Heart of Midnight (1988) poster

Heart of Midnight (1988)


USA. 1988.


Director/Screenplay – Matthew Chapman, Story – Matthew Chapman & Everett De Roche, Producer – Andrew Gaty, Photography – Ray Rivas, Music – Yanni, Special Effects – Guy H. Tuttle, Production Design – Gene Rudolf. Production Company – AG Productions.


Jennifer Jason Leigh (Carol Rivers), Peter Coyote (Sharpe/Larry), Denise Dummont (Mariana), Frank Stallone (Lieutenant Ledroy), James Rebhorn (Richard), Brenda Vaccaro (Betty Rivers), Gale Mayron (Sonny), Steve Buscemi (Eddy), Nick Love (Tom), Tico Wells (Henry)


Carol Rivers receives the surprise news that she has inherited the Midnight nightclub in her Uncle Fletcher’s will. She decides to take the club over, ignoring the advice of her mother who is concerned about Carol’s history of mental illness and wants her to sell it. Three guys break in and rape Carol but the complaint is dismissed by police because of her psychiatric history. A police detective charms Carol but he later appears to be an impostor. She begins to learn about the perverse secrets that the club once held.

Heart of Midnight sets out to be a thriller about disturbed psychology. It seems to hold some promise. The cast is somewhat more professional than the usual B-budget thriller – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Peter Coyote, Brenda Vaccaro and a then unknown Steve Buscemi – and it has on script Everett de Roche who wrote some of the better Australian genre films (see below).

Heart of Midnight seems to have begun with the intriguing original notion of redoing Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) as a psycho-sexual thriller. It is hardly any time before everything falls apart. The goings-on at The Midnight are incredibly murky. The script never seems to care about clearcut narrative and by the end of the film, the supposed revelations of what is going on create more mystery than they clarify proceedings. There is no clear explanation of what Uncle Fletcher was doing to Carol and Sonny – presumably molesting them. It is not even clear whether Sonny, despite the name, is male or female. When Carol is chained up, orgiasts appear and grope her and then equally inexplicably disappear again without any explanation as to who they are. Nor is it made clear exactly who Peter Coyote’s character is and why Uncle Fletcher put him in jail. Everything that happens in the film has a haphazard feel about it.

Steve Buscemi threatens Jennifer Jason Leigh in Heart of Midnight (1988)
A then unknown Steve Buscemi threatens Jennifer Jason Leigh

Nor does director Matthew Chapman seem to care much about maintaining the pace. When the film descends into surrealism with giant eyeballs crashing about and see-through waterbeds with knives stabbing up from underneath, it becomes very strange indeed. The film is so bizarrely plotted that it makes more sense to perceive it on the level of dream surrealism than it does as linear narrative.

Certainly, there are times when Matthew Chapman produces the occasional decent shock – the moment the apple that Jennifer Jason Leigh is offered in her dream suddenly turns up in her fridge, the appearance of the real Sharpe. The film tries to produce some interesting sets but the dreary and rundown abandoned building where it has been filmed keeps showing through.

Heart of Midnight was the last of four films that Matthew Chapman would direct. He did go onto script several other psycho-sexual thriller with Consenting Adults (1992) and Color of Night (1994), as well as other mainstream works such as What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (2001), The Runaway Jury (2003) and Black Water Transit (2009). Chapman did make a return to the director’s chair twenty-three years later with the faith-atheism psycho-thriller The Ledge (2011).

Screenwriter Everett de Roche has written a number of other Australian genre films including the excellent Nature’s Revenge film Long Weekend (1978), Patrick (1978) about a psychic coma patient, the stalker psycho-thriller Snapshot/The Day After Halloween (1979), Harlequin (1980) about an enigmatic magician, the psycho-thriller Roadgames (1981), the killer boar film Razorback (1984), the killer chimp film Link (1986), the Aboriginal children’s fantasy Frog Dreaming/The Quest (1986), the ghost story Visitors (2003), the Backwoods Brutality film Storm Warning (2007), the remake of Long Weekend (2008) and Nine Miles Down (2009) about a mineshaft to Hell.

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