Unseen Screen is where we take a look at those films that no one really knows about. Films that, for good or bad, have flown under the radar.
Today we look at the Charles Bronson serial-killer flick, 10 to Midnight.
“Crime like this, his Knife has gotta be his Penis!” – Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) spelling it out for the viewers at home.
First of all, let’s talk about the Cannon group (Since I have a feeling they’ll be appearing a lot more). In their humble beginnings the group were a tightly controlled studio, limiting the budget of each of their films to just $300,000 per picture. Though this served them well for roughly ten years or so, the group was then bought out by Israeli cousins Menaham Golan (Who directed a terrible science-fiction musical called The Apple) and Yoram Globus for the somewhat paltry sum of $500,000. Their business model, differing somewhat from what had come previously, was to buy bottom barrel scripts and release a plethora of low budget films; hoping to make their money back. Which of course they almost always did thanks to the rise of home video.
The group would occasionally make a good movie, usually by accident, as is the case with Charles Burkowski’s autobiographical Barfly or the excellent Runaway Train. However as the saying goes, for every Breakin’ there’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, both coincidentally released by…well you know who.
One of their biggest stars, if you discount Michael Dudikoff of the immortal American Ninja series of films, was Charles Bronson. By this point Bronson had started falling out of the favour of studios and film makers, though he was still a draw at the box office. So he was able to command handsome fees of independent studios to appear in their films. This meant he was able to sustain a healthy relationship with the Cannon Group, well enough to work on a further 3 Death Wish films (Though Cannon had nothing to do with the original).
That longer-than-it-needed-to-be history lesson brings us to 10 to Midnight, the second film that Bronson made with the Cannon Group. It’s a film that sounds much better (for lack of a better word) on paper than it is in execution. In it, little known actor Gene Davis plays Warren Stacy, a serial killer who does his killing totally in the nude. His Modus Operandi is to stab the women in the stomach (The film makes the case that he does this, severing something or other and killing the women instantly, though the truth is that the film is so low budget it doesn’t want to have to deal with pesky things like ‘special effects’ when it can just show a gurning face and some vague blood smears). The film also sets Stacy up as a Karate champ, his apartment includes a giant poster of him in his Karate outfit, but sadly never delivers on this promise. Though as he does spend an undue amount of time naked this is probably a concession we should be thankful for.
The film cribs liberally from real life serial killers. Stacy drives a Volkswagon and is seen as handsome, just like Ted Bundy. The killing of student nurses comes from Richard Speck, who committed 8 murders in one day when he broke into a dorm room and took the tenants hostage before deciding to dispose of them. Still, the film is never as exciting, or exploitative as it needs to be. Stacy kills 3 people in the first 20 minutes or so, and then we go for over an hour of him not doing much at all while Bronson debates how messed up the law is that they can’t just lock away this guy (They know it’s him pretty early on). To add to the proceedings, Stacy takes a shine to Bronson’s daughter (A nurse of course) and makes prank phone calls to her in a mexican accent. Just like the nudity and the nurses the film never stops to examine why he chooses to speak in a dubious accent while calling women “cunts”. Some things are just better left unsaid I guess.
It’s only at the end does the film really come alive, there are guitar riffs and synthesisers aplenty as Bronson generally just fucks around with Stacy, rigging his apartment so it plays awful music when he walks in, amongst other things. To be honest I don’t know what Bronson was going for there. He also rigs up a lamp to fall over when Stacy tries to turn the stereo off. Frankly it just seems childish, not something you would do to harass a serial killer. What else did he do, knock his apartment door and run off giggling? The film obviously doesn’t show all the japes that Bronson gets up to, but I like to imagine he also left a flaming bag of dog shit outside his door or posted firecrackers through his letterbox.
Stacy gives Bronson the slip and so the film gets to re-enact Richard Speck’s most famous night but only on the budget that Cannon would allow. So instead of 8 women we get 3, one of whom will go on to star as Michael Jackson’s date in Thriller. You can make your own sexual predator joke here. During the attack there’s a moment where Stacy is trying to break down a locked door, yet sadly the film passes up the opportunity to show him use his Karate skills and break it down. He just kicks it a few times and gives up.
You may have guessed by now that Bronson wins out, shooting Stacy in the forehead. Though again this is a Cannon production so the effect looks like someone has shot a paintball at Stacy, and judging by the Actor’s reaction that’s just what happened.
I had heard about this film mainly through reputation as some of the best of what the Cannon group had to offer. The sad case is that it probably is. It’s cheaply made exploitation that doesn’t really want to exploit, so it just ambles around until the abrupt finale. Not that I’m saying that making the film seedier would’ve made it any better, but when you have a premise that seems to lean toward that end of the spectrum it’s generally best to just go with it. In fact the only time that the film ever really addresses the seediness of Stacy is when we see some porno pictures he keeps in his Bathroom, or when Bronson pulls out a machine that looks like a food processor with some rubber tubing on the end, leading to the immortal line; “You know what this is for, Warren? It’s for JACKING OFF!” Though as a question it’s purely rhetorical since they found it in the guy’s apartment. I’m pretty sure he know’s what it’s for.
Still, that’s the film for you. As entry number 1 in this series we could’ve done a lot worse, though it’s still early days. Oh and if you were wondering why the film is called 10 to Midnight, so am I.
Next week: Star Crash