Release Date(s)1982 (September 28, 2021)
Studio(s)Independent International Pictures (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
John Russo, co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead, spent many of his years as an author, as well as a fellow filmmaker in Pittsburgh. Among the low budget projects he directed was an adaptation of his own novel, Midnight. Released in 1982, then re-released briefly in 1985 as The Backwoods Massacre, this Satanic redneck-infused horror film didn’t do much theatrically, but was a major home video hit for Vidmark Entertainment. Today it’s considered a cult film, in part due to its association with George Romero. Though he had nothing to do with the film, some of the folks who worked with him on other projects, such as John Amplas, Tom Savini, and Raymond Laine, all played a part in the creation of this tiny exploitation picture.
Out in the country, a small family of three children and their mother are murdering those who wind up in the bear traps near their home, signifying that they were meant to be sacrificed to Satan. Years later, a young girl named Nancy (Melanie Verlin) runs away from home after her alcoholic policeman stepfather Bert (Lawrence Tierney) attempts to rape her. Hoping to cross the country, she’s picked up by a couple of decent enough guys, Tom (John Hall) and Hank (Charles Jackson), who take her with them on their way to California. Camping out overnight, they wake up to find two men dressed in police uniforms, Luke (Greg Besnak) and Abraham (John Amplas), who kill Tom and Hank, but chase Nancy back to their home where their sister Cynthia (Robin Walsh) and their other brother Cyrus (David Marchick) are waiting. They turn out to be the Satanic children grown up, hoping to revive their dead mother by sacrificing several people in order to do so. Meanwhile, Bert, feeling guilty about what he did, sets out to find Nancy, not knowing that he may be rescuing her from certain death.
Giving the film’s low budget a pass, Midnight is still tough to enjoy. There are absolutely no characters to like or root for, even Nancy who comes off as whiny and unappealing most of the time. Even Hank and Tom are no angels, stealing groceries and running from the cops as they drive across the country. Matters aren’t helped by the film’s theme song, which is annoying and played multiple times throughout the film. The story meanders quite a bit before getting into the meat (so to speak) of things, but by then, you’re not all that excited for what’s to come. Even Tom Savini’s make-up effects are subpar. Even he admits that he was too busy with Knightriders at the time to give the film his full attention, mainly doing it as a favor to Russo. Fans of Southern-fried, Satanic horror films may appreciate Midnight, but there’s not much here to latch onto.
Midnight was shot by director of photography Paul McCollough on 35 mm using Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Severin Films brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time, reframing the film to a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It’s certainly a far cry from the low grade, full frame presentations of previous DVD releases, particularly from Lionsgate. There’s much more depth and color in the image than ever before, but it also reveals the film’s budget a bit more with less haze in the way to cover it up. Medium grain is managed well enough and the source has excellent contrast. Blacks are deep and detail on objects and people during daytime and nighttime scenes is more potent. Speckling, scratches, and instability are prevalent, but the presentation is natural and true to its source.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Other than pushing the elements to the surrounding speakers, there isn’t much of a difference dynamically between the two tracks. Dialogue exchanges are discernible and the score is much more forward in the surround mix. Sound effects are also decent on both tracks.
The following extras are included, all in HD (aside from the trailer, which is upscaled):
- Isolated Score Selections and Interviews with Mike Mazzei and John Hall by Michael Felsher
- Making Midnight with John Russo (22:44)
- Producing Midnight (10:25)
- The Midnight Killer with John Amplas (10:37)
- Small Favors with Tom Savini (8:35)
- Alternate Title Card for The Backwoods Massacre (:15)
- Trailer for Midnight (3:33)
- Radio Spot for The Backwoods Massacre (1:00)
The majority of the extras have been produced by Red Shirt Pictures. The additional audio track, which is treated as an audio commentary of sorts, features a new interview with composer Mike Mazzei and an additional interview with actor John Hall, both provided by Michael Felsher. Mazzei discusses his career in Pittsburgh, getting into film music reluctantly, the types of techniques he employed, and the films that he worked on. In the second interview with John Hall, which is a more straightforward Q&A, he and Felsher discuss how he got into acting, working in theater, memories of actor and casting director Raymond Laine, dealing with a previous injury on the set of the film, getting into Christian radio, and seeing his films today. The track ends at the 87:10 mark as the film’s normal audio takes over. In Making Midnight, writer and director John Russo talks about his films post Night of the Living Dead, getting the financing and equipment for Midnight, the budget, casting, dealing with low budget problems, the mother’s corpse, losing footage due to light leaks, editing, working with Laurence Tierney, frustrations with the MPAA, distribution, how well the film did on home video, and his feelings about the film today. Unlike the other interviews Producing Midnight is a direct-to-camera interview with producer Samuel M. Sherman. He discusses the types of films that he produced at the time, the type of actors he preferred in his films, how well John Russo and Lawrence Tierney got along, revising the ending, the size of the production, his feelings about the film, previewing it for audiences, the marketing and releases, and other projects he did and didn’t work on with Russo. In The Midnight Killer, actor John Amplas discusses meeting John Russo and Raymond Laine, various people who worked on the film, being called to shoot with no sleep, his role in the film, the other actors, and his thoughts on the film. In Small Favors, Tom Savini mentions that he forgot about working on Midnight because he was busy with Knightriders. He also talks about doing many types of horror films in the 80s, the types of effects he did on Midnight, mentioning that the mother’s corpse is the same corpse from Maniac, working on Heartstopper, working with John Russo, the actors in the film, working in Pittsburgh, and people rediscovering the film today.
The disc sits in a black amaray case with artwork that was previously used for the Alpha Video/Intervision Video UK Betamax release of the film (a truly deep cut). Not carried over from the Region 0 Arrow Video DVD release is the introduction to the film by John Amplas, Vampires, Rednecks and Zombies: The Fear Career of John Amplas, and Midnight at Your Door: The Shocking Sacrifices of John Russo.
Those looking to see more of what Pittsburgh filmmakers in the George Romero camp had to offer in the 1970s and 1980s will likely find value in Midnight. Severin Films’ Blu-ray offers the film in excellent quality with great extras by Red Shirt Pictures. It’s hard to recommend the film itself, but the Blu-ray release of it is solid.
- Tim Salmons