What if Charles Bronson made a film to compete in the John Carpenter Slasher ’80s — and no one came?
So goes this J. Lee Thompson effort for Menahem Golan’s Cannon Films.
It all looked pretty good on paper: Bronson was a still popular, aging action star; Thompson’s resume included The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962), and Mackenna’s Gold (1969). And let’s forget J. Lee’s two POTA flicks: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), and one of the slasher era’s most unconventional slashers, Happy Birthday to Me (1981). Behind the Brother typewriter was William Roberts, who gave us The Magnificent Seven (1960) and a really great war movie with The Bridge at Remagen (1969). He also gave us (soon to be reviewed for “Fast and Furious Week II”) The Last American Hero (1973), and a pretty fine TV movie with SST: Death Flight (1977).
So where did this self-described “crime-horror-thriller” go wrong?
When I went to see this during its initial theatrical run, I enjoyed it; the general consensus, however, was that it just an unnecessarily bloodier and more violent knock-off of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” series of films embodied in Charles Bronson’s rough-hewn,”shoot first, ask questions later,” LAPD Detective Leo Kessler. (His aprehensive, wet-behind-the ears partner is Andrew Stevens of Massacre at Central High.)
Mainstream critics, such as Roger Ebert, pounced on the film’s “gratuitous” violence and nudity and its overabundance of vulgar language, profanity, and sexual situations. (Those moments of nudity and sexual scenes were cut out and re-edited with alternate, clean-clothed scene (underwear instead of full nudity) for television.)
It seems Cannon Pictures was shooting for a Italian Poliziotteschi (which were much violent and bloodier than any U.S. “Dirty Harry” flick) and Giallo (which were even more graphic than any U.S. John Carpenter-knockoff) hybrid-homage of the two genres that would have likely played well to Euro-audiences. And it did. In the U.S. it barely cleared its almost $5 million budget. So, while not exactly a flop, thanks to its international box office, it wasn’t exactly a hit, either.
It certainly seems that Bronson and Thompson’s efforts had an effect on Sly Stallone, as it’s easy to see a creative through line of 10 to Midnight‘s “detective vs. serial killer” plot to Sly’s Cobra (1986) to — even more so — D-Tox (2002). And it definitely had an effect on the production of the “mainstream” porn-slasher hybrid of Spine, a film that did its best — against its budget — to emulate John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980).
That comparison to Spine comes as result of that film’s Lawrence Aston and 10 to Midnight’s Warren Stacy both with an affinity for nurses — a trait shared by real-life serial killer Richard Speck and his July 1966 Chicago murders of eight student nurses. However, while Speck’s exploits served as the inspiration behind William Roberts’s script, John Howard and Justin Simonds have stated that the similarity to Speck’s crimes was mere coincidence and it was, in fact, Brian De Palma and John Carpenter who influenced their development of Spine.
The roots of 10 to Midnight began with Cannon’s (initial) failed attempt to adapt R. Lance Hill’s novel The Evil That Men Do (1978), an action tale about an ex-assassin that comes out of retirement to avenge the death of a friend. During a “brainstorming session” at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, with Cannon still wanting to do a film with Bronson, came up with new project — 10 to Midnight. To sell the film, Golan did what he did best: the ol’ Hollywood shuffle, selling a film filled with “action, danger, and revenge” — but no script. And the buyers bought it. Now, they need a script.
The script they found — based on the exploits of Richard Speck — was a William Roberts spec script, Bloody Sunday. And, as for the Evil that Men Do: that became one of the final film’s produced by ITC Entertainment, which went bankrupt after the dual failures of Raise the Titanic and Saturn 3.
In all, Bronson and Thompson made five films: St. Ives (1976), The White Buffalo (1977), Caboblanco (1980), 10 to Midnight (1983), and The Evil That Men Do (1984). And while it failed at the box office and with critics — Bronson’s lone foray into the horror-slasher genre is the lone Thompson-Bronson project everyone remembers and revers as a “classic” film in the Bronson cannons.
You can purchase DVDs and Blus from Shout! Factory and stream it via Cinemax-Amazon Prime. There’s also a great, hour-long documentary about Bronson’s career, Charles Bronson: Hollywood’s Lone Wolf, on TubiTv.
Other films we reviewed — for this month’s “All Horror, All Slasher Month” for October — that are based on real life serial killers, include Black Circle Boys, River’s Edge, and Naked Fear (both on the way this month, search for ’em!). And we discussed the Cropsey urban legend that resulted in the more traditional slashers The Burning (1981) and Madman (1982).