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Blu-ray Review: 10 to Midnight (Collector’s Edition)

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Charles Bronson is “a hero all the way” (Variety) as a rogue cop pursuing a deranged killer in this action-packed suspense/thriller. Serving up vigilante justice as only he can, Bronson delivers one of his most riveting performances in this exceedingly well-made film. Bronson plays Leo Kessler, a cynical Los Angeles cop on the trail of Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), a homicidal maniac who turns rejection from beautiful women into the ultimate revenge. When the legal system sets Stacy free, Kessler plants evidence to put him behind bars for good. But Kessler’s plan backfires, leaving him with only one option: to hunt down Stacy on his own … before the crazed killer can strike again!

“I’m not a nice person,” Charles Bronson explains to a reporter in the film’s opening scene. “I’m a mean, selfish son of a bitch. I know you want a story, but I want a killer, and what I want comes first.”

Immediate smash cut to black, the name CHARLES BRONSON, and the driving electronic score by Robert Ragland.

One of the greatest opening sequences to any film, and it belongs to 10 to Midnight.

Charles Bronson worked with director J. Lee Thompson an impressive nine times, with 10 to Midnight being their fourth collaboration. Though none of them would be considered “classics” (as Bronson didn’t have many of those), their films are fondly remembered by the then-current and what would become the next generation of Bronson fans: films like St. Ives, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (which, while still ridiculous, opted to take a restrained step backward from the cartoonish Death Wish 3 and reground the series in reality), and lastly, 10 to Midnight, the closest Bronson ever got to making a horror film. A psychosexual thriller, 10 to Midnight has Bronson hunting down a serial killer preying on women, who commits his murders while totally in the nude when not placing obscene phone calls to girls and using a Spanish accent. It’s…as awkward as you’re thinking it is.

But, in spite of that, 10 to Midnight is one of the better made films not just in the Bronson/Thompson collaborative period, but really in all of Bronson’s career. One of the critical notices about the film claims that 10 to Midnight “sees Bronson back in his Death Wish shoes,” which really isn’t anywhere near accurate. (Sorry to call you out on it 33 years later, London Times.) Even a vague awareness of Bronson’s career is mostly comprised of his Death Wish series, which can be dumbed down to a simple image of him walking around with a gun blowing away people indiscriminately. But that’s the furthest thing away from what 10 to Midnight is presenting, which is Bronson taking on quite a human and subdued role as Detective Leo Kessler, a cop who – no lie! – kills exactly one person during its entire running time. You…can guess who.

It might be the presence of Charles Bronson, or perhaps producers Golan and Globus (Cannon Films, essentially) that make critics misremember this film and write it off as nothing more than typical exploitation for which the ’80s (and Bronson…and Cannon Films) were infamous. And yeah, the film sure doesn’t miss the chance to flash a random set of bare breasts on screen, but behind the somewhat slimy on-screen events (this will sound weird), there are signs that Thompson was attempting to make a film that’s classier and more intelligent than other films of its type, despite all the…well, slime.

J. Lee Thompson would go on to direct more straightforward horror fare like Happy Birthday to Me, one of the many holiday-centered slasher films made to exploit the popularity of Halloween. This decision surprised a lot of folks, being that Thompson had been responsible for a handful of classics, among them the original Cape Fear – especially when it came to Birthday‘s marketing campaign, which sold audiences their only reason to see it: “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.” By this point, studios were well aware that audiences (mostly teens) were flocking to the slasher film for this reason alone: bloody murder. Shades of what was to come are present in 10 to Midnight; though the body count is rather low, the grisliness and seediness of their execution does often come off with a certain slasher film aesthetic. The final sequence, which sees “The Slasher” going after his last intended victim, is legitimately thrilling and disturbing. These instances, however, are planted into a rather traditional police procedural, which sees Bronson’s Kessler doing whatever he can – even unethical – to be sure the killer doesn’t walk on a technicality.

Uh oh, wait a minute. You mean Bronson plays a character who circumvents the frustrating machinations and loopholes of the law only to exact his own kind of vengeance?

Maybe the London Times was right after all.

For the uninitiated who are aware of Charles Bronson’s legacy but have sampled only a few more obvious titles, 10 to Midnight may come as a surprise. Not quite a horror film, not quite a slasher film, and certainly not an action film for which he was most known by then, 10 to Midnight borrows from nearly every genre to present an interesting mishmash of sensibilities and, miraculously, ends up with a rather solid “genre” picture – though which genre to which it belongs will be up to the audience to determine.

 THE SUPPLEMENTS

The meatiest supplement on this disc is the carry over from Twilight Time’s previous release of this title on Blu-ray. Moderated by film historian David Del Valle, the commentary track features producer Pancho Kohner and casting director John Crowther. Kohner recalls 10 to Midnight as a “surprise film,” being that it was funded entirely on its title and not its story (which unbeknownst to the financiers had yet to exist). Predictably, Kohner also recalls working with Bronson and provides a brief overview of his career and his life as a “star,” and notes that 10 to Midnight was Bronson’s first movie for Cannon Films. Del Valle asks good and learned questions, and brings up some of the film’s more controversial aspects, such as the claims of misogyny thrown at the film during its release by no less than the likes of Roger Ebert.

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Camera Negative
  • NEW Charlie’s Partner – An Interview With Actor Andrew Stevens
  • NEW Producing Bronson – An Interview With Producer Lance Hool
  • NEW Remembering Bronson – An Interview With Actor Robert F. Lyons
  • NEW Undressed To Kill – An Interview With Actress Jeana Tomasina Keough
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Historian Paul Talbot (Author Of Bronson’s Loose! And Bronson’s Loose Again!)
  • Audio Commentary With Producer Pancho Kohner, Casting Director John Crowther, And Film Historian David Del Valle
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Radio Spots
  • Still Gallery

NEW PODCAST LOOP

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.