10 to Midnight (1983)
Release Date: March 11th, 1983 MPAA Rating: R
Director: J. Lee Thompson Actors: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Gene Davis, Geoffrey Lewis, Wilford Brimley, Robert Lyons, Iva Lane, Kelly Preston, Jeana Tomasina
arren Stacy (Gene Davis) is convinced that, despite his good looks and his physical fitness, every girl he approaches will rebuff him. In his mind, he plays out scenarios of rejection, which enrage him to the point that only brutal violence against attractive women can give him satisfaction. And so, he stalks his prey, strips himself naked, and attacks couples with a butterfly knife. That may sound uncontrollably psychotic, but Warren is nevertheless smart enough to set up a memorable alibi – by harassing two girls in a movie theater.
“Don’t let your feelings become involved.” Detached, veteran Los Angeles Lieutenant Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) becomes the lead investigator, immediately deducing that the culprit is using a knife as his penis. Under the instruction of Captain Malone (Wilford Brimley), Leo gains young partner Detective Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens), who has the training but not the experience to properly handle the likes of a serial killer investigation. When the latest victim, Betty Johnson, turns out to be a former friend of Kessler’s daughter Laurie (Lisa Eilbacher), it soon becomes apparent that Laurie might join the list of corpses as they continue to pile up.
The killer is revealed immediately to the audience, and he’s questioned by the authorities right off the bat. Additionally, Leo is certain that Warren is his man, refusing to consider another suspect – even with the boy’s airtight alibi. This avenue of storytelling doesn’t leave room for mystery; instead, it becomes a procedural work on how to prosecute the perpetrator when evidence is slim and individual rights can’t be infringed (even if it’s only a matter of time before the murderer slips up or underhanded tactics are utilized by the police). Since this is relatively straightforward, the film meanders over an estranged daughter subplot and a romance between Laurie and Leo’s new partner – both digressions that share marked unoriginality in the crime genre. However, there’s also the eventual introduction of moral conundrums to muddy Leo’s decades of flawless public service (“Forget what’s legal and do what’s right”), and a defense lawyer who handles himself the same way, admitting that honesty can sometimes lead to the gas chamber.
In the rather hysterical yet violent first murder, Stacy chases after a young blonde in the middle of the woods. They’re both completely nude, but only the girl gets her intestines severed and left for dead. With this early sequence, “10 to Midnight” becomes both a murder/mystery and a teen-oriented slasher (further indicated by the numerous sequences devoted to scantily-clad women being watched in their apartments), before morphing into a very unlikely revenge picture (perhaps unavoidable with Bronson on the bill) – a rare mix of ideas to be handled in equal measure and with equivalent sincerity. All three shifts in genres don’t blend together quite as well as they should, though the film does end with a slasher finale that boosts the adrenaline for what could have been a commonplace thriller. And with Bronson embodying his usual, unapologetic, tough-guy persona, the parting notes aim for pure revenge fantasy rather than sensible, realistic justice.
– Mike Massie