Half Past Midnight (1988) and Heaven is Only in Hell (1994)

Editor’s Note: We’re also discussing the writer and director’s earlier works Pandora (1984) and Dance Macabre (1986) within this review.

The original VHSs/courtesy of mattressparty/picuki.

Thanks to the digital realms, with horror fans willing to rip VHS tapes into DVD-rs for their retro-retail portals and video-sharing sites, the once-lost, extremely-hard-to-find resume of Wim Vink — which has all of the earmarks of the ’80s SOVs we adore at B&S About Movies (thus our joint “SOV” and upcoming “Video Nasties” tribute-review weeks) — is easier to discover.

Well, unless you live in the Netherlands, where these films were shot-on-film stocks and distributed exclusively on VHS tapes, independently, by Wim Vink.

Vink’s was an oeuvre you didn’t hear about during the height of the video ’80s in the U.S. You may have picked up on the films in some of the more, offbeat, pulpy underground mags n’ ragzines of the day; possibly you back-page ordered (Spine and Blood Cult) or back-page tape-traded a grey copy. However, we, the many, had their first exposures via the Internet, as horror aficionados began praising the work on blogs, genre message boards, and websites. Maybe, as I did with Pandora — my first exposure to and the only film of Vink’s I’ve seen pre-Internet — many years ago, you picked up a grey copy (along with the U.S. made but Japan-distributed Cards of Death) at your local comic book store.

Vink’s works are intelligent films rife in scene details, but with very little dialog. They’re films that wear a Romero and Argento influence on their bloody sleeves, only with more of an art house film vibe. Some say the films are “boring and repetitive” — and more so with the only full-length film in the Vink catalog, Heaven is Only in Hell. However, that is the whole point of a Vink joint: the devil, if you will, is in the details: the mundane details. For the mundane is, in fact, our reality. Sure, a “good” or “professional” filmmaker knows how to edit out those moments for “narrative flow,” etc. and so on. Well, you know what: when I want that in my film, I’ll load up an A24 or Blumhouse “shock-scare” set piece.

Me, I’m the guy who watched Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm at the local duplex in 1979 and was jaw-dropped. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead dislocated my mandibles as a “Midnight Movie.” (And, along the muddy water banks of the Waal, bordering the south-central city of Tiel, it seems Vink lost his own, lower jawbone.) And I’ve rewatched the ‘Cos’s and ‘Ram’s debuts more than I’ve watched Star Wars — and I’ve watched them every Halloween, since. Look, I’m a Dennis Devine SOV-type of guy; the one who has watched Fatal Images and Dead Girls more than the average VHS purist. I can go on and on . . . and on — and I have during this “SOV Week” — about the films of Doug Ulrich and Al Darago (Snuff Kill). I adore the heart and inventiveness of each and every one of these filmmakers.

My only beef: Wim Vink is, unlike Coscarelli, Raimi, and Devine, an utter mystery — at least here, in the U.S. (Well, not so much, anymore, as we’ll discuss, later.) Even the Ulrich-Darago collective under the shadow of Vink, is easier to uncover in our Google world. Vink’s career is a series of fan-blogged and message board bits n’ pieces — and we’re doing our best to pull it all together, for a one-stop, Wim Vink shopping experience, right here, at B&S About Movies, in little ‘ol Pittsburgh, U.S.A. (along the muddy river waters of the Allegheny).

In fact, while many believe Vink’s resume of pro-super-8 and 16mm films consists of only four films — it’s actually a resume of eight films. The others — it seems, are forever elusive in the U.S. — are ZombieHorror (1981), Surrealism (1982), Porror (1988), and the Star Wars homage Luke Skywalker Meets the Horror of Darth Vader (1989).

Yes, Wim Vink’s career demands a box set — complete with a color booklet, commentary tracks, and other various vignettes. Make it happen, Severin. Yeah, we know about the music cues “borrowed,” and it’s a music copyright licensing nightmare. However, Wim Vink’s films must be digitally preserved: he is a Dutch filmmaker of historical importance and deserves to have his oeuvre contained in a luxurious box set. So make it happen, ahem, Arrow Films.

Alas . . . until then, and every now and then, we’ll just have to keep plugging “Wim Vink” into search engines and video hosting sites — with the hope that the remainder of Wim Vink’s resume surfaces, somewhere. . . . I want to set up a theater in Pittsburgh, fly in Vink, and have an all-day retrospective — complete with a question and answer event, then have fans line up to buy DVDs and posters for a signing session. Hell, we’ll invite Quentin Tarantino and Nicolas Winding Refn.

Calm down, R.D. Settle. . . .

The reality is: Wim Vink’s films are, in fact — regardless of the “depth of field” issues that appear from time to time (but that’s more of a VHS tape wear n’ tear issue) — “good” and “professional,” properly-edited films. Vink’s films are not just some U.S., 16mm-blown-to-35mm “backyarder” from the Drive-In ’70s (say, like the pretty fine works of Maryland master Don Dohler), nor an ’80s SOV’er start-n-stop-start shot over months of weekends on the non-thespian “friends and family plan,” on-the-sly, sans permits. Vink’s works consistently hit all of the engaging, cinematography touchstones of well-framed singles and doubles, wides, reverses, cutaways, and even “POV” and “God Shots” in the frames.

The films are also — especially Heaven is Only in Hell — packed with background actors, aka extras: and they’re real, trained actors (some say they’re friends and acquaintances; if so, they so a stellar job). And we know this because of the natural approach of the acting exhibited. No one in Vink’s films are deer-in-the-headlights-I’m-in-a-movie! acting for the cameras. And while Vink’s films are practically void of dialog, the leads are effective — in conjunction with Vink “professionally” setting a scene — in “selling the drama” at hand through staging and body language.

There’s a great scene — sans dialog (as with all of the films; the only audio present is soundtrack music) — in Half Past Midnight where one of the bullies leans over the nurse’s desk-station to speak with her mother: a character whom we’ve already met, earlier, in the film. So, we know they’re “conspiring” to hide the daughter’s behavior that put our tortured protagonist in the hospital, in the first place. In the next scene: mom’s injecting poison — with the purpose of murder.

Vink’s work with that hospital scene takes me back to Francis Ford Coppola’s work in The Godfather, which I rewatched in the same week as Vink’s slight resume. (Settle, hear me out.)

Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone goes to the hospital to visit his father, Don Corleone, to discover the police officers assigned to protect his father — as well as hospital workers — are missing. Then, footsteps. The assassin is coming . . . revealed to be a bouquet-bearing Enzo, the neighborhood baker, only wanting to pay his respects. Michael — without dialog, his mind working — sees Enzo in his fedora and overcoat: he looks like one of pop’s men. So Michael asks Enzo for a favor: stand outside, in front of the hospital. The “presence” will stave off the assassin until the “family members” arrive to protect the Don. No dialog: just staging and actor body-language.

Then there’s the Corleone wedding scene: Today, that extensive scene would be studio-cut to shreds. But it’s a scene with all these, wonderful, engaging little details and events — moments that add nothing to the narrative at hand (the grandfather sings a dirty song in Italian, for example) — but it’s details that need to be there.

Vink’s work is filled with those same, non-dialog and, what seems, superfluous details. Yes, even though Vink is working in the SOV-horror realms, those works, while admittedly rough in spots, are competently produced works (unlike, say, 1985’s abysmal Blue Murder) and probably the best-produced works in the annals of ’80s SOV-to-retail and ’70s 16-to-35mm-to-Drive-In distribution (something like 1967’s abysmal Night Fright comes to mind as the worst-produced 16-to-35mm romp).

While there may be music-cheats (but really “homage”) afoot in a Vink joint, in terms of staging, there’s no “cheat” in a Vink film: we get a staging, prop, and set design competence not prevalent in most other, SOV or 8 and 16mm horrors.

During Vink’s lone feature-length production, Heaven is Only in Hell, that’s a real fire truck and real ambulance in the scene — a scene packed with voyeur extras (voyeurism is one of the film’s subtexts) — and real first responder personnel amid a well-stocked, engaging crowd. We’re inside a real hospital, not some errant room with a bogus, unconvincing dressing. And a real school campus, both interior and exterior. A character is a car mechanic: we’re inside a real garage, and a real hair salon, a real record store, and so on. So, yeah, a Vink production is not your typical SOV or single-digit-mm joint: somehow, all of the locations — regardless of the budget — are booked, and up the overall production values.

Vink’s earliest was Pandora (1984), a shot-on-8mm tale-to-video of Romero-styled zombies, shot-in-Dutch (the only one), concerned with an Evil Dead-styled box with the power to raise the dead. Eh, who needs the English language when you can listen to zombies (loudly) munching. Then there’s Dance Macabre (1986), with more Romero-undead mayhem by a cult that raises a female’s skeletal remains who then attacks people and starts a zombie plague (more munching) in an apartment complex. Both are short in content, but, oh, so long — as all of Vink’s films are — on style: a Lucio Fulci fever dream, if you will.

Pandora and Dance Macabre are extremely hard to find on VHS (again, at least in the U.S.). Today, we’ll review the two easiest-to-find films: the main subjects of this two-fer review, and then we’ll ease into those first two films.

Half Past Midnight (1988)

Courtesy of the IMDb.

Dutch writer-director-make up artist Wim Vink’s next SOV’er concerns a shy, sweet girl bullied at school by her fellow classmates: your typical, ’80s big-haired and mascara-type bitches, and boyfriends. Debbie loves computers and electronics and solders circuit boards (which comes in handy for the later mayhem). She loves photography. She has great relationship with her mom. She rides a bike, everywhere.

Why do her classmates hate her so?

They’re bullies. There is no reason.

Since Vink is a director of details, one of surrealistic-slanted cinematography, there’s little to no dialog to tell us why: for Vink is about the actors selling the story — which they do, both lead and background. Sure, the “story” all seems mundane, at first watch (you can’t watch it just once), but that’s only to heighten the shock of when Debbie gets her revenge by killing her tormentors one by one, in extremely gruesome, bloody ways — and OTE gory and bloody, in the best of ways.

Half Past Midnight is a great example of ultra-low-budget horror. It’s absurd. It’s raw. It’s awesome. And it was shot in Tiel, Gelderland, Vink’s hometown. So it is truly homegrown, which makes us love it, even more.

Half Past Midnight is also, only half an hour long (and in English) — the prefect length, due to its brutality — with its tale of Debbie (Angelique Viesee), an attractive-awkward student, relentlessly bullied by her dickish classmates. One is a voyeur always taking pictures of Debbie’s misfortunes. Her teacher (Ad Kleingeld) takes pity, but with an ulterior motive: he rapes her.

While it’s not established if we are in a high school or college, everyone looks to be beyond their teen years. And that office building looks more “college campus” than “high school” to these eyes. So, that takes the creep-factor off the fact Debbie’s, obviously older, teacher asks her on a date. Now, mind you, without dialog, Vink’s made a statement on how easy it is for a sexual predator to chose and manipulate an insecure victim; the simplest act of kindness to a put upon person can open the door to a graphic event. Again, it’s about the “reality” in a Vink production.

As we mentioned: voyeurism is part of the — non-verbal — subtext. Everyone stands by and watches Debbie being assaulted, brutally, and does nothing. And when one does, such as her lecherous teacher (helps her pick up dumped books and papers; has her collect the student’s papers after class), it’s only as a backdoor for his own assault. Then, the bully who photographs Debbie’s assaults — in an eerie foreshadow of today’s smartphone-viral media sickness — develops the film in a dark room, with a glean in her eye.

So . . . the bullies are back: with a teacher now in their corner. The students ambush-spray an aerosol can in Debbie’s face and blind her. She stumbles into traffic and is hit by a car. She survives, barely. But a nurse at the hospital — the mother of one of the bullies — injects poison into Debbie’s eye.

Debbie dies. (We think.)

Debbie returns from the dead — whatever was injected in her eye, reanimates her (we think) — so she lays waste to the lot of them, going “Ash” on their asses, if you will. Using her electronics skills, Debbie solders herself a belted-power pack, complete with knife sheath, to run an electric chainsaw. And said chainsaw POVs into chests, as butcher knifes go through-and-through necks, as well as sawed off arms, and torso dismemberment, and intestinal flow, ensues, in one of the bloodiest, seven minutes ever committed to film. The only thing missing is a penis detachment by hedge clippers.

So, you thought Deadbeat at Dawn was the ultra-low-budget throwdown. Eh, piffle. Jim Van Bebber is a pussy compared to Wim Vink. Debbie ain’t no Carrie (a definite influence, here, alongside The Evil Dead) that’s for damn sure, for no ESP is required. Just a chainsaw, please. Oh, and lots of loud, screamin’ guitars by Rob Orlemans!

Half Past Midnight is simply fucking amazing. Period. Exclamation point.

Heaven is Only in Hell (1994)

Courtesy of VHS Wastleland.

The joy of a Wim Vink film is, not only recognizing the musical-homage cues, but the plot and visual cues. In the case of Vink’s only feature-length film, fans cite Michele Soavi’s classic The Church (1989). And if you’re familiar with that film — of course you are — the film unbalances you with its “what the hell is going on” plotting. Soavi’s works (the early ’90s pieces of StageFright, The Sect, and Cemetery Man) are less about fixed, narrative flow and more about image collages; loosely connected nightmares. And as with Vink’s other works: the characters are connected, somehow, then they’re not. The Vink modus operandi: ambiguity.

Here, we meet Mike and Sharon; he works as a garage mechanic, while Sharon works as a bookkeeper at stereo store. (Were they once related; now reincarnated in a future, apart, now searching for one another?) A local house for sale — where someone previously died (when, who knows/or is Mike seeing his future) — begins to haunt his mind, to the point his work suffers. Sharon, likewise, is disturbed by the same visions: the result of her psychic abilities.

Of course, as with the characters in each of Wim Wink’s films: the characters don’t live fast, they slowly exist in boring, mundane lives: going to work, then home, work, home. And it’s the drudgery that make them susceptible to the supernatural, in this case: the ghostly chants urging them to open a well’s portal.

Their dreams/visions concern a centuries old pagan coven, led by a witch and her young daughter (?), and a cursed, ancient well that, as result of progress, is now in the basement of the empty home Mike purchases. Meanwhile, Sharon’s visions overwhelm her to the point that she breaks into the house to find the “Hell Well” in its cellar — set in the middle of a finished, wooden floor, covered by an iron pentagram. And Sharon brings a “sacrifice” from her aerobics class; with fresh blood, she can now descent into the well. Mike? He hesitates and rejects his mistress: he’s strung up “Evil Dead” style by ghostly ropes from the home’s attic’s rafters — and slaughtered.

This time, the soundtrack’s all-original, composed by Angelique Vink (who also plays Sharon), as well as synth-numbers by Sander Brokke and Vincent Hooyer. And, again: sparse dialog, with only the repetitive looping of the film’s opening chant-narration for an unsettling, moody work of horror impressionism (think F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu from 1922, better yet: Carl Theodor Dreyer’s stellar, Vampyr, from 1932). Again, detractors may say the film is overly repetitive and padded; that maybe so. However, I see it as a purposeful, artistic-narrative choice: Mike and Sharon’s lives are so, utterly empty, their aural and mental visions consume their lives to the point of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

So, with that, as mysteriously (well, at least outside of the Netherlands) as Wim Vink drifted into the VCR-driven snows of the SOV ’80s . . . he dissipated into the developing, nickle-collated, laser-spinning ethers. For Wim Vink’s visions were not meant for a digital world, only the analog tapes of the past. . . .

Image courtesy Letterboxd. Both are available as a two-fer PAL-VHS in overseas markets.

Pandora (1984)

Oh, Hail Satan and the hell with this being in Dutch with no subtitles. All I know is I’m nostalgia waxing an Amando de Ossorio-meets-Paul Naschy Spanish zombie joint, à la Tombs of the Blind Dead and The People Who Own the Dark. (Hey, did you see the 2020 homage-sequel, Curse of the Blind Dead, yet? Do it!)

Now, when you see the word “Pandora,” you think “box,” but what we have here is a book . . . well, there’s a box, too . . . as well as music cues lifted from Suspiria, The Exorcist, and even some Tangerine Dream*. Of course, the music is gone . . . so we can hear the zombie munching n’ licking n’ slurpin’.

What’s great about Vink’s work is that it’s a body of work that understands film is an art form based in “showing” and not “telling”; for film is 90% visual and 10% dialog (and the stage is the reverse). A film’s images tell the story though props, an actor’s body language and, most importantly: that your actors are not skilled in the craft of acting—but “being.” This was a fatal mistake made by James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator, producer of Maniac Cop) with his debut film, The Astrologer (1975, aka Suicide Cult): he didn’t have a complete grasp of — as does Wim Vink — of cinematography; so his otherwise intriguing film, bogs down with 60 minutes of ponderous dialog against its 79-minute running time. This is a “mistake” not experienced in a Vink film.

So, regardless of language, we have a young woman who requests information on a book; the librarian directs her. Why would a book that can open a doorway for the dead to rise be in the library? Why was the woman looking for the book?

I don’t care.

All I know is, she — we think — has been “possessed” by the book, and having visions of a white-robed witch. And a leaf-covered sarcophagus slides open and four, Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby,’60s era Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things zoms are now the white-cloaked witch’s army of the dead. And they need to retrieve a box — from a businessman who possessed the box.

Fog starts pouring out of the box. One witch stabbing later: lunchtime for zombies — and it’s better than anything dished in Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead.

Then, the woman who checked out the book, buys that errant “Pandora” box from an antiques shop . . . and the witch and her zombie quartet are back, for the box. And we get a little bit of time displacement, a sudden transport into a cavernous crypt, and an even larger zombie army. . . .

Dutch language, be damned, this film rocks my rocks offs.

Dance Macabre (1986)

In 1978, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Rob Talpert and Scott Spiegel released their their proof-of-concept short Into the Woods: a tale about a group of friends who desecrate an Indian burial ground while staying at a cabin. Around that same time, Don Coscarelli began filming Phantasm: his tale about two brothers running afoul of a cryptic mortician. Romero released Dawn of the Dead that same year. Dance Macabre is a homage to those films, right down to a music-pinch from Phantasm’s funeral scene, as well as synth-cues from Romero’s, as well as Argento’s and Fulci’s zom-romps (you’ll know ’em when you hear them). And I love the hat tip to Coscarelli, courtesy of a reenactment of Jody first meeting The Tallman, right down to the bone chilling, “Sir.”

Oh, my beautiful Vink surrealism. My only complaint is that the film isn’t longer than 22 minutes. My greatest love: there’s never one moment of silence. Outside of a character’s ritual chant, no one speaks, but the ripped music cues never stop, throbbing, trapping us in a black-metal disco on the cusp of a Dante circle. Well, except for the flesh munching. . . .

We first meet a trio of necromancers digging up a coffin of skeletal remains.

Why? Who cares.

Then we’re traveling down a modern-day road in a 19th Century-styled, horse drawn carriage. In the back: a kidnapped girl, then carried up to the attic of an apartment building. One throat slit and blood flow later: we have a white-eyed, big-haired blonde demon reanimated and on-the-loose (with a knife-licking fetish), impaling knifes into foreheads and ripping across throats of the building’s tenants.

Of course, the dead rise as a plague breaks out in the building. A SWAT team is called in for a little Pittsburgh-inspired cops vs. zombies battle. . . .

Who were the necromancers? Were they in the past? Who’s the blonde? Sure, she’s a witch, but from when and whom?

I don’t care. . . .

I just watched a film with more fun packed into 22 minutes than any 90 minute VHS slopfest I’ve watched in my analog lifetime. Dance Macabre is everything I want in an SOV horror — even though this was shot on 16mm. And it only gets better with Half Past Midnight, and even better-better with the full-length opus, Heaven is Only in Hell.

Why didn’t Argento, Fulci, or Romero see the magic in Wim Vink and bankroll a 35mm feature proper? What a fucking tragic, missed opportunity.

The VHS reissues/courtesy of onorato73/picuki.

Were to Watch

  • You can watch Heaven is Only In Hell on You Tube courtesy of BurialGround5 — what would we do on Saturday nights without BG5?
  • Someone by the name of Jurgen Telkamp saved Half Past Midnight for the digital realms — god bless you, brother — on You Tube. Devilman666 comes with the back-up assist on another You Tube copy, as well.
  • You can watch Dance Macabre on You Tube, thanks to Hipster Pobre.
  • You can watch Pandora on You Tube courtesy of altohippiegabber. Just wow. The memories. Thank you!

Vim Wink’s Complete Resume (Thanks, Alto!)

1981 — ZombieHorror (30 mins)
1982 — Surrealism (25 mins)
1984 — Pandora (30 mins)
1986 — Dance Macabre (22 mins)
1988 — Porror (6 mins)
1988 — Half Past Midnight (32 mins)
1989 — Luke Skywalker Meets the Horror of Darth Vader (5 mins)
1994 — Heaven is Only in Hell (86 mins)

Our thanks to the Dutch-language Schokkend Nieuws Film Magazine for permitting us to translate and post their July 2013 interview with Vim Wink. Visit “Shockkend Nieuws Film Magazine: An Interview with Dutch Filmmaker Wim Vink by Hans Minkesto learn more about the filmmaker, right here, at B&S About Movies.

* Be sure to visit our “Exploring: 10 Tangerine Dream Film Soundtracks” featurette. Yeah, we love Tangerine Dream as much as we love Wim Vink flicks.

Starting on Sunday, January 15, 2023, we rolled out another “SOV Week” and took another look at the insanity that is Half Past Midnight.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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