10 to Midnight (1983)
The Cannon group excelled at producing relatively low budget action movies, bordering on the line of exploitation, with the stars of yesteryear. As part of this enterprise, Charles Bronson and J Lee Thompson were something of a team for Cannon in the 1980s.
“10 to Midnight” is maybe the best of that collaboration. It’s a brutal picture with lashings of nudity of both the killer and his victims. In sophisticated film circles, it’s regarded as a vulgar piece of 80s sub-culture alongside much of the Cannon group’s offerings. But I wanted to write something against this opinion, because to me it’s childishly wrong.
Yes, this film is over-the-top.Yes, it’s an oddball mix of action and slasher. Yes, there’s an eye-popping degree of nudity for the time. And most importantly, yes, Bronson chews the scenery. But things are not so straightforward.
It’s worth remembering that J Lee Thompson was the director of 1962’s Cape Fear, and I see some of the themes in that movie here. There’s a rallying against the perceived injustices of the legal system and the dubious morality of men who fabricate evidence to convict the dangerous when the system will not. Critics interpret “10 to Midnight” as a right-wing tirade against the ‘liberal’ law system but I feel this is to see the film in too much of a linear way. Bronson’s character may be a hero but he’s a fallen one; in conflict with those around him who are painted in a heavily sympathetic light (including his younger partner Andrew Stevens).
Secondly, the murder sequences are shot stylishly. It’s hard to see why this aspect of the film was flippantly dismissed as gruesome exploitation, but the director’s skill with the camera is quite evident for those willing to look. This is a pretty, if grimes, presentation of mayhem. Furthermore, the film’s violence could be seen as brave and its ilk soon became a characteristic of the genre’s highest-flyers – think David Fincher’s Seven (1997), which also shares a killer’s pursuit of the investigating detective’s family.
Thirdly, there’s an unusually interesting supporting cast here – Geoffrey Lewis as a slick defence lawyer and Wilfrid Brimley as the police chief struggling to contain Bronson’s increasingly vengeful cynicism. Gene Davis plays the good-looking killer with a dictionary definition of ‘creep’; a performance often mistaken as wooden is actually a solid attempt at portraying the autistic awkwardness of a psychopath.
Once you throw in the pulse of an 80s synth and Bronson’s cold, cold eyes “10 to Midnight” is a decadent thriller and a memorable addition to cult cinema. Watch out for the knockout final scene with a killer punchline from Bronson.
Hotdog rating: 8/10