10 To Midnight
It’s a Cannon Group Picture, AND a Golan-Globus Production. You know it’s going to be good…
(Note to any concerned viewers: the below is a summary of the first 20 minutes or so of the film, nothing more. I’m not giving away every plot point! Feel safe to read on.)
Leo Kessler (Charlie Bronson – RIP) is a cop – a hard-nosed, ‘play-it-my-way-or-it-isn’t-going-to-be-played’ type of cop (is there any other kind?). He’s sitting at his desk in his Police Station, listening to a ‘confession’ from Nester, a mad old tramp (played by Shay Duffin). It’s obviously untrue, so Kessler has Nester taken away. “Stupid flatfoot,” Nester fumes. “Never telling you anything again!” Oh look, here’s Jerry (James Keane), a newspaper reporter, and it’s his cue to approach (you won’t see him again after this cameo). He asks about an ongoing case, but Kessler refuses to tell him. Why? Because he’s a self-proclaimed “mean, selfish sonofabitch.” And, as he continues, “I want a killer, and what I want comes first.” Cue the opening credits.
Already we can see what we’ve got ahead of us – a hard-nosed, cynical cop who does things his way. A cop on the edge? Not necessarily, but certainly ‘Bronson-Cop’. So far, so standard. We know what to expect, don’t we?
Well, actually…no. Ten To Midnight is quite a rare bird, an 80s cop film that bends genre traditions and expectations. Although it initially appears to be a straight up cop thriller, it’s actually a hybrid cop-thriller-slasher-type thing. Remember, this is 1983. We’ve already had a couple of Halloweens, a Prom Night, and and the first couple of Friday The 13ths. The ‘slasher’ pic is a money maker! Someone at Cannon seized upon this and decided to adopt parts of the slasher film and graft them together with a Bronson cop film. Genius! Anyway, back to the film.
With the sub-‘Miami Vice’ score (which, at this point, was still a twinkle in Michael Mann’s eye and a whisper Jan Hammer’s ear) and main credits out of the way, we follow Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), a chiseled looking and well-scrubbed-up young man who stares intently at women. This week’s recipient of Warren’s intent stare-a-thon is Betty, a young woman who is getting into a truck with her boyfriend. They are going to “the lake”. Then, zing! – we see INSIDE WARREN’S MIND. In flashback, he unzips her dress (by the photocopier at work) without asking, and she throws coffee in his face. Bad girl! She must be punished, thinks Warren.
Back at his place, Warren ponces about in front of the mirror, blow-drying his hair and admiring his body (and his skimpy black Y-fronts, but more of those later). He gets dressed and remembers to take his butterfly knife. Obviously he was a Cub Scout, and leaves the house prepared.
Ominous music plays, and Warren makes his way to - the cinema? This can’t be right. What is the scriptwriter doing? Warren appears to be going to watch “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Mmmm. Ah well. Let’s hope this is going somewhere. As “Butch Cassidy…” starts, he tries to chat up Tina (Katina Parish) and her friend Peg (Shawn Scheps). But Tina rejects his advances, and the girls sit away from Warren, towards the front of the cinema while he sulks at the back.
He slopes off to the toilets, seemingly rejected, but what’s this? He puts on some sterilised gloves, climbs out the toilet window and makes his way to the lake. Ahhhh. NOW we know what’s going on! He finds Betty and her boyfriend, who are ‘making out’ in the aforementioned truck. At this point, Warren is – ahem - naked. Now we move into slasher territory – the boyfriend is dispatched quickly, almost off-camera, and the girl runs off screaming into the woods. A brief pursuit ensues, and Warren ends up killing her. (This is, for Warren, a sexual act that avenges her earlier rejection of him.)
Back at the cinema, Warren slinks back to his seat (a few rows behind the girls he tried to chat up earlier). Can you see where this is going now? CAN YOU? That’s right, now he’s got an alibi for the murder (unless, of course, the girls turned round at any point and saw that he had gone. But let’s assume that they didn’t). As they leave the cinema, Warren again tries to chat up, then openly rejects, the girls – thus ensuring that he’ll be remembered should anyone ask.
The next day, the press and the police are at the double homicide scene. Malone (Wilford Brimley, in one of those cameo roles that he always seems to play) is talking to the press. Kessler is also there, investigating. He finds some chewing gum near one of the bodies – could it be a clue? Sadly, no. It was dropped by Paul McCann (Andrew Stevens), a young cop who is – as of now – Kessler’s new partner. Not a good start, McCann! He’s violated rule number 1 of a Bronson film, namely: DON’T EVER ANTAGONISE BRONSON IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Tut tut tut.
Anyway, moving along. Kessler recognises that the MO matches a killing of another girl murdered not so long ago. At the autopsy the doctor tells Kessler, Malone and McCann that the dead girl’s blood type is rare, and that there was no forcible sexual behaviour. “I could’ve told you that,” says Kessler. “If anybody does something like this, his knife has got to be his p*nis.”
At Warren’s work, he’s making a nuisance of himself and being told to “go away” by any female that he stands close to for longer than a minute or so. The boss, Mrs Byrd, gets a phone call, and in one of the most amusing moments of the film she spouts the following lines (all the time looking at the phone with the intensity of someone who is slightly annoyed that their receiver is the wrong colour): “What are you SAYING. Oh no. Oh my God no. Betty’s dead.” (Oh, it’s hilarious. You have to see it to believe it.)
Amid the girls in the office and their half-hearted headshaking, glancing aimlessly around the room with pained expressions and random face-covering that follows this announcement, Warren takes this opportunity to look suitably fiendish.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town…
Kessler and McCann are on their way to see the dead girl’s parents. Although Kessler spends much of the journey telling McCann that the worst mistake in Police work is to take anything personally, he changes his tune pretty quickly when the penny drops that the parents of the dead girl are actually old friends of his. Oh, the bitter irony of it all! Betty was friends with Kessler’s daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher).
NOW it’s personal…
I REALLY like this film. Hopefully this won’t affect my critical appraisal of this masterpiece. Haha. No, really – I think this film is GRRRREAT. What isn’t there to like? Bronson playing a hard-boiled cop. A nasty psycho. Some effectively grisly killings. A gorgeous looking Lisa Eilbacher wandering about in an array of nightwear throughout the latter part of the film. A great comedy moment involving the phrase “I’ve got a gun!” Another great comedy moment involving the phrase “It’s for j*cking off!” A lot of unintentional comedy, mostly involving Gene Davis as Warren Stacy.
Okay, so maybe the rampant misogyny takes the sheen off the film a bit, but other than that it’s excellent. And there’s much worse in the Friday the 13th series.
The key to this film is that although it’s pure cheese, it’s also highly enjoyable. There are some excellent scenes, and everything is spelt out for you so you don’t have to think while you’re watching it. There’s no David Lynch “yes yes, but what’s it all ABOUT?” posturing, no deep moral (other than all killers deserve to die), no confusion. This is a film about a bad guy being chased by a good guy. There’s an attractive woman in peril. Sometimes you don’t need anything else.
There is a succession of excellent scenes, which you may not expect. The killings, although being rather gory, are very well staged. Bronson is as believably indignant as he always is. Where normally I would wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph, I’ll keep this short. This is an excellent film, and everyone who likes a) slasher films, b) Bronson films, c) 80s cop films should watch this.
Sometimes, there's no need for anything else...
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