is a film from the Cannon Group stable. A Cannon flick will follow all the basic rules for a genre — in this case, thrillers — dumb it down, then compensate for this by upping the spectacle.
The outrageous moments in this film are frequent. It tries to be sincere and very serious, but I couldn’t contain myself during an interrogation scene when Bronson started waving around an early ’80s fleshlight that resembled a power drill more than it did a sex toy. I howled with laughter.
Not long after that there’s a scene at the whitest ’80s college party ever put to film. The Southpark guys could remake this scene shot for shot in their style and it would be hilarious.
We all know what good thrillers are like. This isn’t a bad thriller, by any stretch. But in those moments, like above, when it descends into absurdity, or in those instances when the film’s quality is akin to a television movie of the era, one knows why this flick is fading into obscurity.
And that’s too bad. Because, as a shitty movie watch, this thing is gold. I had to think about whether or not to declare this a shitty movie, for the simple fact that it is not a bad movie. But, it’s impossible to ignore the many instances in this film that wallow in the muck, especially when it’s those aspects that make the film watchable.
That starts with Chuck. Bronson is a man’s man. Guys watch his movies, and while they don’t necessarily want to be him (it’s the moustache, I think), we respect him. Bronson is a walking slab of granite. He’s the father of the girl we dated in high school. He’s never played a character who took shit from anybody. That’s what made him a star, but his acting landed him in Cannon flicks in his latter days.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, there’s Gene Davis. His performance isn’t good, but this film would have suffered from anything approaching competence. His acting is hammy in all the right spots, and fearless, as well. There aren’t many R-rated romances out there with as much male nudity as this thriller. His Stacy is a terrifying figure, and unbelievably silly at the same time. A viewer can be laughing with hysterical revulsion while watching him at work. Just Davis running around nekkid and terrorizing nursing students is enough to give this flick a look. Add in Charles Bronson and a whole bunch of blood, and we get something of a prototypical Cannon film.
10 to Midnight is very watchable, placing it high in the index, into the 21st spot, between The Keep and Critters. Check it out.