10 to Midnight (1983)
“Bronson is back on the streets.”
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
Synopsis: An LAPD detective is on the trail of a very handsome young man who had been seducing and slashing many young women to death.
Outside of the porn industry, Gene Davis’s bottom must have had more screen time in 10 to Midnight than any other male actor in movie history. We see almost as much of it in this vigilante/slasher flick (a sort of Halloween Death Wish) as we do of Charlie Bronson’s greying ‘tache and Andrew Stevens’ acting ability. Good job, then, that there’s plenty of female nudity to balance things out and keep us hetero males interested…
Charles Bronson stars as Leo Kessler, police lieutenant and absentee father investigating the murder of a couple caught in the middle of a little passion in the woods. The murdered girl turns out to be a friend of Kessler’s daughter (Lisa Eilbacher) and, before you can say ‘oh, bloody hell, how predictable’ the killer (Gene Davis) who commits all his murders in the nude, has zeroed in on said daughter and started making obscene phone calls to her in a comical Spanish accent. Of course, Kessler is also saddled with a handsome rookie assistant (Stevens) with whom his daughter starts getting all touchy-feely. Fearing for his daughter’s life, Kessler falsifies evidence against the killer, but his ploy backfires when his dirty deed comes to light. Unceremoniously booted off the force, Kessler decides he has to take the law into his own hands and starts roaming the streets of New York with a gun. No, wait a minute…
10 to Midnight announces itself as a product of the 80s during the opening credits by showing us pervy killer Warren Stacy wearing tight briefs and blow-drying his hair in front of a mirror over an electro-pop soundtrack. Naturally, as Hollywood was big on female nudity back then, we are treated to long, voyeuristic shots of women slipping out of their clothes at every opportunity, and for the flimsiest of reasons (to make themselves some toast, for example). One can only assume that, as all this female flesh adds nothing to the film itself, it is simply there to distract the viewer’s attention from the roster of stock characters and the banal predictability of each plot development. This film’s only merit is that it does, at least, entertain — in that silly way that only movies determined to keep the story motoring at the expense of trivialities such as plausibility and logic can.
Gene Davis’s typical loner is a social outcast with a hatred of women driven, presumably, by his fear of them — or perhaps by the fact that they resolutely refuse to be swayed by his undeniably original seduction techniques: early on we’re shown how poor his relationship-developing skills are when he attempts to get off with a woman in his office by unzipping her dress while she’s getting herself a coffee from the office machine. One can only wonder how he thought that was going to work. Even back in the 80s that would have been a dismissable offence, but Warren’s shapely victim settles instead for throwing her coffee in his face, thus marking herself as victim number one. Warren’s alibi for the first killing, is as elaborate as it is risky. He sexually harasses a couple of teens in the cinema before slipping out through the gents once the movie starts, drives off to some woodland and, after stripping naked, disrupts his victim’s rumpy with some slick knife-work, then drives back to the cinema, climbs back into the cinema through the window of the gents and back into his seat just before lights up so that he can harass the girlies a little more, thereby establishing his alibi. Obviously a careful man, our Warren; which makes it all the more mystifying when he attends his victim’s funeral, and decides the daughter of the investigating officer will be his next victim, before killing the first victim’s room-mate while searching for her diary.
Strangely enough, the thing about 10 to Midnight is that it is all the implausibilities and inconsistencies that somehow make it watchable, and even entertaining. It’s obvious within the first fifteen minutes what kind of film it’s going to be, and so your expectations are immediately lowered. It’s professionally made, adequately directed, comfortingly familiar. Thompson makes it clear what’s on offer, and delivers exactly what he promises.
By the time 10 to Midnight was made, Bronson was probably sick to death of continually reinventing his Death Wish character, so perhaps he can’t be blamed for sleep-walking though most of his scenes, but Gene Davis can have no such excuse; his approach to his role seems to be to remain as po-faced as he can throughout, even when in the thrall of a murderous rampage; and we’re too conditioned to having our outcast killers portrayed by wimps or musclemen to be convinced by his bland good looks. Like all the other women, Lisa Eilbacher has nothing to do other than to look pretty — in a nurse’s uniform that is strangely reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland’s dress — while she waits for Stacy to come after her (although, as leading lady, she presumably had enough clout to ensure she remained fully-clothed throughout). And Andrew Stevens shows us all why his career quickly descended into a slurry of bad TV movies and soft porn before he turned to producing.
(Reviewed 28th September 2008)