10/4/11

The Midnight Hour (1985): That's When The Halloween Love Comes Tumblin' Down

The '80's were the last decade where one could regularly expect any holiday season to be accompanied with a new round of special presentations from the TV networks. Some of them would end up being favorites, at least for a few years, and then they'd be dropped in favor of new specials. Others were one and done. If you missed it the year it aired, then you were out of luck. No DVR or VCR was going to save you, and streaming was something one did when catching tadpoles. So it's no surprise that almost thirty years after it originally aired, I'm finally getting to see one that I missed when I was eight years old. In 1985, theaters received one of the greatest additions to the horror/comedy genre ever, Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead starring horror luminaries such as Linnea Quidley, Clu Gulager, and Thom Mathews. Not to be outdone by it's big screen rival, television wanted to get in on that sweet sweet horror comedy dollar, and they had their own set of names to throw at it. Hence, the 1985's ABC movie of the week The Midnight Hour features a stacked cast including LeVar Burton, Wolfman Jack, and Invasion of the Body Snatcher's Kevin McCarthy among others. It's a Halloween classic that has been forgotten, and I hope I can do my little part to bring it back.

It's Halloween in the small town of Pitchford Cove, and the whole town seems to be readying itself for a happy celebration..For one group of friends (Peter DeLuise, Shari Belafonte, DeeDee Pfeiffer, LeVar Burton,and Lee Montgomery), that means stealing their costumes from the local witchcraft museum. In the process, they also unleash an ancient curse on the town letting loose zombies, witches, vampires, and all the beasts of  hell. Unfortunately, with Halloween in full gear, no one notices that the big costume party is being crashed by real monsters, and that long dead witch Lucretia (Jonelle Allen) has returned for revenge against the town who burnt her at the stake. The fate of the town soon falls into the hands of Phil (Montgomery), a descendant of the witch-hunter who previously battle Lucretia and Sandy Matthews, a spectral cheerleader who's come back to fall in love, and if they don't stop it before midnight, the curse becomes permanent.

With the cast I've listed plus Dick Van Patten, Kurtwood Smith, Cindy Morgan, Mark Blankfield, and Macaulay Culkin all appearing, The Midnight Hour the kind of flick you sit back, put on, and play a spirited game of "who is that and what was he in?" with your fellow viewers. While quite a few of the actors might be considered second tier, genre fans will delight in the extensive cast. They will also delight in a story that borrows a bit from Return of the Living Dead, seems prescient of The Monster Squad coming two years later, and entertains for a solid ninety minutes. The characters are engaging and funny. The monsters look great as designed by Steve LaPorte, then working with Rick Baker Studios, and the music, ranging from Wilson Pickett's titular song and  "Little Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham to"Mama Told Me Not To Come" by Three Dog Night and "How Soon Is Now" by the Smiths, is well placed. However, I do suspect that licensing the tunes now may well be what keeps The Midnight Hour off the mass market and on the grey market.

The best performances come from Burton, Belafonte. and Mongomery. While DeLuise plays essentially the same character he did on 21 Jump Street, Burton is a far cry from either his Roots, Star Trek, or Reading Rainbow self, and I liked seeing LeVar get to cut loose and have a little fun. Belafonte, who would go on to star in the short lived '90's supernaturally themed show Gravedale High, has the most part because she has to both turn into a vampire and do a dance number at the end. Strangely enough, she makes both seem natural in the context of the film. Lee Montgomery, having already starred in Ben, Burnt Offerings, and Night Shadows, had the most background in horror of any of the cast. It really showed in his portrayal of Phil. While he was the nerdy outsider even in his group of friends, Montgomery never allowed Phil to become a complete sad sack thus making him a worthwhile hero to root for in the end. I'd also like to take a moment to mention the man in the big chair. Director Jack Bender has mostly stayed in the realm of TV throughout his career, but he brought horror to the big screen later in his career with Child's Play 3 and went on to direct episodes of Alias, The Sopranos, and Lost.

If you're like me and haven't seen The Midnight Hour, I can't recommend enough adding this to your Halloween season viewing list. Being a child of the '80's, it still projects the feeling of that era. In my mind, i can remember when the strange houses on the street were the ones without Halloween decorations out. I can remember the fall days of October when the air was filled with the smell of burning leaves and the crispness of the air left  everyone's cheeks red and shiny. The days when no one was too cool to wear a costume and churches gave out candy instead of hosting Hell Houses. Often Halloween is now relegated to being an also-ran holiday, one with a dubious nature, but movies are magical that way. The Midnight Hour made me want to hit the street and start ringing doorbells. Who knows? That might even be me at yours right now!


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