Midnight 2: Sex, Death & Videotape (1993) — Say It Ain’t (Rus)So

Matty briefly reflects on the legacy of Romero contemporary John Russo, and cautiously recommends his cheapjack sequel.

You’ve got to feel for John A. Russo.

After co-creating the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968) with George A. Romero, Russo and Romero’s careers went in two very different directions. The late, great Romero went on to earn unknockable status as a master of horror. Russo, meanwhile, has never risen above barely competent hackery, let alone managed to step out from Big George’s shadow. His 1987 slasher The Majorettes is awful, and his vampire flick Heartstopper (1989) — well, Russo tries but it ain’t Martin (1977). Granted, The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a classic, but that’s down to Dan O’Bannon’s extensive reshaping of Russo’s turgid source novel, which in the end saw little more than its title being carried over. However, credit where it’s due: as ramshackle as it is, Midnight (1982) — Russo’s Satanism-spiked contribution to the early ‘80s body count cycle launched by Friday the 13th (1980) — does exude a certain grubby charm and isn’t without its admirers, myself included. It certainly made enough money on tape (over $1million as Russo proudly states in his hilariously self-aggrandising 1992 book, Scare Tactics: The Art, Craft, and Trade Secrets of Writing, Producing, and Directing Chillers and Thrillers) to warrant Russo cobbling together this tardy shot-on-video sequel; a $14,000 production fashioned in conjunction with grassroots genre king J. R. Bookwalter’s Tempe Entertainment.

“Back in ‘87, [Midnight’s producer] Sam Sherman asked me to write a treatment for a sequel and I thought he was going to make it right then,” Russo told Gorezone during MIDNIGHT 2: SEX, DEATH & VIDEOTAPE’s lensing. “But the reason I’m doing this with J.R. is that I want to explore the whole idea of making movies and releasing them ourselves on home video. This way, we can make our own films when we want to, [unlike with] the bigger-budget projects — where you have to fight with agents, distributors and major studios, and it seems like it takes two or three years to get anything done. I want to make more movies than that. And this is the way to do it.” [1] 

The last surviving member of the sinister Barnes clan, Abraham (future David DeCoteau mainstay Matthew Jason Walsh, taking over the role from John Amplas), has relocated from the boonies to inner city Pittsburgh. His M.O. has changed as well. No longer trying to resurrect his dead mum through ritualistic sacrifice as in the first film, here Abraham is just a good ol’ fashioned serial killer who films his rampage with a camcorder and unleashes long-winded to-camera monologues in between his fleeting — and surprisingly bloodless — scenes of slaughter.

There’s some interesting stuff on display in Midnight 2. If you can get past the lo-if production values, Russo’s humorously subtitled cheapie works as the missing link between the pioneering voyeuristic strokes of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and the full-blown first-person immersion of psycho shockers such as Julian Richards’ The Last Horror Movie (2003) and the Dowdle Brothers’ The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007). Russo even flirts with some surprisingly sharp meta-commentary, poking fun at the snobbery that typically greets this kind of home-brew filmmaking and probing our own relationship with on-screen vs. real-life violence. Sadly, these positives are undercut by the same problem that plagues the rest of the writer/director’s post Night of the Living Dead oeuvre: his penchant for massively overwritten dialogue. Wearying at the best of times, in Midnight 2, Russo’s fondness for reams and reams of chatter from characters who just aren’t as interesting as he thinks they are is exacerbated by what I like to call ‘The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Effect’: an irksome trope of ‘90s serial killer cinema in which even the most blue collar predator is prone to speak in pretentious, Hannibal Lecter-esque aphorisms.

USA ● 1993 ● Horror ● 68mins

Matthew Jason Walsh, Jo Norcia, Chuck Pierce Jr. ● Wri./Dir. John A. Russo

[1] Midnight 2: Another Slice of Sacrifice by David Kuehls, Gorezone #26, Spring 1993

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