Robert Bloch will always be known as the author of Psycho. Tobe Hooper will always be remembered as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And John Russo will forever be credited as co-writer of Night of the Living Dead. There are far worse legacies.

Russo also wrote novels. I haven't read them all, but I made my way through some of them back in the 80s. His books weren't exactly masterpieces, but the ones I read were serviceable shockers. Midnight is one of the better novels.

John Russo has also dabbled in filmmaking. He made some pretty good ones, like the surprisingly effective low budget Heartstopper. Russo has also been responsible for some real dogs. Santa Claws comes painfully to mind. And the less said about his Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition abomination, the better.

Midnight was written and directed by John Russo, and released in 1982. It has the feel of a movie from a decade earlier: a down-and-dirty, hard R exploitation shocker. All things considered, it's pretty good.

Hollywood legend Lawrence Tierney starts in Midnight. The big character actor had clearly fallen from grace by this point, and it was good ten years before Tierney had a career revival in Reservoir Dogs.

Tierney plays a booze-ridden cop who is drunkenly putting the moves on his stepdaughter. The intoxication appears to be completely authentic and I wouldn't be surprised to learn he had been paid in rotgut whiskey.

The poor girl wants none of the slobbish affections from Big Larry, so she lights out by way of her thumb to go live with her sister. She is picked up by a couple of happening dudes in a van who are partying and shoplifting their way to Lauderdale for Spring Break. It's out of the way, but she thinks she might be able to catch a ride to Californy down at the beach. It's a nice setup for a party movie, but the three travelers run afoul of a family of Satan-worshipping lunatics.

Before you know it, the girl is locked in a cage, awaiting a bloody ritual, which is scheduled for, yessir, midnight. John (Martin) Amplas plays one of the cultish family members.

Midnight takes a little while to get moving, but when it does the movie goes into full high gear. There are some cool twists, and Russo gives it his all. Even if he does water down the ending of his own novel. Tom Savini gets screen credit for effects, but don't expect Dawn of the Dead-type glories. There are some cool throat cutting set pieces, but not a whole lot more than that.

In an age of digital phoniness, Midnight stands as an honest piece of grassroots horror cinema. It isn't exactly subtle, and the ultra low budget is sometimes painfully evident, but I think fans will get a kick out of the film. I don't believe a whole lot of people have seen it. Hopefully that will change with an upcoming special edition Blu-ray from Severin. It has to be better than the fullscreen, VHS quality DVD Lionsgate released in 2005.

Written by Mark Sieber

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