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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: 10 to Midnight

May 10, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
10 to Midnight Charles Bronson

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #590: 10 to Midnight

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that was once yelled at by a guy that sort of looked like Wilford Brimley but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t the real Wilford Brimley because why would it have been, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and ninety, I take a look at the badass action slasher flick 10 to Midnight, which hit movie screens in early March 1983.

10 to Midnight

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10 to Midnight, directed by J. Lee Thompson, is one of the sleaziest movies star Charles Bronson made in the 1980’s, which really is saying something as Bronson also made Death Wish II and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects for Cannon Films and The Evil That Men Do for ITC Entertainment and Tri-Star Pictures during that decade. All of those movies just ooze sleaze and grime and a sort of entertaining unpleasantness that somehow make them watchable as hell. You really don’t want to dwell on any of them, but if any of them are on TV and you happen upon them you will end up watching them. I mean, that’s what happens to me.

So 10 to Midnight has Bronson as Leo Kessler, a badass LAPD detective hot on the trail of a killer. Saddled with a new, by the book/not quite idealistic but pretty darn close to it rookie detective named Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens), Kessler is desperate to find whoever is killing young women and, on occasion, young men, too. The audience knows who the killer is; a guy named Warren Stacy (a very brave Gene Davis). Stacy likes to stalk his prey and then attack them while completely naked (he’s naked, his victim doesn’t have to be). The only thing Stacy wears when he’s killing a woman is rubber gloves, which he can take off and flush down the toilet when he’s done with them. As for the nakedness, he likely does that so he doesn’t get his victim’s blood on his clothes (he also probably gets some psycho thrill out of being nude while stabbing a naked woman in the gut. It’s his way of “having sex” with a woman, the whole “penetration” thing).

Now, when Stacy isn’t actively stalking or killing someone, he’s striking out with the opposite sex. He doesn’t understand that the women in his life, both the ones that know him and work with him and the ones he meets at the movies or somewhere else, think he’s a creep. Stacy gives off a big time creep vibe and that’s before he even talks to a woman (it actually gets worse for him when he opens his mouth). Stacy is handsome and fit, he dresses nicely, and, in a way, seems like a dreamboat (he looks like a male model). But, again, when he actually interacts with women he’s super aggressive and has no idea how to talk to them. His “frustration” with women is likely what “makes him” want to kill them. He’s what we would call an “incel” today.

So some stuff happens, Kessler and McAnn engage in some detective work, and the cops eventually zero in on Stacy. The cops can’t prove, at least at first, that Stacy is the killer, but Kessler has a hunch that they have the right man. But how do they prove it? Kessler’s superiors, including his boss Captain Malone (Wilford motherfucking Brimley) and the district attorney, want actual evidence they can use to prove to a jury or a judge that Stacy is the bad guy. Kessler has no idea how he’s going to accomplish that. Stacy is too cunning, too smart to leave evidence behind. Kessler knows that Stacy is the guy, though. Stacy has to be the guy.

So them some more stuff happens. Stacy makes a mistake, and Kessler is able to arrest him. But simply arresting him isn’t going to be enough. Kessler is going to have to do something drastic to make sure that Stacy goes away forever.

Kessler decides he’s going to have to fabricate evidence to make sure Stacy goes away to prison.

Yes, that’s what I said. Kessler, the cop, decides that he’s going to have to make up evidence so Stacy goes to prison. And so that’s what Kessler does. He plants blood on Stacy’s clothes and finally nails him. Unfortunately for Kessler, his evidence planting scheme upsets McAnn, who has no interest in breaking the law in order to enforce it. So McAnn threatens Kessler with telling the world the truth while on the stand at Stacy’s trial.

So Kessler fesses up and admits to the DA he made up the blood evidence, and Stacy is set free. Kessler also loses his job in the process. Kessler isn’t done with Stacy, though. Kessler knows that Stacy isn’t going to stop killing women, so he starts following him around town. Kessler figures that when Stacy tries to kill another woman he will be there to stop him. Is it a good plan? Is it a legal plan? Not really, but his former police colleagues are okay with it (McAnn knows what Kessler is up to and just lets him do it) and, shit, even with the made up evidence it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Stacy is the killer. It’s only a matter of time before Stacy makes a mistake.

Like going after Kessler’s daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher).

The last quarter or so of 10 to Midnight moves at a breakneck pace, with Kessler hot on Stacy’s trail. The last quarter is also where the movie amps up its sleaze factor, as the bodies pile up and Kessler desperately tries to stop Stacy. The last five minutes or so will have you on the edge of your seat. The ending, while abrupt, is perfect. I do wish the ending was bloodier, but it works and I doubt you won’t be cheering when it’s over. I mean, even if you don’t agree with the movie’s right wing politics, I seriously doubt you won’t be relieved, even for a moment, by what Kessler does at the end.

As I said earlier, 10 to Midnight is incredibly sleazy. From the premise to the naked killer to the sheer amount of female nudity present in the movie, 10 to Midnight can be a tough watch for audience members with delicate constitutions. At the same time, the movie never uses its sleaze for titillation. The nudity present isn’t there for audience enjoyment. The nudity is there to make you uneasy, especially when you realize that the killer is naked when he kills people. There’s just something supremely wrong about that. That exposure also makes what Kessler does in the name of “what’s right” easier to accept. Exploitation movies aren’t supposed to do that, are they?

10 to Midnight is also a fine example of super-efficient moviemaking. Director J. Lee Thompson doesn’t waste any time and makes sure the movie is always driving forward. Thompson also knows how to use Bronson’s avenging force/vigilante persona to maximum effect. Bronson explains his character’s motivation in three sentences at the beginning of the movie and, really, you don’t need more than that.

“Jerry, I’m not a nice person. I’m a mean, selfish sonofabitch. I know you want a story, but I want a killer and what I want comes first.”

See what I mean? You know all you need to know about Bronson’s Kessler after he says that. And when we meet Kessler’s daughter Laurie we already know what to expect, and when he puts his job and his need to find Stacy before reconciling with her it makes total sense.

And look at Gene Davis. He’s a naked serial killer. Everything we learn about him after we see him in action just helps emphasize what we already know. The guy is nasty and disturbed and you can’t wait to see him get what’s coming to him.

10 to Midnight doesn’t have as much action in it as other Bronson/Thompson movies (10 to Midnight is their third collaboration together. They would go on to make nine movies together), but what we do get is well thought out and spot on. The suspense sequences are also well done, especially the sequence in the bedroom where Stacy is hiding in the closet. You know what’s eventually going to happen, but you don’t know when it’s going to happen. It will unnerve you.

10 to Midnight also has one of the most unintentionally funny sequences of the 1980’s, when Kessler interrogated Stacy and confronts him with the sex toy Kessler found in his apartment. Watching Charles Bronson wave the sex toy in Gene Davis’ face while screaming “It’s for jacking off!” is fucking hilarious. It’s not supposed to be, though.

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Bronson is terrific as Kessler. Granted, he isn’t stretching himself much by essentially playing another vigilante, but Bronson knows how to make you watch him and care about what he does. He also knows how to make you understand his frustrations with the world and the law and everything else going on. You won’t agree with all of it (I know I don’t), but you will get where he’s coming from. Bronson also has great chemistry with Andrew Stevens, who plays his idealistic partner McAnn. It’s interesting how McAnn respects the hell out of Kessler and wants to learn how to be a detective from him, but McAnn isn’t going to break the law in order to do it. And while Kessler is pissed that McAnn wouldn’t follow along with his evidence planting scheme, he doesn’t hold it against him. Kessler actually respects McAnn more than he did earlier in the movie (Bronson and Stevens have some fun “old cop is annoyed by his new, young partner” scenes at the beginning of the movie).

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Gene Davis is insanely creepy as Warren Stacy. Even before you see him take his clothes off and chase a naked woman through the woods in order to stab her you can tell, just by his general demeanor, that there’s something bad about him. And when he shows you just how bad he is, good God, he’s terrible. I will say, though, that his commitment to the amount of nudity he himself has to do throughout the movie is impressive, especially the big “running down the middle of the street at night while completely naked” scene at the end of the movie. How many times did he have to do that? Good God. Now, the regular TV version of the movie has Davis wearing black underwear because you can’t be as naked as he is on regular TV, especially in the 1980’s, and if you look around the internets you can find stills from that version. They’re disturbing, too, but not quite as disturbing. And how the hell did he walk around that nasty looking hotel room without any shoes on? Jesus.

Wilford Brimley does a decent enough job as Kessler’s boss Malone. He isn’t your typical 1980’s cop movie boss, screaming and yelling at Kessler. Brimley plays Malone as more beaten down, world weary, and stunted in a way. He agrees with Kessler’s assessment of Stacy, but Malone also has a responsibility to the law. What is he going to do? What can he do?

Geoffrey Lewis is great as the amoral lawyer Dave Dante. Dante doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong in providing a vigorous defense for his client, but at the same time you wish he wasn’t Stacy’s lawyer. It would be so much better if Stacy had a different, more inept lawyer. Pay close attention to what Dante tells Stacy before the trial. It figures into the ending in a big, big way.

And Lisa Eilbacher does an awesome job as Kessler’s daughter Laurie. She’s had to deal with lots of shit in her life and you sympathize with her when you find out just how distant Kessler was when she was younger. But Laurie is also tough and strong willed and you know that when the shit hits the fan and she ends up the target of Stacy she’s going to fare better than most. Eilbacher also has superb chemistry with Stevens. You totally buy their romance, even if there’s an antagonism between them.

The movie’s soundtrack, by Robert O. Ragland, is great from start to finish. The opening theme is one of the best of the 1980’s. Why don’t people talk about it more when it comes to movie music from the 1980’s?

10 to Midnight can be a tough movie to get through, but if you’re a Bronson fan it’s a definite must see. The sleaze present in the movie may seem overwhelming at times, but it serves a purpose. If you give it a chance, 10 to Midnight may surprise you.

See 10 to Midnight. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 7

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: Big time.

Doobage: Stark black and red opening credits, an awesome opening theme, stalking, a disturbing fantasy, butterfly knife hooey, an asshole harassing women at the movies, a secret passageway, a naked killer stalking his prey in the woods, van sex, multiple stabbings, rubber gloves flushing, a rookie chewing gum mistake, talk of a killer using his penis as a weapon, seriously creepy male behavior, a sad police notification, funeral hooey, breaking and entering, brief knife fondling, hiding in the closet, attempted breakfast making, unexpected gut stabbing, table breaking, a male sex toy, a hilarious police interrogation sequence that probably isn’t supposed to be as funny as it is, mild homophobia, multiple dirty phone calls, a young person’s party, dancing, phone call tracing, evidence planting, a meltdown, chair breaking, people smoking in public indoors, off screen firing, ex-police harassment, a booby-trapped apartment, prostitution, booze dumping, a disturbing flower delivery, an apartment slaughter, police radio breaking, mirror breaking, attempted use of a table as a weapon, reckless driving, curling iron to the face, seriously disturbing nighttime running, chopper hooey, and an abrupt but perfect ending.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Charles Bronson, Charles Bronson using a typewriter and perfecting the whole “only using one finger on each hand to type” method, “and Wilford Brimley as Malone,” a karate poster on the killer’s wall, people going to the movies, the killer using a butterfly knife, a naked killer, Andrew Stevens, Wilford Brimley, a “cops talking to the medical examiner” scene, some serious right wing politics, Charles Bronson talking about how much he hates smoking, Charles Bronson saying “morphine,” a woman listening to music while making breakfast in the kitchen, Charles Bronson wielding a male sex toy, Charles Bronson eating in a hospital cafeteria, Charles Bronson announcing that he doesn’t like coleslaw or quiche, Andrew Stevens explaining to people how to trace a phone call, people having sex on top of a washer and dryer, voice print hooey, Geoffrey Lewis, smoking indoors in public, Charles Bronson telling a reporter to go fuck himself, Charles Bronson getting ice from the freezer, Charles Bronson answering his phone with “Yeah, hello?,” prostitution, a seriously dirty hotel room, Carmen Filpi, a disturbing shower scene, seriously disturbing nighttime running, and an abrupt but perfect ending.

Best lines: “Jerry, don’t do that,” “Jerry, I’m not a nice person. I’m a mean, selfish sonofabitch. I know you want a story but I want a killer and what I want comes first,” “Don’t go away mad,” “No hard feelings, I hope,” “Don’t do anything I couldn’t do better,” “Misfortune?,” “Go away, Warren,” “You know, you talk sometimes like you should have been a school teacher,” “Don’t let your feelings become involved. Geeze, can’t you’ drive any faster,” “You’re into karate, are ya?,” “I’ve never seen a bullfight, have you?,” “I know you didn’t do it, Tim,” “Warren, have you ever been arrested?,” “You like hurting girls?,” “When’s the last time you made it with a girl, Warren?,” “He’s our man, captain, and I’m gonna get him,” “I remember when legal meant lawful. Now it means some kind of loophole,” “This place is an ulcer factory,” “What are you doing Saturday? Saturday is my day off,” “You’re saying I’m a schizo,” “If I thought it was right, I’d swear to anything you say,” “You trying to commit suicide? I was going to ask you the same thing,” “Leo, if you wake up one day with your throat cut… I’ll thank you for warning me,” “Come on, buddy, give me a line!,” “You can count on this! I’ll be back!,” and “All those girls. You sick sonofabitch.”

Rating: 10.0/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For

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The Mortuary Collection: This is some sort of new low budget horror anthology thing with the great Clancy Brown playing the weird beard “host” of the wraparound story (according to imdb Brown’s character is a small town mortician that tells stories about all of the people who have died in the town). The low budget horror anthology has become quite the thing the last few years, with terrific movies coming out one after the other. The Mortuary Collection seems to be another anthology along those lines (the reviews I’ve seen for it have said the movie is fantastic and Brown is great as the host). And it’s on Shudder as a Shudder Original, so that’s a good sign (with few exceptions, Shudder’s original offerings have been quite good). So get it on home video and watch it on Shudder, or just watch it on Shudder, or watch it on Shudder and then get it on home video. Man, I have way too many movies I need to see. Anyone out there see this? Does it warrant its reputation?

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Rush Week: The fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome are responsible for this new Blu-ray of a late 1980’s slasher flick that I don’t think I’ve seen. The trailer makes me think I did see the movie on cable at some point a long time ago, but I think my memory is lying. Anyway, the movie is about a young student journalist who investigates a college that has a serial killer on it or something. There’s a hooded figure with an axe killing people (presumably mostly women) and, I guess, some sort of sinister conspiracy at play. Regardless of whether or not the movie is any good, you know the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome are going to do a kick-ass home video presentation, and, ultimately, that’s what matters most. Definitely something I need to check out (because, goddammit, I really want to see if I’m right or wrong. Did I see this?).

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For the Sake of Vicious: This appears to be some sort of low budget home invasion horror flick and, based solely on the trailer, it looks pretty good. It also looks pretty brutal, which is what you would expect with a title that has the word “Vicious” in it. The plot, as I understand it, is a woman comes home from work on Halloween night and there’s a guy in her house beating the shit out of a hostage he has taken for some reason. Some stuff happens, the hostage somehow calls his friends to help him, and the hostage’s buddies descend on the woman’s house ready to rescue their friend and kill anyone that gets in their way. The woman and the hostage taker have to band together to fight off the intruders. You can almost tell from the plot description that things are going to get nasty. Just how nasty, though? Definitely going to have to check this out at some point in my life.

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Next Issue: It’s the action horror flick The Minion starring Dolph Lundgren!!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

10 to Midnight

Charles Bronson– Leo Kessler
Lisa Eilbacher– Laurie Kessler
Andrew Stevens– Paul McAnn
Gene Davis– Warren Stacy
Wilford Brimley– Captain Malone
Geoffrey Lewis– Dave Dante

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay by William Roberts

Distributed by Cannon Film Distributors, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Twilight Time, and Shout! Factory/Scream Factory

Rated R for graphic violence, language, nudity, and sexual situations.
Runtime– 101 minutes

Buy it here