Sunday, September 12, 2010

But It's Always After Midnight

A college professor (Ramy Zada) teaching a course on fear invites some students over to his pad to share scary stories. Jim and Ken Wheat, who wrote drafts of THE FLY II and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, wrote and shared directing duties on this United Artists horror anthology with three short vignettes. Shot in Los Angeles for $3 million in 38 days, AFTER MIDNIGHT is an amiable enough shocker, but riddled with a clich├ęd screenplay without a surprise in sight. UA gave it a token theatrical release in November 1989.

The first story, “The Old Dark House,” finds married couple Kevin (Marc McClure, SUPERMAN’s Jimmy Olsen) and Joanie (CRITTERS’ Nadine van der Velde) stranded at night in the boonies and forced to seek help at a creepy old house. The hokey story is well-played by the earnest actors, but sunk by a poorly directed climax.

The sexy Judie Aronson (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) plays one of four teenage girls whose convertible breaks down in a strangely empty urban area and are chased by a pack of killer Dobermans. “A Night on the Town” is not especially scary, but the Wheats milk the suspense and stuntwork for all they can.

Marg Helgenberger, then on CHINA BEACH, but a star of CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION for the past decade, stars in “All Night Operator” as, what else, an operator at an answering service who is menaced by the psycho stalker (Alan Rosenberg, Helgenberger’s real-life husband) of a soap actress. Like the previous story, the Wheats are competent at creating suspense, but the problem with all three vignettes is their derivative premises.

The Zada wraparound, which co-stars Jillian McWhirter (of BLOODFIST VII and VIII) as a college student who has premonitions of doom, allows the Wheats to show off some impressive fire and stop-motion effects, but is ultimately ridiculous and pointless, leaving the patient viewer with a somewhat sour taste in his mouth. Anthologies were the rage in the 1980s on television and in films, but Jeff Burr’s FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, for one, is a much better example of the genre.

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