In honor of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, this week’s 25th Anniversary Project takes a look at everyone’s favorite gothic horror hostess with the dark hair, the low-cut dress and the bad puns – Midnight! You know, Midnight? From Norman Thaddeus Vane’s MIDNIGHT? Played by Oscar-nominee Lynn Redgrave?
Okay, fine. I’ll tell you about Midnight. But only because you asked nicely.
MIDNIGHT stars out with the type of credits I love, those that not only mention the cast members, but the roles they will be playing, as though you should be terribly excited to see all of these historically important personas being portrayed by these actors. I can’t tell you the excitement I felt when I found out that Gloria J. Morrison would be playing “Girl Reporter.” I LOVE Girl Reporter, and having seen her portrayed in films by Julia Roberts, Katharine Hepburn and Lesley Ann Warren, I was excited to see Ms. Morrison’s take on the iconic role.
This is nice to note in some cases, and in MIDNIGHT, it prepares us for the fact that Wolfman Jack has a special appearance. We’re also informed that Tony Curtis will be playing “Mr. B,” Frank Gorshin shall appear in the career-defining “Ron Saphier,” and Karen Witter, one of the more prominent genre actresses of the era with roles in POPCORN, THE VINEYARD and Harry Allan Towers’ BURIED ALIVE, shall be “Missy Angel.”
Most importantly, however, we learn that the titular role of Midnight shall be played by Lynn Redgrave. And good Lord, does she have a blast with it.
Essentially a cut-rate Elvira, Midnight is a local horror movie hostess who prides herself on being “the ghoul next door, the one who put the hex in sex.” Her audience of goth-influenced metalheads parrots the final word in her sultry sentence structures in a way that makes you wonder how coached they’ve been, such as when she decries “I don’t give autographs, I give epitaths!” and they all repeat “epitaths” with the committed structure of a hooting “Married with Children” devotees. She entices them all with caustic commentary, blissfully mocking the movie she’s about to show, while giving up plenty of double-entendres and cleavage shots.
Like I said, cut-rate Elvira.
The problem is that her show is having issues. The station owner, the aforementioned Mr.B and presumably portrayed by Tony Curtis because he gets to spend most of his screen time hanging around bikini-clad women, wants to get the rights to the character of Midnight from the mistress of the dark dame of dangerousness and will cancel the show if she doesn’t hand them over. Needless to say, this upsets Midnight, who takes out her anger on her agent, Ron Saphier.
She also gets the chance to take out any sexual frustrations she may have, thanks to dumb hunk Mickey (SCANNERS III’s Steve Parrish, who looks hunky and dumb), who follows her to her home and is invited in for a quick fling that turns into a more long-term relationship and Midnight attempts to get her new boytoy into the biz. This complicates things even more with the boss-man, who doesn’t appreciate the new man in his product’s life, so he sets forth to complicate the relationship by adding sexy Missy Angel into their lives.
There’s kind of a lot of stuff going on between the characters of MIDNIGHT, and that’s not even what I’d consider “the plot” of the film. The selling point of the movie, presumably, is that people associated with Midnight start to get bumped off. First her manager is run off the road and the car explodes in footage that I’m convinced is from another movie. Then there’s a drowning. Pretty soon the suspect list is… well, not too surprising if you’re paying any bit of attention to the movie whatsoever.
The biggest issue with MIDNIGHT is that is has no idea what it wants to be, and that’s especially surprising, as MIDNIGHT can be considered a bit of a spiritual follow-up to Vane’s 1983 FRIGHTMARE in that it also involves a fictional horror icon at the center of a series of murders, so it’s not unfamiliar territory. But MIDNIGHT isn’t paced like a horror film and it’s certainly not scary, it’s set up like a satire of low-budget Hollywood, but it’s not really biting or funny, and while the characters are conceptually interesting enough to be a drama, they’re not given enough development or credibility to come off like real people.
It’s tough to even see exactly what the market for MIDNIGHT was thought to be. It’s possible that they’d assumed ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK would be enough of a culture-changer to warrant renewed interest in the world of the horror hostess, so a quickie cash-in would have made sense. Vane had started working on the screenplay in 1984, when “Movie Macabre” was still in production, however, so this random bit of timing seems like more coincidence than anything.
As detailed in Stephen Thrower’s “Nightmare U.S.A.,” the shooting of MIDNIGHT was a bit of a chore. Karen Black was originally cast in the lead, with George Segal in the Tony Curtis role, but when Black dropped out and Redgrave stepped in, Segal refused to act with her due to agent conflicts. Redgrave proved sometimes problematic on the set, holing up in her trailer when lines were cut and refusing to do post-shoot dubbing, leading to a lawsuit. The film itself ended up cut by ten minutes by Sony executives before the minimal theatrical release.
Despite the issues with Redgrave, it’s her performance that makes MIDNIGHT worth a look. She gives her all to the performance, viciously vamping across the screen in a variety of revealing outfits that seem to change with every scene. Her Midnight is a great creation, a character where the line between the role she plays in public and the person is both evident and often blurred, and Redgrave manages to know when to chew the scenery whole and when to bring it down to play the woman underneath the make-up, delivering lines like “Kid’s got more nerve than a mouse crawling up an elephant’s leg with rape in mind” with just the perfect amount of scorn. It’s this flamboyant persona that keeps MIDNIGHT watchable even if the movie itself is pulled in so many directions that it fails to reach any of them.
One final note about the film: At one point, Curtis’s Mr. B makes an offhand comment about a fake film called LOBSTER MAN STRIKES BACK, a coy reference to Stanley Sheff’s B-movie homage LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS made the same year, in which Curtis appeared as, yes, an unscrupulous film producer. But we’ll get to that one later in this series.
Previously on the 25th Anniversary Project:
Rebecca De Mornay and Paul McGann in DEALERS
Richard A. Haines’ pulpy sci-fi flick ALIEN SPACE AVENGER
Paul Bartel’s all-star sex farce SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS
Robert Forster takes on a crossbow-wielding prostitute hunter in THE BANKER
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