Charles Bronson, Mr. Merciless Vigilante himself, as a rough veteran cop obsessively chasing a psychopath who is some kind of deranged, schizophrenic hybrid between real-life serial killers Richard Speck and Ted Bundy? Well, to me that pretty much sounds like a cinematic dream come true, even more so because the film – especially during the first half hour – has the allure of a typically early ’80s, vile teen-slasher movie!
Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) is a seemingly fatigue police detective who has already witnessed all types of human agony and mainly just relies on his hunches and years of experience when performing an investigation. When a couple of beautiful college girls get barbarically massacred, Kessler is convinced right away that the creepy office clerk Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) is the culprit, but there’s not enough evidence. When Kessler’s daughter is threatened to become Stacy’s next target, he sees no option but to plant key evidence on the madman’s clothes. This thoughtless act puts Stacy back on the streets as a free man and causes Kessler to lose all his credibility and even his badge. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, because at least now Kessler can hunt Stacy down during his own private time and without having to consider lawful restrictions.
The plot does sound an awful lot like Bronson‘s very own ‘Death Wish’ film series, doesn’t it? Still, ’10 To Midnight’ only really turns into a vigilante thriller near the end of the film. Before that, it’s mainly an excessively violent mixture of horror, action and cop drama. This isn’t the most popular film amongst critics (I encountered really harsh and condescending reviews, including the one by Roger Ebert) and some even claim it’s the most embarrassing project Charles Bronson was ever involved with. Admittedly, ’10 To Midnight’ suffers from a couple severe defects and nearly unforgivable errors. There are multiple giant gaps in the continuity, the nudity and violence are exaggeratedly exploitative and the shameless promoting of private justice is sometimes very hard to stomach. Director J. Lee Thompson probably just intended to question and challenge the existing laws concerning temporary insanity, but the result too obviously looks like a blunt glorification of private vigilante.
Nonetheless and in spite of all its shortcomings, ’10 To Midnight’ is a genuinely exciting and continuously suspenseful thriller with also a handful of ingenious and remarkable aspects, like for example the serial killer character. I already mentioned how Warren Stacy appears to be a crossover of two of the most notorious serial killers that ever lived. The connection to Richard Speck is fairly clear, as Stacy terrorizes a roomful of student nurses for half of the film, but the connection to Ted Bundy is perhaps a little less obvious. Like Bundy, Warren Stacy is a young, eloquent, attractive and muscular man whose morbid fascinations only come to the surface when he feels rejected. Oh, and he also drives a Volkswagen Beetle, which can’t be a coincidence if you ask me.
Personally, I’m obsessed with real-life serial killers and their influences on horror/cult cinema; hence I probably appreciate this film slightly more than the average and unbiased moviegoer. ’10 To Midnight’ is far more violent and sleazy than the majority of horror movies out there, so squeamish people beware. Even if you’re trained to see a lot of disturbing stuff, the murders in this film are extremely unpleasant to behold. Bronson‘s performance is purely routine work (though he’s still the man!), but Gene Davis‘ portrayal of the cold-blooded psycho is noteworthy. Keep also an eye open for the first and really brief big-screen appearance of Kelly Preston as one of the student nurses.
Trailer on YouTube.