10 To Midnight (1983)
"A cop... A killer... A Deadline..."
LAPD detective Leo Kessler and his rookie partner are on the trail of a psychopathic young man who is murdering young women. Kessler suspects the culprit to be creepy office worker Warren Stacy, but he has an alibi for the last two murders, and he is released without charge. In a last-ditch attempt to stop more murders from occurring, Kessler resorts to rule-breaking methods to try and nail his man. But the more he provokes Stacy, the more deranged Stacy becomes.
With Roger Ebert famously calling it ‘a scummy little sewer of a movie’ upon its release in 1983, it was always going to be a tough act for 10 To Midnight to live up to such a billing. Best described as your typical gritty Charles Bronson vigilante crime thriller with some slasher elements thrown into the mix, 10 To Midnight was most likely in a bid to capitalise on the boom in the horror market in the 80s and do a bit of a crossover gig. Think Death Wish but with a sprinkling of Halloween and you’re in the right sort of territory for 10 To Midnight. However, if you were an 80s slasher villain, you definitely wouldn’t want to be going up against Charles Bronson when he was in one of these gun-toting moods.
10 To Midnight fits better into the thriller category rather than the horror – the slashing is largely confined to specific sections of the film and the bulk of the narrative is taken up with the police procedural stuff and character development. If you’ve seen any of Bronson’s large catalogue of vigilante crime thrillers, then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting here: sleazy, exploitative and with an amoral message about justice and retribution. Only this time, the characters are a bit more fleshed out, the pacing is a bit tighter and whilst there’s not that much going on, the film rarely becomes too boring. The cat-and-mouse game between Kessler and Stacy is given plenty of time to develop and it is good to see the pendulum swing between both characters getting one-upmanship over the other. I mean, we all know how it’s going to end, right? But at least the journey there is more interesting than plenty of Bronson’s other work.
Typecast by this point as a gun-wielding vigilante who took the law into his own hands in many Death Wish sequels and imitations, Bronson’s characters regularly operate outside of the code of ethics and conduct, doing what it took to bring the perpetrators to justice no matter what rules he broke. His Leo Kessler character here is just one of a conveyor belt of identikit roles that Bronson could do in his sleep and, at sixty-one years old by this point, he still looked as though he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. He does sleepwalk his way through this, going through the motions but also delivering some classic Bronson one-liners in his unique style. This was Bronson’s fourth collaboration with director J. Lee Thompson (with nine collaborations altogether, a rather lucrative partnership) and its easy to see how comfortable both are with the way each work. Bronson plays to his strengths, though there is a bit more dark humour to his character here and the relationship he shares with his on-screen daughter humanises more than I’ve seen before.
For reasons unknown, and which go largely unexplained in the film, the killer murders his victims in the buff. As good a shape as Gene Davis was in for the film, it’s a bizarre decision and only goes to make life difficult for the cameraman and cinematographer as they find it difficult to hide his manhood from the lens. Davis is excellent in the role, a potential prototype for Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman killer in American Psycho, not only managing to make his character intensely creepy and unnerving but also makes the audience want to see Kessler snap and give this guy what he deserves. Davis can go over-the-top in some scenes but it’s a genuinely creepy performance. Worth noting is Lisa Eilbacher, a nice addition as Bronson’s on-screen daughter, making her character very likeable and appealing which comes into play in the final third as the killer starts to target her to get back at her father.
As far as the horror stuff goes, most of the murders take place off-screen and the damage and carnage left behind isn’t all that graphic when we do get to see it. However, due to the unsettling and agitated nature of Davis’ performance, you don’t need to use much of your imagination to work out how violent and brutal they would have been. I guess 10 To Midnight does its job well, giving us more to think about than actually see on camera.
However, don’t be fooled by the poster – Bronson does not go into full-on Death Wish mode, only using his gun once and in the final scene and bringing us an immortal one-liner to end the film. Seriously, it’s almost perfect.
10 To Midnight is possibly a little too exploitative and downright grim for those with a more sensitive palette but it’s prime Charles Bronson doing what he did best and doing in a genre he wasn’t overly familiar with and in the 1980s no less – it doesn’t get much more obvious as to what the outcome is going to be. Hardly the perfect cop thriller-horror crossover, but you could do a lot worse.
10 To Midnight
Director(s): J. Lee Thompson
Writer(s): William Roberts, J. Lee Thompson (story)
Actor(s): Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Geoffrey Lewis, Gene Davis, Wilford Brimley, Robert F. Lyons
Duration: 101 mins