In rural Pennsylvania, a young girl screams for help in a rural meadow, her leg caught in an animal trap. A group of children, along with an older woman they call Mama, arrive, and one of the boys, Abraham, knocks the girl unconscious. Later, the children chant a Satanic prayer over the girl at the behest of their mother, and one of the children, Cynthia, proceeds to brutally stab her to death with a dagger.
Years later, teen aged Nancy Johnson runs away from her home after her stepfather Bert, a police officer, attempts to rape her. While hitchhiking to her sister’s home in San Francisco, she is picked up by two benevolent young men, Hank and Tom. In the backwoods, they pick up a Baptist preacher and his adult daughter, Sandra, who they drop off at a cemetery to visit the grave of the preacher’s wife. Sandra says a prayer and heads back toward their house; her father remains, and is stabbed to death by a man with a machete shortly after. Later, Sandra finds her father’s corpse on their doorstep, and is murdered by the man with the machete.
At a local bar, Tom, Hank, and Nancy encounter racists who refuse to serve them because Hank is African-American. Short on money, they steal groceries from a small market and are chased by two local police officers. They lose the police, and drive onto a dirt road into the woods, where they witness the murderer carrying Sandra’s corpse (covered in a sheet) into the woods. The three find a spot to camp overnight.
In the morning, Nancy goes for a walk, and returns to the campsite to witness two police officers, Luke and Abraham, arresting Hank and Tom, accusing them of murdering a local woman. They execute both of the men, and then pursue Nancy, who flees into the woods. She comes across a farmhouse, and inside finds a teenage girl, Cynthia, playing cards. She asks for a phone, and is directed to another room; when she enters, she finds the man she, Tom, and Hank saw earlier (whom she comes to find is named Cyrus) dismembering two men. She is confronted by the two police officers, who lock her in an animal cage next to another victim, Gwen Davis. In conversation, Gwen recounts Luke and Abraham’s murder of two police officers the night before, and then stealing their uniforms.
Luke, Abraham, and Cyrus return to the campsite and burn the bodies of Hank and Tom. Later, Luke goes upstairs and has a conversation with his dead mother, a decomposed corpse the family keeps in a bed. The next day, he and Abraham kidnap teenager Sharon from her backyard. Meanwhile, Bert goes to a local police station to report Nancy missing. At the farmhouse, the family conduct a Black Mass at midnight and sacrifice Sharon in the name of Satan, as Nancy and Gwen watch from their cages. Nancy prays to God as they slit Sharon’s throat before feeding her blood to their dead mother, attempting to resurrect her. They drive Sharon’s body to a field the next morning and begin digging a shallow grave, an event witnessed by Bert, who is out searching for Nancy; he hears them discuss sacrificing Nancy and Gwen on Easter.
Later, while Cynthia sacrifices Gwen at midnight, Nancy recites the Lord’s Prayer, and Luke drinks Gwen’s blood. After the Black Mass, Luke prepares to bring Gwen’s body outside, but is accosted by Bert, who clobbers him. He then holds Abraham and Cyrus at gunpoint, forcing Luke to retrieve Nancy. Just as Nancy is brought outside, Cynthia attacks Bert, stabbing him to death in the back. As he collapses, his gun fires off, shooting both Cyrus and Abraham. Nancy hides in the barn where Cynthia chases after her, not knowing exactly where she is concealing herself. However without warning, Nancy jumps out from behind her (seemingly almost out of nowhere) and in an expeditious act of revenge for the murder of her Stepfather, manages to gain the upperhand, then proceeds to slit Cynthia’s throat with a sickle.
Luke regains consciousness, but Nancy is to quick to react and subsequently pours gasoline on the ground then lights him on fire. Nancy watches helplessly with satisfaction and reassurance as he burns to death while simultaneously screaming in agony. Severely traumatized by the whole ordeal, tears of both relief, anguish and despair begin to uncontrollably roll down Nancy’s ashen face as she sighs to herself while realizing that the blood-curdling nightmare that she won’t soon, or most likely ever forget is finally over. Knowing that her life will never be the same again, she presses her back up against the wall of a nearby wooden shed, and then looks in the direction of the camera with an incredibly forlorn look on her face until the credits begin to roll.
Let’s discuss the hack-job the MPAA did to Midnight. Firstly, I know the prologue is longer and makes clearer the fact that the satanic murderers and the children in the prologue are one and the same.
John A. Russo: Correct. The release prints are missing some of the exposition of the mother implanting the ideas of human sacrifices in the children’s minds. It shows her raising the children to believe in satanism.
Is that the basic reason the MPAA didn’t like it?! Because it may have promoted satanism?
John A. Russo: No, there was a shot of the little girl, getting hit on the head. They thought it to be too violent…the little girl getting clubbed. The cuts make it hard for some people to realize that the family, when you see them as adults, is the same family that they saw as children. It’s very damaging to the movie. It makes the filmmakers look like jerks. The editing was necessitated by the MPAA to get the “R” rating, however it also caused us not to be able to deliver to the fans what they, by this time, expected out of a horror film, which is more explicit kinds of violence. Not that I’m a violence freak, but you do have to deliver what the fans expect within the bounds of good taste.
Another cut scene occurs during the frisbee-throwing between a husband and wife in their backyard. It’s where she is abducted by the satanists. In the release print we see the husband jokingly hide from his wife just before the satanists kidnap her. Here again, the MPAA deleted some very important footage that explains why the husband never tried to rescue his wife!
John A. Russo: The husband is stabbed repeatedly trying to help his wife. You don’t ever see the knife going in because he’s laying behind a stack of logs with the killer hovering over him. It was done so well that it looks pretty brutal. As the prints stand now, the audience is thinking how could this girl be bound and gagged and slammed into a truck without her husband even looking for her!!
The throat-slitting scenes were also played down.
John A. Russo: All of those scenes were optically cropped. Tom Savini has taken some criticism for his effects lacking the sophistication and punch that they had in other films. We had to optically crop the shots in order to play down the effect to get the “R” rating so it’s an unfair criticism of Tom. Ray Laine, Greg Besnak and I did the effects in the last 10 minutes. The gun shots, fire and the makeups
Midnight originally ended with the female lead, Nancy, being left to die by her stepfather. Would you compare your original concept with the revision?
John A. Russo: In the first draft of the screenplay, originally titled The Congregation. I had the stepfather come back and save her. I was about half way through writing that ending when it occurred to me that it would be more in character to abandon her and save his own hide. So I wrote the novel that way. I turned around and wrote the screenplay with the stepfather leaving her to die.
You shot that ending?
John A. Russo: We shot it that way. When Sam Sherman and Dan Kennis saw the first edit, they were very happy with the film. But Sam said it would be nice to have an action-packed ending and let the stepfather come back and save Nancy. He said this being a film rather than a book, it would pay the audience off more to see the bad guys get it. He said that one of the things the MPAA looks for in granting ratings is redeeming social value. He was afraid that if the bad guys didn’t get it in the end or one of the good characters wasn’t saved, we would have an impossible time getting an “R” rating no matter how much of the violence was cut. So there were several reasons for shooting the new ending and I was glad to do it. I saw Sam’s reasoning there. I like the ending myself. For a low-budget movie it does give you a lot of action. There’s about 10 minutes of action there. It’s more than you might find in a lot of low-budget films.
Well, Midnight gave me the chance to work with John Russo (co-writer of Night of The Living Dead) and a long time friend of George’s. I was introduced to Russo through Raymond Laine, a friend of mine from the Playhouse…who worked with George in the early days and who played the lead in There’s Always Vanilla (1971). I haven’t revisited Midnight since it was first shot, but fans tell me they like it. John Amplas (Abraham)
I still prefer the book ending.
John A. Russo: Well, that ending has a lot to recommend it. She was in that cage praying and we just held on that shot. We were going to freeze it. We had all these weird sounds, the satanists’ black-mass sounds and insane cries that Paul McCollough came up with which were actually cries of baboons! It had such an eerie effect when we threw some reverb on it and mixed it in with the black mass sounds. With that shot holding for so long, it really sunk into your mind that this girl was doomed. All her faith and religiosity didn’t save her. Evil had triumphed…which often does! It was the same thing in NOLD where we had the same argument of whether anybody should be saved. In the first draft we actually had Barbara being rescued by the sheriff. We went for the more shocking ending and it turned out to be the right decision because that’s what makes the audience walk out of the theatre feeling appalled and crushed…but they’re thinking!
What is your opinion of Midnight as a whole?
John A. Russo: It think it’s a darn good job for the money. For $70,000, I don’t think there is anybody else that’s done as good a job for that kind of money, frankly. I think you could give any of the recognized names that would look at this picture and put it down-you give them $70,000, and they wouldn’t do as good a job. And the people in the industry who’ve seen it, well, they can’t believe it. Until they know the budget, they say, ‘Well why didn’t you do this or that or that?” But once they know the budget, they say, “Jesus Christ, there’s nobody doing anything for that!” The only way we could have done more was to shoot in 16mm and blow it up. Perhaps we should have shot 16mm because then, content-wise, it would have been a much better picture. Of course you would have a grainier looking release print. Another thing I’d like to say about Midnight is that when I wrote the script back in 1977, and even while the film was being made, most of the pictures like Friday the 13th and Halloween and the whole glut of those pictures hadn’t happened yet! So once Midnight was released last year, a lot of things that would have frightened an audience, well, by the time they saw Midnight, they’d seen those things 15 times already. If Midnight could have come out when it was first written, it would have had more impact. When your movie comes out late, you get accused of imitation when that’s not the case. Fang: Do you have a steady group of film people with whom you prefer to work? Russo: Well, my relationship with Sam Sherman and Dan Kennis at Independent International Pictures has been excellent. We’re anxious to work together again. They have a lot of talent and expertise as distributors and we’re trying to get other projects going, with a little bigger budgets. On the production end, I have a small group of really dedicated and talented people from cinematographer and editor, Paul McCollough, Ray Laine who is a casting director and production manager, Eric Baca who is an excellent sound engineer, and John Rice, the assistant cinematographer and lighting man.
Midnight Soundtrack (1982) Quintessence & Paul McCollough
John Russo’s MIDNIGHT soundtrack which was originally released on the Traq record label back in 1982.
Midnight is a 1982 film by John A. Russo. It is based on Russo’s 1980 novel of the same name, published by Pocket Books. The reprint was issued in 1982 by “Independent-International Pictures” to coincide with their film release.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic
Directed John A. Russo
Produced Donald Redinger
Written John A. Russo
Melanie Verlin – Nancy Johnson
Lawrence Tierney – Bert Johnson
John Amplas – Abraham
John Hall – Tom
Charles Jackson – Hank
Doris Hackney – Harriet Johnson