Cannon Group Pictures presents Charles Bronson as a cop who’s after a deranged serial killer.
A crazed killer is on the loose in the streets of L.A. Warren Stacey (Gene Davis) is an office equipment repairman by day, and at night stalks and murders unsuspecting women. His first victim is found naked in the woods and there’s little evidence for the cops to go on. Removing his clothes while committing his crimes leaves little evidence and clues for him to leave behind.
The case falls in the lap of Charles Bronson, a veteran cop who is assigned a new young partner (Andrew Stevens) to work the case. Things get more personal when it turns out Bronson’s daughter (Lisa Eilbacher) was friends with victim Number One and she inadvertently has fallen into the killer’s crosshairs.
More victims turn up and Bronson is convinced Stacey is behind them all. With no concrete proof, he’s ready to circumvent the law and plant evidence on Davis in order to get him convicted. However, will Stevens support breaking the law to put away a guilty killer?
“The way the law protects those maggots out there you’d think they were an endangered species.”
J. Lee Thompson directs Bronson for their fourth film together with 10 To Midnight. They’d work together on nine films in total. I guess Bronson and Thompson are comparable to the DeNiro/Scorsese actor/director teaming….in more of a low-grade, schlocky way.
10 To Midnight is something of a hybrid of a cop movie and an exploitation slasher flick. It’s a Cannon Group film so there’s the usual low quality you’d suspect coming from it. I’d say the film is more aspirational than the usual Bronson/Cannon fare that he would come to do for most of the 1980s, but I didn’t find it as entertaining as some of the more gloriouly baffling and low-rent films we’d be treated to from Bronson and Cannon, like Death Wish 3.
Surprisingly, there’s not as much Bronson as you’d think in a film he’s the lead in. There’s no series of action set pieces, chases and shootouts Bronson runs through. He plays it fairly sedate with mainly questioning, interrogating and investigating. Fans of his who are more of the action-oriented type might find 10 To Midnight disappointing. It’s certainly not the usual Bronson 80’s action flick.
What Bronson gets to run through is standard cop movie fare. All the beats are here – a younger rookie partner, getting lectured by superiors (a small role by Wilford Brimley), a lone older cop trying to reach out to his daughter Eilbacher, the young rookie cop and her have an attraction. It’s all by the numbers and there’s really nothing notable about the good guy side of the film.
Even the way Bronson skirts the law to get Stacey arrested and puts Stevens in a corner having to decide to either go along with the ruse or not isn’t very interesting or compelling.
Meanwhile, Davis fills the other half of the movie. The trashy exploitation level gets dialed up and he goes all in playing one heck of a creepy, unhinged killer. There’s a lot of deadly staring he does before he removes his clothes and sets out to kill women.
Yep, that’s his MO. So his behind is consistently on display – they manage to hide his naughty bits with strategically placed furniture, tree branches and other assorted objects.
It’s almost becomes that nude gag in the Austin Powers movies.
Davis’ butt should have been given co-star billing. If they tried showing this on regular television I’m sure they’d butcher it more than Davis does his victims. Although, I have read that they also filmed Davis nude scenes with him wearing underwear anticipating the delicate issues of standards for television airings. I haven’t seen that version.
The movie is unapologetically exploitative and gratuitous. Davis’ victims are naturally attractive young girls who are either naked or wearing very little when his knife flies into them. They’re hacked up and covered in some unconvincing looking blood (at least I though the blood looked pretty fake).
Kelly Preston pops up and goes down as a victim for Davis (she’s billed as Kelly Palzis in the credits). The killing in the woods scene looks like it was lifted from a Friday The 13th film.
To Davis’ credit his performance shows he was all in on playing this psychopathic killer. It’s not a very subtle performance by him. His motivations for violence is his sexual frustration and he’s given zero sympathy. The audience is not meant to like him in any way. Yet, as over-the-top as he goes at certain points, he’s the most entertaining and captivating part of the movie.
Eilbacher (who would go onto a much better and popular film the following year when she co-starred in Beverly Hills Cop) told a story to Johnny Carson about her working with Davis. He had to appear nude in many of his scenes and to break the ice with the other actors he decided to walk around naked constantly so they could all get a look see, be done with it and he could relax.
Eilbacher refused to look at his ‘member’ until he resorted to tying a red bow on it, thus drawing attention to it from her. Eilbacher inadvertently took a glance. She was embarrassed, but Davis was relieved she finally took a peek at his package.
When Davis is off screen the film drags. It takes a long time to get around to criticizing the crooked wheels of justice, get to the movies core message and Bronson taking it upon himself to frame the guilty Davis.. At times it has a gruelingly slow pace. At one point I couldn’t believe I was only half way through the movie.
Of course the climax is Eilbacher in danger, her getting attacked by the crazed Davis and Bronson racing to her rescue.
There are some very ridiculous moments. Davis hangs around the burial of his first victim and happens to overhear the conversation of Bronson from yards away. He’s not very adept at hiding the fact he’s got a screw loose around anyone! Co-workers, the cops, random people on the street – it’s hard not to notice that while he might be a good looking guy, he’s definitely an oddball.
As I said it’s not a very subtle performance. There are some pretty laughable acting by some of actors, particularly a few of his victims. A few particular moments of the girls screaming in supposed terror is eyerolling.
According to IMDB three different endings were considered before they settled on the one they went with. It makes me curious what the other two were, because the ending they choose to go with is very unsatisfying. It’s not exactly the escalation of suspense and action Bronson fans are accustomed to. It’s rather meek. When the credits began to roll, that’s when finally I wanted to get back to the police procedural portion. Oh, now here’s a real predicament Bronson is in! How can he possibly explain his actions away in this instance? But of course, we never find that out.
The film was pre-sold to foreign distributors before a script was written. The simple description and buzz words of ‘Bronson’, ‘violence’, ‘a killer’, ‘a cop’, was enough to get folks interested in it. Once the hook was in, then they decided to write a script.
It’s been said the title 10 To Midnight has no meaning in the film. Cannon Brother Menahem Golan just picked the title out of the air after not caring for the original title ‘Bloody Sunday’. Some fans might argue that the title could have some relevance, but I think it’s a bit of reach. I have to admit to enjoying the Cannon Group’s complete indifference and freewheeling attitude with their film catalog.
It is kind of interesting to see Bronson in a more sedate role during this Cannon period. Eilbacher is beautiful and charming (she should have had a bigger career back in the day) and the marring of a typical cop movie and slasher film seems like an interesting idea.
It’s too bad the cop portion was just so ordinary – and with Bronson as the lead it could have been more special. Instead it went with the basics and it’s not worth your time. For hardcore Bronson fans only.
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