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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A Halloween Party On Screen: Celebrating 35 Years of Made-for-TV Movie ‘The Midnight Hour’

Long before Disney’s Halloweentown became requisite Halloween viewing for a generation, there was The Midnight Hour. First airing on ABC on November 1, 1985, the made-for-television movie was the Halloweentown of the ’80s, a light, breezy horror-comedy that embraced the holiday in every way. It’s a time capsule movie, and its plot doesn’t make a lot of sense in hindsight, but The Midnight Hour’s earworm soundtrack, partying monsters, and Halloween revelry charms nonetheless. Especially for those that grew up with it.

The small New England town of Pitchford Cove has a history with witches. Three centuries ago, powerful witch Lucinda Cavender (Jonelle Allen) was burned at the stake, though not before creating a curse that will revive her evil once triggered. Enter high school pals Phil (Lee Montgomery), Mary (Dedee Pfeiffer), Mitch (Peter DeLuise), Vinnie (LeVar Burton), and Melissa (Shari Belafonte-Harper). They decide to make Halloween a night they’ll never forget by breaking into the local museum to steal costumes and artifacts so they can recreate a ritual in a cemetery. Melissa happens to be a descendent of Lucinda, though, and unwittingly wakes the dead. Halloween may never be the same.

Straightaway, it’s clear there are no real rules to this curse. In an extended sequence of the dead rising from their graves, no doubt inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a werewolf and a ’50s cheerleader emerge along with the horde of zombies. The cheerleader, Sandy (Jonna Lee), bears no sign of decay- she’s more of a ghost with unfinished business. There’s also Lucinda, the head witch with aims to take over the world with her evil; and the curse will allow her to do so if she can’t be stopped before midnight. She’s a witch in name but operates like a vampire for the sake of the story.

The Midnight Hour

It takes a long while for anyone to notice anything is amiss. Everyone is at a historical house, partying it up on Halloween. Even as the dead descend upon it, the party-goers are none the wiser because it’s the one night of the year where the walking dead, werewolves, and vampires can blend in undetected. That allows Lucinda to turn the living guests into vampires one by one. Luckily, hope lies in Phil, the witch hunter’s descendant that initially stopped Lucinda centuries ago. The teen wants to find love, and saving the town might be the means to that end.

In many ways, director Jack Bender (Child’s Play 3) approaches this like an anthology. Juggling plots of star-crossed lovers, a werewolf on the prowl, and a vampire invading a costume party, there’s an almost nonlinear way in how the various plot threads unfold. That’s exacerbated by how underwritten many of those threads are; some simply stop. The curse itself isn’t quite fleshed out enough either, at least not to sell the stakes. When most monsters want to party, is taking over the world such a bad thing? In other words, it’s a mess.

In a very ’80s movie like this one, that’s part of the charm. That it’s made for television means that it’s a bloodless affair when the creatures of the night do attack. Still, Bender finds a particularly inspired workaround in Lucinda’s first attack on heir Melissa. While Melissa is in the wine cellar choosing a bottle for the party, Lucinda goes in for the kill. While draining her blood, wine flows profusely in the background, the visual analogy clear. They bypassed the censors, but the visual stand-in for blood is effective.

Aside from a solid cast of ’80s stalwarts and up-and-comers, The Midnight Hour boasts an impressive soundtrack. It’s stuffed with notable October (and horror) favorites like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” and The Smith’s “How Soon is Now?” Then there’s catchy musical dance number “Get Dead” sung by Belafonte-Harper, which also showcases the extremely bizarre ’80s costume choices by some of the guests. Seriously, I need an explanation for the football player baby.

Every generation seems to have that inexplicable Halloween favorite that doesn’t make much sense to anyone outside of it. The Midnight Hour falls in that category. It’s so of its time and struggles to find a tone. Storylines don’t amount to much, but it hardly even matters when the clear goal is having fun. It’s a Halloween party on screen, where the living and dead can celebrate freely. It’s silly entertainment and it’s hard not to bop along to its Halloween beat.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3638000/halloween-favorite-made-tv-movie-the-midnight-hour-turns-35/

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