Midnight Movie is an old school horror film. In fact, it's two old school
horror films, from two different eras, which have been packaged together by a
horror film plot built around a group of people attending a horror film.
Oddest off all, characters can go back and forth from the film proper to the
other film within! The premise is that the film-within-a-film has supernatural powers. Whenever
it is screened, the on-screen killer can come off the screen, grab audience
members, and drag them back into the screen with him. While the film plays,
the audience magically, mysteriously loses all contact with the outside world.
Cell phones go dead. The theater doors lock and seal. People who look inside
the glass doors from the street cannot see anyone inside, even if the people
inside are standing right at the door, pounding away to attract the
attention of passers-by. There are only two ways for the audience members to
escape the slasher: (1) they can stop the projector of the film-within-a-film;
or (2) they can outrun him until the film-within-a-film ends.
The film proper, the one we are
watching, is an 80s-style slasher film with a level of splatter and gore
appropriate to that era rather than ours, seasoned by just a tiny hint of
modern torture porn. The film-within-the-film is a 60s-style B&W film called
The Dark Beneath, and it adds a little much-needed comic relief to the
package. Although Midnight Movie is too intense to be classified in the
horror/comedy genre, the B&W film mimics both the filmmaking styles and the
culture of the 60s with comical exaggeration. In fact, both films evoke the
styles of the eras they limn, and they combine effectively to produce a solid overall
horror package. There's really nothing new here. Neither the concept nor the
presentation are innovative, but all the required genre elements are handled
with style and dramatic tension, and the two-film gimmick is used very
The characters watching the B&W film comment on the silly nature of horror
films in general, little suspecting that they are also in one. By having the
main film's characters comment on the film they are watching, all the while
saying the kinds of things real teens would say about such a film, the
screenwriters are able to avoid the kind of clumsy self-referential device
used in Scream, wherein the characters realize they are in a horror film
situation and try to create a survival situation by using the known parameters
of the genre.
Early in the film, there's another clever use of the two-film device.
(Minor spoiler of an early murder.) The kids
watching the movie are really impressed when they see their friend being
murdered on screen after he excuses himself to go to the restroom. After all,
they reason, he's an AV wizard, and he has just punked them by figuring out a
way to insert himself into the old-time action. Surely he just pretended to go
to the restroom so he could set everything up, right? Didn't they assume what any of
us would assume? The other teens watch their friend get slaughtered and
disemboweled, all the while laughing at his plight and talking back to the
screen, never realizing at any time that he has actually been pulled into the
movie, and is truly being ripped apart in gruesome and painful ways. The best
part of the situation is our realization that we would also be laughing and
hooting at our friend's pain if we were in their situation!
There are only two minor elements of Midnight Movie that don't quite work:
(1) Since the ability of the slasher to jump on and off the screen is
ipso facto supernatural and illogical, as admitted by the characters
themselves, the powers of the slasher seem to be inconsistent, remain
undefined, and are theoretically unlimited. In the universe of the sealed
theater, for the duration of time in which the B&W film is running, the
slasher is the God of that time and place. It is therefore impossible for the
prospective victims to have a chance to survive. He will simply have whatever
powers are necessary to counter whatever strategies they conceive. The nature
of that situation limits the possibilities for escape, or even for creative
counter-strategies. After all, how does one defeat God in his own universe? He
can do whatever he (He?) chooses to do. He cannot be killed or affected by
bullets. He simply does not allow escape from the theater by any means. He
does not allow those outside the theater to enter his universe or even to be
aware of its existence. The sense of certain doom tends to undermine the
ambiguity and uncertainty necessary for an intriguing storyline.
(2) The last minute or so of the film is clumsy and anti-climactic. Just
before the final scene, the filmmakers did manage to figure out a pretty nifty
way to end the film, but they didn't have the sense to wrap it up smoothly
after that denouement. The film either needed to end about a minute earlier,
or it needed a re-write of the anti-climactic final scene in which previously
unseen characters comment gratuitously on the action.
With those relatively minor reservations, I'd say you should ignore the low
IMDb rating and go for it if you like 80s-style slasher films. It's an
unheralded and unexpectedly good one. On the other hand, there's no crossover
potential. It's an "insider" horror film made for horror film buffs.
Some old school nudity
from Kathryn Aagesen in the film-within-a-film.