After Midnight (1989)

Rating:

USA. 1989.

Crew

Directors/Screenplay – Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat, Producers – Richard Arlock, Peter Greene, Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat, Photography – Phedon Papamichael, Music – Marc Donahue, Visual Effects – VCE (Supervisor – Peter Kuran), Stop Motion Animation – Doug Beswick Productions, Special Effects Supervisor – Roy Downey, Makeup Effects – Lance Anderson, Production Design – Paul Chadwick. Production Company – High Bar Pictures

Cast

Allison’s Story:– Jillian McWhirter (Allison), Ramy Zada (Professor Edward Derek), Pamela Segall (Cheryl), Ed Monaghan (Russ), Kerry Remsen (Maggie), Richard Gabai (Dave). The Old Dark House:– Marc McClure (Kevin), Nadine Van der Velde (Joan). A Night on the Town:– Tracy Wells (Amy), Judie Aronson (Jennifer), Penelope Sudrow (Kelly), Monique Salcido (Lisa), Luis Contreras (The Dogs’ Master). All Night Operator:– Marg Helgenberger (Alex), Alan Rosenberg (Richard), Jordana Capra (Vanessa Birch), Billy Ray Sharkey (Ray), Loyda Ramos (Molly)


Plot

Allison’s Story:– Allison is apprehensive about joining the Psychology of Fear class run by Professor Edward Derek. In front of the entire class, the professor pulls a gun on a student and then appears to shoot himself in the head, onto reveal this has been staged, all to demonstrate the nature of fear to them. He is suspended for this but invites any students who wish to continue to come to his home. There he invites them to tell true stories of fear. The Old Dark House:– Joan persuades her husband Kevin to take the scenic route back home after they go out for his birthday, only for the car to break down outside the reputedly haunted Griffith House. They venture inside to get help. A Night on the Town:– Four girls want to go out clubbing but are refused entry for being underage. As the search for another venue to get into, the car is running low on gas and so they pull into a station. The station proves to be abandoned. Inside, they are menaced by a psychotic man. Making an escape, they are pursued by the man and his pack of wild dogs. All Night Operator:– Alex comes back on duty as switchboard operator in an apartment building after a skiing fall that has left her on crutches. Working the night shift, she receives harassing calls from Richard, a man who is obsessed with one of the tenants, actress Vanessa Birch. When Richard believes Alex is not passing his calls on to Vanessa, he breaks into the building and comes after her.


After Midnight was the third directorial outing for brothers Ken and Jim Wheat. The two always work together where they have racked up a number of genre credits with scripts for the slasher movie The Silent Scream (1980), the alien visitor film The Return (1981), The Fly II (1989), The Birds II: Land’s End (tv movie, 1994), It Came from Outer Space II (1995), the killer snake movie Rattled (1996), The Stepford Husbands (tv movie, 1996) and Pitch Black (2000). Their other directorial outings were the psycho-thriller Lies (1983) and Star Wars spinoff Ewoks and the Marauders of Endor (1986).

With After Midnight, The Wheats have opted for the old standby of the horror anthology. This has a history on the screen going back to at least the silent era and has produced a number of classic films such as Dead of Night (1945) and a string of anthology films from the British company Amicus during the 1960s/70s beginning with Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). The anthology has seen a big comeback during the 2010s, particularly films offering up segments from different genre directors with the likes of Chillerama (2011), The Theatre Bizarre (2011), and both The ABCs of Death (2012) and V/H/S (2012) and sequels.

The first episode, Allison’s Story, is actually the wraparound. This comes with a striking scene during the early sections where professor Ramy Zada stands up in front of his class and to demonstrate the nature of fear abruptly pulls a gun on a cocky student (Ed Monaghan) who challenges him and then turns and puts the gun to his own head and blows his brains out, before this is revealed to be staged. It is such a sensational and attention-grabbing scene that nothing else in the film matches it. In any real world setting of course, the professor would be hauled up before an academic disciplinary board, not to mention the police, and his tenure cancelled before he could even reload the next chamber but it sure sets a great scene. It is certainly never matched by the closing sections of the wraparound, which feel rather perfunctory in the revenge story being told. The film goes out with an All a Dream and About to Repeat Again epilogue that the Wheats have clearly borrowed from Dead of Night.

The first episode (or second depending on whether you regard the previous one as a wraparound or a full story) is The Old Dark House. This is fairly average. The Wheats direct some passable jumps and spookings familiar to the haunted house genre, nothing terribly standout. The episode however arrives at an effective twist revelation about what is happening that is followed by a particularly dark and sardonic sting that justifies much of the rest of the piece.

A Night on the Town overcomes a slow start and a quartet of girls whose airheadedness makes you want to collectively slap them to become a reasonable affair. By the latter scenes with the girls attempting to make a getaway and the homeless man (Luis Contreras) holding on top of the car relentlessly stabbing through and tearing off the canvas of the roof, followed by the horde of dogs pursuing the girls through the streets, it becomes quite an intensive piece indeed.

The same can also be said of All Night Operator featuring a then-unknown Marg Helgenberger. The Wheats generate a good deal of suspense in the scenes with her on crutches trying to avoid the killer and of the taunting games he plays on the phone and then from inside the building. This is a piece that could easily have been drawn out to run as a full-length film. It is a shame that the Wheat brothers have not had any other chances to direct so far as the skill they show here holds considerable promise.



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