October 24th, 2015
|10:34 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: The Midnight Hour|
I think people my age mostly know Kevin McCarthy as the villainous network executive R.J. Fletcher from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s movie UHF, but in fact he had a long and very successful career as a character actor spanning more than 70 years--nice work if you can get it, I guess. In his latter years, McCarthy traded a lot on the classic sci-fi cred he’d earned in the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which admittedly I still haven’t seen), and when he was strangled to death in silhouette by a reanimated corpse at the end of the first third of The Midnight Hour, I knew I should sit up and start paying real attention.
The Midnight Hour surprised me. I’ve been seeing its name for years, but I was never excited enough to watch it because 1) it’s a TV movie, and 2) I think I’ve been confusing it with Midnight Madness, which is an early Michael J. Fox vehicle that is fondly remembered by people about eight years older than me, and largely forgotten by everyone else. The Midnight Hour is also largely forgotten, but I can see why it shows up on so many lists of “Top 10 Halloween Movies”.
So, the setting of The Midnight Hour is a small New England town called Pitchford Cove, where 300 years ago on Halloween, a witch named Lucinda Cavender unleashed a curse which loosed all the demons of Hell. Luckily, Nathaniel Grenville, the local Witchfinder General was able to seal the breach or read the sacred words or whatever (nobody really knows) and the world was saved at midnight. Lucinda was hung the next morning and the town was freed from the evil curse.
The is all explained to us in a slideshow put together by Phil, a high school-aged nerd who is presenting it to his history(?) class. All the other kids snicker through the whole thing, but in general everybody treats Phil pretty nicely; this is the weakest depiction of bullying that I’ve ever seen. They also give Melissa a hard time. Melissa is Lucinda Cavender’s great-great-great-great granddaughter, and Phil is Grenville’s great-great-great-great grandson, and there don’t appear to be any hard feelings.
The ancient Grenville and Cavender are the subjects of an exhibit in the local museum, and that night, the jocks from school break in and steal the costumes and some props to wear to a halloween party, and for reasons that are still unclear to me, Melissa ends up reading Lucinda’s curse in the local graveyard. Melissa is not an active practitioner of the Black Arts, but the dormant powers are awakened in her, and Lucinda is resurrected.
The kids go to the party, and Phil, who has a crush on an unavailable cheerleader, puts on a frizzy silver wig and makeup that looks like the people behind the musical Cats tried to do a bird in the same style and joins them. While all this is going on, Lucinda Cavender is creating an army of vampire/zombies who begin wreaking havoc on Pitchford Cove Kevin McCarthy, (playing a foul-mouthed alcoholic judge) gets throttled, as I mentioned earlier, and the police notice that something is up, but are not quite astute to recognize all the shambling, putrescent corpses crowding the streets.
Meanwhile at the party, nobody wants to hang out with Phil, so he leaves and meets a girl named Sandy who used to live in Pitchford Cove, but is totally disoriented. The malt shop is gone and things that she expected to be hep and keen are suddenly radical and tubular.
I try not to spoil things but you can probably guess that Lucinda and her minions converge on the party, and the vampires drink some new recruits. The song “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths gets overused, and there’s a dance number later for no reason at all. Phil and Sandy have to work together to thwart the evil, and things tie up unrealistically neatly at the end. Also, Phil takes an embarrassingly long time to realize that Sandy would be old enough to be his mom’s older sister--if she hadn’t died in the ‘50s.
Like a lot of things made in the ‘80s (junk food, especially), the plot of The Midnight Hour is better if you don’t examine it too much, but there’s a lot here to like. I was impressed by the level of adult content, given that this was a made-for-TV production which ran on ABC in 1985. Director Jack Bender (who has made episodes of everything from Beverly Hills 90210 to Game of Thrones) does a nice job of keeping things interesting without drawing attention to himself. The cast includes a lot of familiar faces including Dick Van Patten as Phil’s dentist dad, Kurtwood Smith (Red from That ‘70s Show) as a police officer, and a young LeVar Burton(!) looking too old to be a high school student. Shari Belafonte plays Melissa Cavender, and Macaulay Culkin plays a little kid (obviously). A longer review would probably dance uncomfortably around the subject of race (the Cavenders have dark skin, and the Grenvilles are former slave owners (so says Wikipedia--it probably came up but I don’t remember it)), but let’s keep everything simple and acknowledge it with tight lips and furrowed brows. With the exception of that issue, I liked The Midnight Hour. It’s like frosting--too much of this sort of thing is boring and not good for you, but it’s fun while you’re consuming it.
The whole movie is on YouTube, at least until somebody takes it down: