A serial killer (who kills totally naked) is placing lewd phone calls, killing, and generally causing problems for policeman Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) and his partner. The pair must keep their wits about them as they search the streets of Los Angeles in hopes of taking down the man that is making their city unsafe for those that roam it.
10 to Midnight is part crime thriller and part slasher film. This could easily lead to an identity crisis that makes it seem unsure of what it wants to be but fortunately, that’s not really the case here. The film works quite well as a mashup of a sleazy, grindhouse era detective story and a pseudo slasher.
The character development here is well beyond what you may expect from a slasher picture. The leads are likable (for the most part) and developed enough for the viewer to form a certain level of attachment. I didn’t fall in love with all of the characters but I was at least invested in their plight.
While 10 to Midnight breaks some of the rules of a slasher film, it doesn’t really follow the tropes of a police thriller, either. There are developments in Kessler’s character arc that are somewhat unexpected and set the picture apart from some of its contemporaries.Moreover, the film also poses some interesting questions, like when do the means justify the end? Is it right to do something illegal in a quest to keep a criminal from doing further harm to others? These are questions for which there are no easy answers. But I still thought it was interesting to see an early ’80s grindhouse feature that was willing to pose questions of that nature to its audience.
As for dialogue, this picture has some really classic so-bad-it’s-good moments. It’s rife with sexual innuendo, which I’m sure screenwriter William Roberts had a good time with when penning the script. Not surprisingly, director J. Lee Thompson is able to aid his cast in bringing the cheesy lines to life in a way that makes you almost forget how silly some of the dialogue is. Thompson had an impressive career, directing the film noir classic Cape Fear in the ’60s and he was also at the helm of the beloved slasher Happy Birthday to Me in the ’80s. This picture is something like a melding of the genres from which those two films came. In less capable hands, this could have been an utter disaster but Thompson makes it work, for the most part.
In addition to the overtly sexual dialogue, there are plenty of gratuitous boob shots and quite a few scenes featuring the killer totally nude, as well. So, if it’s nudity you seek, you are sure to find what you’re looking for here. If you are easily offended by gratuitous nudity (I have yet to meet a horror fan that is) you may want to look elsewhere.
In terms of what doesn’t work, the pacing is pretty sluggish in the middle, almost painfully so. But since I liked the characters, I was less offended by that than I might normally be by the peaks and valleys on the pacing front. Also, the film features an interesting and fairly dynamic killer who kept my attention through some of the slower scenes. After the somewhat uneventful second act, the film gets back on track in a big way and offers up a grand conclusion that pits Kessler (and the final girl) against the killer. The characters match wits in an epic showdown that proves quite fun to watch.
Another bit that didn’t really work for me is the concept of a killer that only kills when he’s naked. That seemed a little too out there, even for my taste. But, I guess it sort of makes him unique. I thought that was a little silly but if you can get past that and some of the film’s other shortcoming, there is quite a bit to like about it.
10 to Midnight is available in very limited Blu-ray release from Twilight Time. There were only 3,000 printed and they tend to go fast. But it is still available (as of the drafting of this article) via their website. If you are into early ’80s grindhouse cinema and or a fan of Bronson, I would suggest picking up a copy while supplies last.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): J. Lee Thompson
Writer(s): William Roberts
Stars: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
Release: Available now on Blu-ray via Twilight Time Website
Studio/ Production Co: Cannon Group, City Films, Y&M Productions
Budget: $4,520,000 (estimated)
Length: 101 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Crime Thriller, Slasher