EDITOR’S NOTE: For an alternate take on this film, check out R. D Francis’ October 17, 2020 article.
Producer Pancho Kohner had worked with Charles Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson several times, so when they purchased The Evil That Men Do, it seemed the perfect movie to pitch to Cannon, who wanted to make more films with Bronson. However, the rights to that novel and the screenplay were way more than Cannon wanted to pay, so as Menahem was in Cannes, he asked Kohner to come up with a new movie and title, which ended up being 10 to Midnight, which was sold at the festival with no script and just Bronson. It sold immediately.
Warren Stacey (Gene Davis) is an incel before we knew what that meant, a man that has taken the rejection of women so hard that he starts killing them, showing up nude in their homes and butchering them, usually after they turn him down. We first see him kill an office worker named Betty Johnson after she makes love to her boyfriend in a van. Stacey easily takes out the man, then chases Betty through the woods, making her beg for her life before snuffing it out.
Stacey even attends her funeral, where he hears that her diary — which goes into detail on all of her sexual conquests — is somewhere in her home. He breaks in to find it and ends up killing her roommate, Karen.
The diary is already gone and in the possession of Detective Keo Kessler (Bronson) and his partner Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). They think Stacey is the killer, but he always has an alibi and as he does his killing nude and with gloves covering his hands — and this was made in the days before DNA, mobile phones and surveillance cameras watching our lives — so he evades being jailed.
Kessler becomes even more involved once Stacey targets another nurse: the hardened cop’s daughter Laurie. His mania over catching the killer even makes him plant evidence to get the man arrested, a plan that McAnn disagrees with. As a result, Stacey kills all three of Laurie’s roommates.
As a naked Kessler is finally caught, surrounded by police cars, he tells Kessler, “Go ahead, arrest me. Take me in. You can’t punish me. I’m sick. You can’t punish me for being sick! All you can do is lock me up. But not forever. One day I’ll get out. One day I’ll get out. That’s the law! That’s the law! That’s the law! And I’ll be back! I’ll be back! And you’ll hear from me! You and the whole fucking world!”
Kessler replies, “No, we won’t,” and blows his brains out.
Shot both as a hard R rated and TV-friendly film — in which Stacey’s nudity is covered — this movie is wild, with Thompson fully unleashed and Bronson waving masturbatory devices in criminal’s faces screaming, “You know what this is for, Warren? It’s for jacking off!” while Wilford Brimley tries to get him to simmer down. I mean, Roger Ebert called it “a scummy little sewer of a movie” and that seems like him telling me to watch it as many times as I can.
You’ll also see appearances by a very young Kelly Preston, future Orange County Real Housewife and ZZ Top video girl Jenna Keough, Michael Jackson’s girlfriend in “Thriller” Ola Ray, Robert Lyons as the D.A. and Geoffrey Lewis as Stacey’s lawyer.
You know, in real life, I’m very measured in how I view police militarization and brutality. But when it comes to Bronson, I cheered when he shot a criminal surrounded by police right in the forehead. I don’t know what that says about me.
For more info on all this great film, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.
You can also learn about what was cut from the movie and how it made it better in Paul Talbot’s Bronson’s Loose Again: On the Set with Charles Bronson.
You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about 10 to Midnight here.