EDITOR’S NOTE: You all know we love Midnight enough that we reviewed it here on October 30, 2019 and even got a quote on the back of the new Severin release. But we’re all about more people getting into this movie.
We’re also about new writers on the site, so say hello to Jason Kleeberg. We shared his Ultimate Guide to Christmas Horror and now we’re excited to have his first review on the site.
Jason is the host, writer, producer, and editor of the Force Five Podcast. In addition to being a podcaster, he’s a Blacklist screenwriter (The Gumshoe, Powerbomb, Anglerfish), filmmaker (Clarks), and Telly Award winner (2005) from the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s also an avid physical media collector. When Jason isn’t watching movies, he’s spending time with my wife, son and Xbox — not always in that particular order. This article originally ran on the Force Five site.
Fleeing her sexually abusive stepdad, Nancy hitches a ride with two guys heading west. Her goal is to get to California. At some point, the trio decides to stop and camp out in a town they were warned about, and run into a family who sacrifices people for Satanic purposes.
After watching Vinegar Syndrome’s release of The Laughing Dead, I decided I wanted to watch some more Satanic cult films and someone on Twitter recommended the recently released Midnight from Severin, also released in certain low budget theaters as The Backwoods Massacre. This was written and directed by John A. Russo, writer of the classic Night of the Living Dead, and with a tagline of “A Startling & Shocking Adventure – As Three College Students Take a Strange Detour to the Land of the LIVING DEAD!”, how could it disappoint? Well…it found a way. It’s slow, mean-spirited, and just generally uninteresting. The main draw for me watching this one was that Tom Savini had done the special effects for the picture, choosing the opportunity to work on this instead of Friday the 13th Part 2 which had me intrigued. Unfortunately, the bulk of the gore is machete throat cuts that look great, but are few and far between.
The opening scene in this extended cut is pretty promising – we hear some screams over an open field, only to discover a girl who’s been overpowered by a group of youngsters. Their mother looms over them, approving of their actions. Soon we cut to a satanic sacrifice, and I was legitimately intrigued. Unfortunately, that initial excitement will soon fade, as over half of the movie is a bland road trip. We spend an interminable amount of time with Tom and Hank, two guys who have clearly never seen a map of the United States because they agree to take Nancy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania towards California on their way to Florida, barely tolerate her and duck local law enforcement because they’re stealing food from grocery stores along the way. The trio of bumpkins consists of two typical Deliverance yokels, a normal looking woman, and a rotund guy who does nothing but laugh as he saunters around the forest like a demonic Hamburglar possessed with the soul of a hyena. There’s really nothing that makes any of them stand out aside from Cyrus’s annoying cackling, although the reveal of their mother was pretty effective late in the film.
As a final girl, Nancy really doesn’t do much aside from tag along until she’s captured. Near the end she finally gets to fight back, but by then it was too little, too late, especially considering who comes to her rescue. For most of the movie, she’s either in the back of a van or in a dog cage. She leaves town after her drunk stepdad, played by Lawrence Tierney, tries to rape her. The scene is unsettling but it’s also backed by this low key, upbeat tune that you might hear in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, as if we’re not supposed to take it too seriously. She gets out of the situation by hitting him in the head with a portable radio with less force than it takes to loosen the lid on a jar of pickles. It was just a bad scene all around but perfectly sets the stage for the mediocrity ahead.
The film is full of stupid characters playing overt stereotypes and isn’t good enough to sit with the upper echelon of backwoods psycho films. Deliverance, The Last House on the Left, Southern Comfort, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were all obvious influences, but it never does anything new, fun or interesting with the premise. What we’re left with is a bland road trip movie that never gets as wild as it should have. This one is an easy skip.
The Severin disc looks nice (it was pulled from a fresh 4K scan of the original negative) and I think this is the first time this film has been released uncut in the United States (if anywhere). There are a few interviews included with the disc that I haven’t seen. Unfortunately it lacks any commentary tracks.