The Midnight Hour

AUNT JOHN SEZ: Hey kids, your Unkle Lancifer and I have to jet off to Delaware today for a last minute, bulk Halloween candy shopping spree. Despite the short notice, we managed to rustle up one the coolest music aficionados on the interwebs for a return babysitting engagement. So everyone, please be on your best behavior for REDBOY, and be sure to check out all of the great spooky, Halloween tunes he has been featuring on BLUES FOR THE REDBOY.

blues for the redboy

And if I hear of anyone acting up while we’re gone, I am coming back with nothing but a bag of Mary Janes! Without further ado, here is REDBOY and his take on the made-for-television masterpiece THE MIDNIGHT HOUR:

Seeing as how Halloween is quickly approaching with all the subtlety of a rocket-propelled grenade, the time has inevitably come for the smell of burning leaves to fill the air, and for elderly neighbors to start crafting popcorn-balls and baking Rhubarb pies to benefit UNICEF and …Oh, wait a minute. I’m sorry. That’s Norman Rockwell’s America

Let’s back this up a tick.

As an adult, the most frightening thing I and others of my kind will have to contend with this Halloween will be showing up at work sober, that is if we can even recall the season at all, the holidays blending together so much like a TIM BURTON pastiche. It’s disheartening, I know, but it wasn’t always like that.

If you can imagine, there was a time when kids weren’t too fat or too lazy to Trick or Treat; a time when overzealous parents weren’t x-raying Charleston Chews looking for dope needles, and eggs and toilet paper could be purchased without three forms of ID. As was customary, children made the neighborhood rounds without chaperons, filled as many pillowcases as time would allow (I personally used different masks and hit the good houses several times) before settling in at home for a scary movie; their poor little tummies on the verge of prolapsing under the weight of all that peanut butter and nougat.

The movie – oh well that was easy. You had the WORST WITCH or the equally safe THE HALLOWEEN THAT ALMOST WASN’T, in addition to the usual programming block of cartoons. And the kiddies were content with that, edging their nightmarish bets with GARFIELD and FAT ALBERT.  But as a seven-year-old too old for the existentialist crisis of IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN and too young for torture porn, I required something a bit stronger…like THE MIDNIGHT HOUR for instance.

A made-for-T.V. movie lensed in 1985, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR was a relatively bloodless endeavor staring a veritable who’s who of “Who the Hell Are They?” including LAVAR BURTON (READING RAINBOW), SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER, DEDEE PFEIFFER (Michelle’s younger sister) and the venerable DICK VAN PATTEN. That’s not to say that the film didn’t have its charms, or indeed, its teeth, DICK VAN PATTEN notwithstanding.

The plot of THE MIDNIGHT HOUR settles on teenage loser Phil Grenville. Phil just so happens to be the ancestor of local witch hunter Nathaniel Grenville who, 200 years prior, very famously did away with resident witch Lucinda Cavander, effectively ending her curse on the unassuming New England town of Pitchford Cove.

Grenville and his friends, wishing to make an entrance at a “totally rad!” costume party, sneak into the local wax museum to “borrow” some authentic costumes and effects, including a trunk which belonged to Grandfather Nathaniel Grenville. Wisely deciding that grand larceny ain’t nothin’ without a little funerary desecration, the gang heads over to the local cemetery to inventory the trunk whereby they happen upon an old parchment containing the original spell cast by Lucinda two hundred years ago tonight (What are the odds, huh?).

And if you need one good reason why SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER‘s character should NOT read that friggin’ spell out loud, in addition to the fact that it is Halloween night two-hundred years to the day, then consider momentarily that she also just so happens to be the ancestor of hanged witch Lucinda Cavender. Needless to say, all kinds of undead wackiness ensues.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR is just the kind of light-hearted romp networks go weak in the knees for. Shot on the cheap and with little fuss, it was the perfect band-aid for a typically quiet network holiday. Though for all its comedy and near-misses, there is some genuinely creepy stuff going on, enough to freak out even seven-year-old me.

To say the dead rise from their grave to plague Pitchford Cove would be an understatement, as coffins literally explode (!?!?) from the ground in a shower of dirt, loosing vampires, werewolves, even (I shit you not) a seven-foot tall zombie serial killer who is more than a little pissed-off at his having been fried in the electric chair. As the evil begins to spread through Pitchford Cove, the townspeople themselves become all manner of undead.  The local zombified judge (already an abusive alcoholic dick even before he was dead) attempts to bash his son’s head in with a rock before deciding on the less violent alternative of strangling his punk-ass to death on top of a Cadillac Deville.

To make matters worse, two hundred year old witch / vampire Lucinda shows up to the Halloween party, attacking great granddaughter SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER (rather incestuously) in the wine cellar, latching onto her neck like a lamprey in slo-motion as bottles of Merlot burst off the shelves to the tune of ‘How Soon is Now’ by The Smiths.

That’s another thing, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR has one of the best soundtracks of the eighties (second only to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD).With Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Wilson Picket, Credence Clearwater Revival and narration by Wolfman Jack, it certainly left an impression on most of the ‘tweens who saw it, undoubtedly contributing to the film’s cult status.

The movie spends a lot of time padding out the heavy stuff with some zombie comic relief, including a midget zombie and an undead heavy-petting session, giving way to a ridiculously out of place ’80s song and dance number so indicative of ‘Thriller’ that Michael Jackson might just have legal recourse to punch director JACK BENDER in the face.

Following all the moon walking and rotten crotch-grabbing, the terror gets right back on track as the darkened streets of Pitchford Cove begin to resemble Beirut – cars burning, littered with garbage – as the undead infect every last citizen down to the milkman (They even vampirized the goddamned dentist!).

It isn’t long before grandson Phil Grenville, along with a hot, and strangely non-putrefied dead cheerleader named Sandy, put two and two together and figure out the secret to stopping the curse. Only problem is they have to contend with an undead PETER DeLUISE of ’21 JUMP STREET fame…and if that doesn’t traumatize you, then you are already dead inside.

Will Phil Grenville succeed?

Will the town of Pitchford Cove get swallowed up by Lucinda’s curse?

Will ABC be able to recoup their production budget in ad revenue?

These are all questions that I could have cared less about as a kid. I was just happy that network T.V. was showing a horror movie before bedtime.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR actually holds up pretty well upon repeat viewing, not that ABC has ever endeavored to show it again since its original broadcast. Nor can the average gen-x’er afford the steep $400 price tag the movie tends to fetch on DVD (!?!?). Sure the feathered hair and shoulder-pads are undeniably 80’s, but the darker moments – witchcraft, teenage death, etc – are still strong in the minds of viewers today, even if the requisite ghosts and goblins have not fared nearly as well.

Speaking of… while sitting at your house this Halloween, waiting for that smattering trick-or treaters to drop by dressed up as characters which you are so far removed from culturally that you don’t even recognize, just remember that there was a time not long ago when the holiday was not strip-mined by Hallmark and sponsored by Commerce Bank; a time when Halloween was a full scale riot for candy supremacy, and the dead roamed the land with earthly feet.

Unlike good ole’ Lucinda Cavender, the real curse of Halloween is disenfranchisement, but that ain’t nothin’ that a little network T.V. and about 15 rolls of Smarties won’t cure.

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unkle lancifer
unkle lancifer (@unkle-lancifer)
13 years ago

Redboy, Thank you so much for turning me on to this movie. I remember when it came out on DVD, I passed it up many a time because I wasn’t crazy about the cover. Boy, what a mistake! This is the perfect Halloween movie and the music is great! I love “How soon is now?” and never realized what a perfect a fit it was for a horror scene. The entire score is great, if they showed this on T.V more it would be a HALLOWEEN classic by now. It’s silly as all get out but the substitute teacher dressed as David Bowie and that zombie midget are just too cool to deny!

LaDracul (@ladracul)
13 years ago

I remember catching this re-run on Lifetime years ago…of course, it would’ve been more amusing to see an undead Dick Van Patten show up on “Eight is Enough”…

Fox (@fox)
13 years ago

Thank you, thank you for writing about this movie.  It had an impact on my as a kid, but I was never able to recall it since it’s been – EEK! – 23 years.  This piece is helping me glue together my random flashbacks.

I even tried to write a short story in 10th grade called “The Midnight Hour” – title inspired by this movie – but it was terrible.

mamamiasweetpeaches (@mamamiasweetpeaches)
13 years ago

My best friend caqught this one on TV and I missed it. I remember her sitting there telling me about the whole movie scene for scene, raving about it. I thought ‘ well, next time they play it on TV I’ll see it!’ Foolish me! It never resurfaced on TV and I have never seen the box in a video store!

Will somebody put this s h i t on DVD already and END my misery????

VicarOfVHS (@vicarofvhs)
13 years ago

Oh, Redboy, you had me at “a midget zombie,” but you kept me with “undead heavy-petting session.” When are the networks going to get wise and put out all these great made-for-TV horrors on cheap DVDs so I can watch them?!?!

And true story: Mary Janes are and have always been my FAVORITE Halloween candy. I’ve got a bag in my desk right now, which I probably got originally in 1976. Good stuff.

Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
13 years ago

I am ashamed to admit that I have never seen this movie, but I know it well. I do believe I even have a copy of it. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it because whenever I mention it, it gets a rave response. And yeah, the Smiths featured in a TV Movie. The 80s were great!

Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
13 years ago

Doy! I meant to start my post off by saying FANTASTIC REVIEW!

mickster (@mickster)
13 years ago

I remember watching this Halloween night 1987. The power went off all over my town that afternoon and did not come back on until around 9:00 P.M. It was really creepy since it started getting dark around 4:30 P.M. My dad came up behind my mom in the dark and scared her. I recall her shouting a curse word, which was unusual, and my dad laughing. Anyway, when the power came back on I watched this movie.
I watched the clip from YouTube and recognized the nerdy guy. He played the son of Karen Black and Oliver Reed in Burnt Offerings.

RedBoy (@redboy)
13 years ago

In order of appearance: Unkle Lancifer: It was my pleasure dear, dear Unkle. I whole-heartedly agree that, given enough exposure, ‘Hour’ would certainly become a classic (not that there is anything wrong w/ a little cult status). LaDracul: Regarding Dick Van Patten… Eight was definitely enough. Fox: Most welcome. This movie in-particular got me into old r ‘n’ r, hence the horrendous music blog fetish. Mamamia: I think you can score a pretty good boot online (direct DVD rip). While not super cheap, it would most certainly be less expensive than a $300 to $400 factory copy. Vicar: Love the video site. Nothing brings back memories like the thought of renting Vestron horror movies from the local Foodtown w/ my grandmother (she had good taste). Only other midget zombie that comes to mind would be ‘Return of the Living Dead’ (classic)…oh, and I totally agree, Mary Janes are awesome (Squirrel Nut Zippers too)!!! Amanda: Thanks! Ya gotta dig through those stacks of ‘After School specials’ and give Lavar Burton a whirl!

unkle lancifer
unkle lancifer (@unkle-lancifer)
13 years ago

You are like a walking imdb. I had no idea that was the kid from Burnt offerings! Aunt J even asked me who he was and I said I had never seen him before!

mickster (@mickster)
13 years ago

It wasn’t as if I knew it immediately, but I knew he looked very familiar. Thank God, I finally figured it out before it drove me nuts. It’s funny that you said that I am a walking imdb because family and friends will call me when they want to know the name of a movie, actor, etc. The downside is that I can’t get anyone to play trivia games (like scene it) with me unless, of course, I’m on their team.