J. Lee Thompson‘s 1983 thriller 10 To Midnight is virtually unknown in horror circles, as its advertising billed it as a typical vigilante cop crime-drama. The film, starring ultimate silver-screen badass, Charles Bronson, is a taut action-thriller, but at the same time it’s one of the weirdest, most fucked-up slasher horror films of the 1980s.
This bizarre film certainly deserves recognition among horror fans who may be unaware of its existence, and Gene Davis’ portrayal of the nudist serial-killer creepazoid, Warren Stacy, is one of the great underrated horror-villain performances of all time.
The gist of the film is that a psychopathic loser who can’t get laid gets back at the women who won’t fuck him by murdering them—in the nude—that is to say, HE is in the nude… and, well, usually the women are too. Anyway, things get complicated for him when he goes after Charles Bronson’s daughter, because Bronson is a cop who doesn’t play by the rules and isn’t afraid to take the law into his own hands. You can probably fill in the rest, but whatever you’re imagining isn’t nearly as fucked-up as what actually happens in 10 To Midnight.
It’s not that the film is extremely graphic, but the imagery of a completely nude male serial-killer stalking and butchering nude or scantily-clad women creates a level of viewer discomfort that is rare for the by-the-numbers slasher genre of the 1980s. The killer in this film doesn’t wear a mask. In fact, he doesn’t wear anything. There’s a level of grotesque intimacy between Warren Stacy and his victims that you don’t have with a Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.
It’s a level of fucked-upedness that could only be achieved by the infamous production company: Cannon Films. If you’re unfamiliar with Cannon films and their prolific canon of B-films, I highly recommend the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films which details the rise of the Israeli-launched production company which came to dominate the exploitation film markets in the ‘80s. Back then if you saw the Cannon logo at the start of a film, you knew it was going to deliver the goods BIGTIME in a simplistic, straight-forward way, and it was probably going to be a little bit OFF somehow.
10 To Midnight certainly has its “off” moments. And by “off” I mean completely weird and awesome. In one scene Bronson, the Dirty Harry-esque cop who doesn’t play by the rules, confronts the accused killer with a ridiculous sex toy he’s confiscated from the suspect’s apartment. He barks at the suspect: “Warren, do you recognize this?! You ever seen one of these before? What’s it used for? What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? IT’S FOR JACKING OFF, ISN’T IT!?”—As if “jacking off” with an enormous sex-toy prop that looks like a cross between a fleshlight and an electric knife is admissible evidence of serial-killing.
Amazingly, the same laughable prop also turns up in J. Lee Thompson’s 1989 Bronson vehicle, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects
Stop reading right now and watch this crucial scene and its masterful use of dialogue: “It’s for jacking off, isn’t it!”
Another “off” scene features the killer making an obscene phone call using the WORST Mexican accent of all time. It’s simultaneously creepy and over-the-top hilariously bad, and there’s no way to be sure if this was the intent of the director and actor or not.
Then there’s the nude murder scenes, which are all complete what-the-fuck moments in their own right. The first time I watched the movie, my jaw was on the floor throughout every one of these sequences.
I spoke about 10 To Midnight with Paul Talbot, the man who literally wrote the book on Charles Bronson. Talbot’s Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films is one of the definitive works on Bronson’s career. Talbot is preparing to release Bronson’s Loose Again which covers the actor’s work with Cannon Films, including 10 To Midnight. Talbot describes the film as “an outstanding slasher movie of the 1980s.”
It is one of the more beloved of the team-ups between Bronson and Cannon Films and its cult continues to grow. Audiences were stunned by this insane mix of traditional Bronson action, graphic violence, filthy language, pathology, bare female breasts and male buttocks—and a bizarre masturbation contraption.
Talbot went on to explain the director’s vision of the killer:
Most people think of J. Lee Thompson as the director of the classic war movie Guns of Navarone. But just before he did 10 To Midnight, he directed Happy Birthday To Me, one of the goriest of the teen slashers. When developing 10 To Midnight, Thompson created the villain by combining several real serial killers, including Richard Speck, who massacred a dorm full of nursing students in 1966, and “Jack the Stripper,” a London killer that murdered six women in the mid-60s. That guy was never caught because he stalked the women while he was naked and he left behind no evidence via clothing fibers. Thompson wanted the killer to be clean cut like Ted Bundy. The 10 To Midnight villain was called “Warren” because Thompson had imagined the character as looking like Warren Beatty.
For all of the by-the-book vigilante-cop cliches on display in 10 To Midnight, all of the slasher horror elements are completely out of left field, making the film a must-see for horror fanatics. In writing this post, I tried not to use the adjective “fucked-up” as much as I did, but really, there wasn’t a better descriptor. If you’ve seen the film already, YOU KNOW.
The film was released on Blu-ray last month by Twilight Time.
Here’s the trailer which looks like a typical vigilante cop movie, not really doing justice to the extreme fucked-upitude of the film and its creepy, psychopathic, nudist villain: