Sunday, March 18, 2012

10 to Midnight (J. Lee Thompson, 1983)

Stabbing women in the nude with his trusty butterfly knife is what he likes to do for fun. And when I say, "in the nude," I don't mean to imply that his victims are the ones not wearing any clothes, though, they can be naked if they want to be. No, the assailant at the centre of 10 to Midnight, an engrossing crime thriller about a socially awkward typewriter repairman with terrible luck when it comes to the ladies, likes to commit acts of violence without having to worry about what to wear when he's making with the stabbing. Seriously, though, whether he kills in the nude because he doesn't want to get any blood on his clothes (the most likely reason), does so because he likes the way the wind feels on his unflappable genitals as he stalks his prey (an unlikely reason, but my personal favourite), or because he was forced to wear argyle socks as a child, it doesn't matter. Why's that? Well, there's this veteran detective, a wily old fuck, and he seems extra determined to stop him from doing what he loves. Now, why he's so hellbent on preventing a total stranger from murdering other strangers is something I'm still trying to come to grips with. I mean, I can sort of see why he would want to stop him from killing his daughter. But even that seemed a little over the top, as he didn't even appear to really like her all at that much. Maybe by protecting his estranged daughter from a clothes optional serial killer, the grizzled detective could finally reconnect with her. If all her friends at nursing school have to be brutally murdered in order for this reconciliation to materialize, than so be it. Either way, a cool murderer, a movie buff who likes to kill people while synthesizer music plays is in the background, is being harassed by a massive square who squints a lot, and there was nothing I could do to help him. All he wants to do is disembowel the women who won't date him, yet the short-sighted detective, who seems to have a drab-looking blazer for everyday of the week, would prefer it if he didn't do any disemboweling. Yeah, that's right. No disemboweling whatsoever.

It's true, I did feel bad for the women–and, I suppose, the men who happen to be in the wrong place and at the wrong time (he doesn't even bother to disembowel them, as their merely dispatched as an afterthought)–who are murdered in this movie. But have you ever had hot coffee thrown in your face after trying remove a woman's dress without their permission? Well, I can't say that I have, as I'm a tea drinker who rarely consorts with the coffee crowd. I do, however, have an imagination, and that imagination is telling me that it would be quite unpleasant. Is hot coffee in the face on the same level as being stabbed in the woods in terms of unpleasantness? Probably not. For starters, not many people bounce back from being stabbed in the woods. Just ask all the people who have been stabbed in the woods. Oh, that's right, you can't, as most of them are dead. And, as most people know, one of the benefits to being a sentient life form is the ability to answer questions pertaining to everything from your favourite industrial band to what kind of toppings you like on your pizza.

Opening in a busy Los Angeles police station, we're introduced to Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson), a haggard-looking detective typing away on his typewriter. And judging by his body language, the detective isn't a big fan of paperwork. Speaking of body language, is it wrong that my attention was focused not on the detective, but on the prostitute sitting in the background? I'm gonna go ahead and answer my own question by saying: no, it wasn't wrong. In fact, if anything, it's the directors fault for putting her there in the first place. It didn't help matters that she showed signs of having what is commonly referred to as "involuntary leg movement" (an affliction that usually strikes promiscuous women who sit cross-legged on crappy daytime talk shows).

It's time for the detective's nemesis to be introduced to the audience, and boy, is he something special. First spotted sizing up two women (one sporting a bad perm) leaving an office building, Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) watches them while reminiscing about the time when Betty (June Gilbert), the one without the bad perm, threw coffee on him after he unlawfully tried to unzip her dress. Since I've already alluded to this scene, I'd like to mention that I was somewhat relieved when I found that Betty, and not Karen (Jeana Tomasina), was the one who tossed the coffee on him, as I don't want Karen to be the first woman he kills. How do you know Betty's going to be the first one killed? Haven't you been paying been paying attention? She doused him with coffee.

Anyway, putting the final touches on his hair (blow dried to perfection), Warren is ready to exact his revenge on Betty for the coffee incident. Slipping into a pair of designer jeans, the handsome sicko in the red jacket leaves his apartment with a level of confidence that matches the dapperness of his appearance (all I see nowadays are overconfident assholes whose swagger is totally unjustified). Wait a minute, why he is going to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the Aero Theatre? I thought he overheard Betty telling Karen that she was going to the woods with her boyfriend, and this is clearly not the woods. Be patient, my friend, Mr. Stacy knows exactly what he's doing. Aggressively hitting on a pair of female movie patrons named Tina (Katrina Parish) and Peg (Shawn Schepps), Warren seems to be purposefully trying to make a lasting impression on the increasingly annoyed ladies. And who can blame him? Who wouldn't want to make a lasting impression on Tina's outstanding ass? (seriously, it looked absolutely divine encased in those super-tight white jeans of hers). But that's neither here nor there.

What he's attempting to do is lay the groundwork for his alibi. Check this out, when the lights go down and movie starts, Warren goes to the washroom, puts on a pair of surgical gloves, and leaves the theatre through an unlocked window above one of the stalls. As far as Tina and Peg are concerned, the good looking creep who was hitting on them is still sitting a couple of rows back. But in reality, he's naked in the woods, looking for a coffee tossing blonde to disembowel. When he finds what he's looking for (fornicating naked in the back of a van with her naked boyfriend), Warren kills the boyfriend, a proceeds to chase Betty through the woods. Naked running leads to naked exhaustion, which is quickly followed by naked cowering and naked crying. As expected, the whole ordeal is capped off with some naked stabbing.

As a fully clothed Warren Stacy is making his way back to the movie theatre, I couldn't help but notice this eerie electronic sound throbbing on the soundtrack. Now, I've heard synths throb in countless movies over the years, but never have I experienced a throbbing synth that was this right on the money in terms of its throb-based synthiness. Kudos to composer Robert O. Ragland for creating such an awesome piece of synthy goodness; it's too bad the entire score couldn't have been like that. But then again, I can't quite picture Charles Bronson doing anything set to synthesizer music, let alone the type that throbs.

When Detective Kessler declares that the killer is obviously using his knife as if it were his penis, I'll admit, I giggled a little bit: "Hee-hee, Charles Bronson just said "penis." But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with his assessment (which is a rare occurrence since I usually disagree with everything Charles Bronson says in this movie). Think about it, though, all knives are phallic-shaped for a reason; they're primary function is to penetrate the things they're stabbing. And what kind of knife is the ultimate penis substitute? You got it, the butterfly, or "fan knife." And just like your average penis, the butterfly knife needs to be manipulated in order for it to work properly. The killer gives us a quick demonstration, manipulating the handle of his knife several times, before heading out to the movies.

Sadness fills the air of the office where Betty worked, as Karen (her bad perm has been replaced with a more flattering hairdo) expresses shock when she hears the news of her friend/roommate's demise. On the other hand, Warren Stacy, the office's go-to typewriter repairman, doesn't seem shocked at all. Hmmm, I wonder why? Oh yeah, that's right, he's the one who killed her. In order to not to raise suspicion, Warren attends Betty's funeral, along with Karen and the rest of her co-workers. Also in attendance: Laurie Kessler (Lisa Eilbacher), a student nurse who grew up with Betty, her dad Detective Kessler and his new partner Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens), a detective who is constantly reminded that he doesn't look like a cop.

You have to question Warren Stacy's competency as a serial killer after watching him repeatedly stymied while trying to break into one of Betty's nightstand drawers, as there's nothing sadder than the sight of a naked man struggling to open something so pitiful-looking. Hold on, why is Stacy naked? Is someone about to die? Never mind that. The reason he wants what's inside the drawer is because he caught wind at the funeral that Betty has a diary. Big deal, lot's of grown women keep diaries. Yeah, but she likes to write detailed accounts about all the men in her life, including the creeps at work. And if the cops find out about the coffee tossing incident, he'll no doubt jump up a few pegs on the suspect list.

Just in case any of you were wondering what Jeana Tomasina was wearing underneath the black dress she wore at the Betty's funeral, the filmmakers wisely chose to set aside a scene that shows her getting undressed. Knowing what she had on underneath her clothes, in my opinion, made the funeral scene even hotter in retrospect. Well, what was she wearing? Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, it was a white, smooth to the touch, negligee-style one-piece. Weren't you a tad crestfallen over the fact that Jeana wasn't wearing any hosiery whatsoever? I guess. However, if you think about it (which I clearly have), Jeana Tomasina's gorgeousness doesn't really need any sort of structural embellishments. It doesn't matter if you put her in an ugly brown turtleneck or a pair of blue short shorts, Jeana's innate attractiveness will always prevail.

It was only a matter of time before Det. Kessler and Det. McAnn ended up at Mr. Stacy's door wielding the knowledge they obtained for Betty's diary. It would seem, according to her diary, that Warren Stacy made Betty's "skin crawl." Now, is that probable cause? Not really; after all, the world is full of creeps. But Kessler does comes across a vaginal-based masturbation machine in Stacy's bathroom. In other words, I think it's time to bring him in for questioning. Other than the part where Charles Bronson goes nuts trying get a confession out of Stacy, the best part of the interrogation scene was the look on Shawn Schepps' face when Stacy tells Kessler that the two girls he harassed at the movie theatre weren't his type. At the police station to identify Stacy and to verify his alibi, Miss Schepps' Peg, still rocking the flannel-friendly look she wore at the Aero Theatre, seemed genuinely disappointed that the suspect in a series of brutal homicides didn't think she or her foxy friend Tina were his type. The fact that she still held out hope of dating the weird guy she briefly met at a Santa Monica movie theatre was freaking adorable.

With no evidence to hold him on and an air tight alibi, Warren Stacy is free to go. After the way the interrogation went with Leo Kessler, who do you think is going to be the next target of Stacy's unique brand of off-kilter rage? You got it, Laurie Kessler, Leo's leggy daughter. Easing into stalking mode by making some obscene phone calls, Stacy gradually ups the stalking ante. Realizing that it's only a matter of time before Stacy tries to kill his daughter, Detective Kessler decides to bend the law a little bit in order to nail Stacy for the murder of Betty. But his alibi is air tight. Oh, did I say, "bend the law"? What I meant to say is that Kessler straight-up breaks the law in order to nail Stacy for Betty's murder.

The acute legginess of Lisa Eilbacher, while completely ignored during the film's early going, is fully explored over the course of the film's stalking-heavy final third. You could say the film's final third was also "stocking-heavy," as Lisa sports white stockings on several occasions (and why not? it's a vital part of a nurse's uniform), and it looks I just did. At any rate, with Miss Eilbacher's Laurie Kessler forced to lay low with her fellow student nurses (Kelly Preston, Ola Ray, and Iva Lane), this gives us multiple opportunities to appreciate her gams for a number of different angles. My favourite, of course, being the moment where she talks on the phone while wearing nothing but a red football jersey.

Staying with the leggy theme, make sure to keep an eye out for French disco star Jeane Hanson as a Sunset Strip prostitute. Wearing satin hot pants paired with fishnet pantyhose (the way the two garments twinkled in the garish light of the stripe was mind-altering), Jeane gives the cinematic world a lesson on how to properly flaunt your substantial thighs in a public forum. And, if you were to ask me, there's no better forum for showing off your tasty thighs than an early 80s action-crime-thriller starring the totally awesome Gene Davis (Cruising), an actor who somehow managed to get me to sympathize with a psychopathic, Patrick Bateman-esque serial killer with extremely high self-esteem.

Call me crazy, but it was almost as if Charles Bronson's character was some sort of advocate for vigilante justice. And since I thought Stacy was being unjustly punished for a crime he totally committed, Charles and I disagreed quite often over the course of the film. In my mind, the burden of proof rests squarely on the shoulders of the police. I mean, it's not his fault he's a first-rate serial killer with a rock hard ass and an air tight alibi. Yet, despite containing a certain proto-fascism streak, 10 to Midnight is a stylish crime thriller that boasts a killer who not only kills his victims to synthesizer music (keen observers will notice that all of Charles Bronson's scenes are accompanied by bland orchestral music), while in the vicinity of posters of cute animals (the sight of John Travolta's space cadet wife lying disemboweled on the floor underneath a poster of an un-clubbed baby seal was strangely apropos), but does so without any clothes on. And in the grand scheme of things, you can' really ask for more when it comes to attaining sleazy kicks on a Wal-Mart greeter's salary.

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Special thanks to fashion blogger Thomas Duke, the stylish hunk who runs Cinema Gonzo (he's also the primary shareholder in Music Vest), for making the sleazoids at the Indulgence House aware of this heartwarming motion picture. *hugs*


  1. "rock hard ass and an air tight alibi"
    Coincidentally, that's easily my favorite Ratt album

    I'd like to hear the movie with a running commentary by Sigmund Freud. He'd probably be too busy jerking off to say anything.

    Thanks for the shout out. I'd thought this was the one cop vigilante you'd really appreciate.

    Also, in fairness, much of my stylishness comes from my hunkiness.

  2. I don't like Ratt's music (though, to be fair, I haven't heard much of it), but I do like it when my words are compared to their album titles. :)

    (The cover of their self-titled debut is one of my all-time favourites.)

    I knew I would dig the film the moment I saw the colour of the font used on the poster.

    "Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty." ~ Zoolander