In this modern day of big budget horror flicks, most people forget about your classic Halloween TV Specials. Yeah, most TV Specials did (and still do) suck butt, but once in awhile there’s an overlooked gem that, no matter how dated it might be, is worth a second glance by a new generation. One of these lost TV delights from the 80’s is simply called THE MIDNIGHT HOUR.
The story takes place in the New England town of Pitchford Cove. After shots of this small town and a hemophiliac “paperboy” cutting his finger (?), we get to hear a haunting, high school history lesson about Halloween and a legendary battle between a colonial minster, Nathaniel Grenville, and a witch named Lucinda Cavender. Three-hundred years ago, this mega-witch laid a curse on the town in an attempt to bring Hell on Earth but was stopped on Halloween night by Minister Grenville. No one knows how Lucinda was defeated, but her lifeless body was found hanging in the town square at the stroke of midnight.
After that charming history lesson, five friends (which two of are direct descendants of Grenville and Cavender), decide to pull a prank and steal the actual costumes/props from the town’s Witch Museum/Church for the group’s costume party… I guess that’s what bored, small town kids did in the 80’s. Anyway, after being scared by a creepy guy’s dogs, the makeshift Mystery Inc. take off with the costumes and Cavender’s trunk. They then decide, of all places, to try on the costumes at the old town’s forgotten cemetery (you can kinda sense what’s going to happen next).
Melissa Cavender tries on her great-great-great-great grannies’ witch clothes while the rest of the town’s low achievers ransack the old treasure chest. Inside, they find an old ring and a scroll… and of course they do what dumb teens do best in a cemetery at night with a witch’s scroll. So after an argument about whether or not to read it Melissa reads it out load and, yes, all Hell breaks loose. Before long the town is overrun by zombies, werewolves, demons, ghosts and other various hellspawn. Their only hope is the spirit of Sandra “Sandy” Matthews (Jonna Lee), who’s dressed as 50’s cheerleader…?
Yeah, you might think this is a dated Halloween special, but it was directed by Jack Bender whose credits – other than directing a lot of television – include The Sopranos, Carnivale, Lost, Alphas, and Alcatraz. The Midnight Hour was also written by William Bleich (The Hearse, The Stepford Children) and stars LeVar Burton (Star Trek: Next Generation), Peter Deluise (21 Jump Street, SeaQuest, Stargate SG-1), Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, That 70’s Show) and the classic rock radio voice of Wolfman Jack (American Graffiti) — not too shabby for an 80’s Halloween special!
I remember as a kid really liking this TV special and 30 years later it really holds up. The zombie makeup looks great, the story is well written with a good balance between plot points (zombie town attack and the romance between Sandy the dead Cheerleader and Phil the Nerdyboy). The only thing that makes it feel dated is a mass possession by an impromptu song by Melisa played by Shari Belafonte (who looks HOT in the vampire fangs and the pale makeup)… but you know what, for an 80’s tune, it’s not that bad.
It’s also kinda neat to see the old Universal Studios backlot put to good use after filming Back to the Future and I’m pretty sure that the party takes place in the Lamda Lamba Lamba fraternity house from Revenge of the Nerds. Yeah, since it’s an 80’s TV movie there’s almost no gore, but I still would recommend giving it a chance. Who knows, maybe it’ll be something that you’ll check out every All Hallows Eve!
9/10 Vampire Fangs
NOTE: As a special Halloween treat you all my fellow strange kids, you can check out the entire film (in two parts) below or snag a copy at Rare DVDs for about $6 bucks!