Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
In the mid-80's, the slasher genre had ensconced itself so securely in the cinema firmament that just about every genre had to get in on the fun and throw a knife-wielding maniac into the mix. An early adopter of this practice was another genre that was pumping out movies like there was no tomorrow: action. We'd already seen a genetically modified maniac thriller grafted onto a Chuck Norris "romantic" actioner with Silent Rage in 1982, but you know a trend has legs when The Cannon Group tosses their hat into the ring.
The iconic shlock production company, then under the loving care of producers Golan and Globus, had already produced a half dozen slashers by the time 10 to Midnight came out in 1983, but this would be the first time they mixed their action peanut butter with their horror chocolate. They paired a fresh-off-Death Wish 2 Charles Bronson with Happy Birthday to Me director J. Lee Thompson and hoped they could make magic.
Where should I even begin? I suppose with Charles Bronson, who's as close to a protagonist as this movie gets, even though he's offscreen as much as humanly possible. He plays one Leo Kessler, a hard-nosed cop who is irritated by his new erudite yuppie partner Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens, who had his turn as a stalker killer in the execrable The Seduction). You can probably guess where this is going, and you would be wrong, because if they made this a buddy cop movie, they'd have to get Bronson out of his trailer.
We also get the privilege of following the exploits of Warren Stacy (Gene Davis, of The Hitcher and Cruising, so his homoerotic cinema bingo card is pretty complete), an absolute creepo incel who aggressively flirts with women and flies into a murderous knife-happy rage when they quite reasonably reject him. He has now set his sights on Laurie Kessler (Lisa Eilbacher), who has the supreme misfortune of being the progeny of Leo. Paul and her develop a little bit of a flirtation because it's not an 80's action movie if a cop isn't overstepping ethical boundaries with a case. Now we have all the pieces in place, watch them run around! Oh, and when Warren is killing people, he walks around completely naked.
10 to Midnight is an odd duck. If you take a step back and look at the thing, it's really not successful as either a slasher or an action film. On the one hand, you have a series of kills that are largely concentrated in the beginning and ending (the second act has a pace that is murderous, and not in the good way) and all follow the same M.O.: A little bit of stalkin', a lot of stabbin', and home before dinner gets cold. On the other, you have an action film that doesn't depict much action. The cops walk around and ask people questions and file reports, but they hardly break a sweat. You'd hardly even know it was trying to be an action flick if not for the parts where the cop who plants evidence and wants to act outside the law is meant to be the hero of the movie.
And though Charles Bronson could hardly be blamed for not giving this particular project much respect, he's not phoning in his performance. He's telegramming it. What we're seeing onscreen isn't Bronson in any meaningful sense of the word. It's the flesh his consciousness usually occupies, but the true Bronson is somewhere sunny and warm where he doesn't have to recite dialogue at a naked man. Every line is delivered in a flat monotone, except for the ones where he randomly injects some excitement by emphasizing the wrong syllables ("he was on mor-PHINE").
- Dale is stabbed.
- Betty is stabbed in the gut.
- Karen is stabbed.
- Blonde Roommate is stabbed.
- Shower Roommate is stabbed in the gut.
- Bunny is stabbed offscreen.
- Warren Stacy is shot in the head.