A group of friends attend an old grindhouse theater for a (very poorly attended) Midnight Movie screening of The Dark Beneath, a revered hippie exploitation film not unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except in black and white.
The film within a film is darn pretty entertaining (maybe not as good as the campy grave explorers in the Lamberto Bava Italian classic, Demons) and was directed and produced by fictional auteur Ted Radford, who also starred. It was this same loon Radford who becomes consumed with the movie years later, to the point where it put him into Newhaven mental hospital (presumably not the Yale University-affiliated one, but that sounds like just about every sanitarium ever).
That’s a pretty darn juicy premise, and an auteur as control freak (+ killer) is a natural fit.
With the anniversary of The Dark Beneath’s release, a police officer and a psychiatrist attend the screening on a hunch, thinking Radford is likely to show up and create violent havoc (“the film taints his entire existence!”). They concede though, that it’s a bit far-fetched, and if their respective bosses got wind of this, it’d be a tough thing to have to explain.
In addition to that unlikely authority figure duo, there’s also a giant biker who abuses theater staff and gets serviced by his lady friend while shushing other patrons and the usual collection of paired off generic teens.
Meanwhile, “it’s a horror movie, someone always gets naked,” is just one of the in-joke audience heckling Radford’s cinematic vision gets (curse you Scream for leaving so many self-referential horrors in your wake). It’s the kind of self-awareness that probably ingratiated Midnight Movie (2008) to critics, as this one is laurel-filled including kudos at the Chicago Horror Film Festival.
Before you know it, one of the film goers is venturing out in the dark, voicing the “this isn’t funny” cliché.
Then there’s a twist: inexplicably, the victim’s death suddenly appears on screen and everyone thinks it’s part of an elaborate video prank (“is he in the AV club or something?”) or that they’ve been punked on a reality show.
This conceit feels really odd and doesn’t quite work. It’s a neat enough premise to have an obsessive, crazed actor/director exacting revenge on an audience (would’ve been good to have him lay waste to a film critic). In fact, Midnight Movie would’ve worked better had the denouement not been revealed at the outset and if the film instead focused on the thespian’s descent into madness while reliving his film.
The slouching killer wears a partial skull/lower jaw bone mask and is creepy as hell, we’ll give it that. He also employs a corkscrew for his kills, which is fairly unique as far as horror movie weapons go, and there are a sprinkling of scares to keep things moving. However, ultimately the genre-hopping (slasher – supernatural – torture) doesn’t do Midnight Movie any favors.
**1/2 (out of 5)