Monday, May 23, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Detroit Cop City

Year: 1984
Director: Wes Olsen
Cast: Wes Olsen, James F. Moore, Sandy Schemmel
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

Plot: The Dark Side of Midnight takes place in Detroit as a killer known only as The Creeper begins to strike around town. Mayor Reilly (Dave Bowling) doesn't want news of the slayings to get out, as they could interfere with a shady land deal he's trying to pull, frustrating Chief Cooper (James F. Moore), who calls in expert criminologist Brock Johnson (Wes Olsen) to tackle the case.

Analysis: For a film that was so clearly a passion project (director and star Wes Olsen is also writer, editor, and producer Wes Olsen), there's not a lot in The Dark Side of Midnight that seems worth getting passionate about. The bulk of the film is made up of scenes of middle-aged men with identical dark mustaches (one of which seems to be glued on, so this is apparently an intentional aesthetic choice - Poirot, eat your heart out) explain grisly murders to one another in a variety of wood-paneled offices. And they break this exciting action up by reading the newspaper to learn about what everyone else is up to.

Like most slasher movies that focus on police procedural, the victims are extremely two-dimensional and difficult to care about, though the (admittedly infrequent) stalk-'n-slash sequences are occasionally more suspenseful than they have any right to be. That said, the kills have almost nothing to offer other than the brief diversion from formula in a sequence where the victim is a ten-year-old kid. Every kill is performed offscreen and either seen in the aftermath or, more often, described at length in terms that make you go "gee, I wish this horror movie might have shown that to me."

But here's the thing. The Dark Side of Midnight isn't interested in being a slasher movie. It tells us that when it randomly shows us the killer's face (bestowed with a pitch black mustache, natch) 38 minutes in after keeping his identity a secret for the first act of the film. It's also not particularly interested in being a film, or at least particularly good at being one. The camerawork is amateurish and the frame is not infrequently jostled by a DP who clearly wanted attention. This person's polar opposite is the production designer, who was clearly in witness protection and didn't want to give a single clue to any potential viewer that there was a set dresser around. The blank white walls of most of the home interiors are pornishly bare, and there's a shot of a kid's closet that is - I shit you not - completely devoid of clothes. To be fair, the one time there has clearly been an aesthetic choice made, it sucks: at one point a swath of carpet has clearly been hastily spread out underneath the killer's feet, because you can see it ripple where it touches the wall.

No, this is not a good slasher nor a good movie. But it is a pretty good love letter from Wes Olsen to Wes Olsen. His character, who might I remind you is named "Brock Johnson," has his investigative prowess (which mostly involves guessing what typewriter is being used to create various notes) hyped up for twenty minutes, and when he finally arrives in a full-on cowboy entrance, he is described as young and handsome no fewer than three times, followed by a scene where he's described as a "sex fiend" and a "Don Juan" in the space of three seconds. He is like if Sherlock Holmes and James Bond had a shitty kid they sent to boarding school in America in the hopes that they could just forget about him. 

This suburban dad fantasy of being a cool, unflappable 29-year-old is an  intoxicating dose of heterosexual camp, and it is somewhat delightful to encounter. Unfortunately, it is buried in a film that is just too bad to be redeemed.

Killer: The Creeper (Dan Myers)
Final Girl: Jan Cooper (Sandy Schemmel), but this only matters because Brock Johnson saves her.
Best Kill: All the kills are uniformly shitty, but this movie has the guts to kill off a bratty kid, so I give them kudos for doing that I guess.
Sign of the Times: The Dark Side of Midnight has its own title power ballad.
Scariest Moment: Kathy returns to her room and can't quite remember if she turned the lights off before she left, but doesn't figure it out until it's too late.
Weirdest Moment: The chilling moment 25 minutes in at which point you realize just how many mustaches there are going to be in this movie.
Champion Dialogue: "I've got about 45 minutes of work left on dinner, so we'll be eating soon."
Body Count: 6
  1. Kathy has her neck broken and skull crushed offscreen.
  2. Timmy has his throat slashed offscreen.
  3. April's Friend is garroted with rope.
  4. April is killed offscreen.
  5. Linda is killed offscreen.
  6. The Creeper dies in a house explosion.
TL;DR: The Dark Side of Midnight is one man's love letter to himself, and it's not our place to get between him and his object of affection.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 864

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