FILM BOOK OF FEAR: The Midnight Hour (1985)

The Midnight Hour is a 1985 American made-for television comedy horror film directed by Jack Bender and starring Shari Belafonte-HarperLeVar BurtonPeter DeLuise, and Dedee Pfeiffer. Its plot focuses on a small New England town that becomes overrun with zombies, witches, vampires, and all the other demons of hell after a group of teenagers unlocks a centuries-old curse on Halloween.

The film aired on ABC on Friday, November 1, 1985, at 9:00-11:00 pm EST. In addition to an original musical number, “Get Dead”, the film’s soundtrack features songs by Wilson Pickett, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Three Dog Night and The Smiths, with famed DJ Wolfman Jack spinning the tunes on the radio.

Original TV Guide ad.

I remember seeing the ads on ABC during the week leading up to Halloween, and though it debuted on a Friday, the day after Halloween, it was a great way to extend the holiday by one more day. This movie left a lifelong impression on me and it is on my annual rotation of movies for the Halloween holiday. It combined the very best of the 80s into a fun, fast-paced movie with great stars, awesome music and some amazing visual effects, especially for a television movie. For this FILM BOOK OF FEAR, I used the now out-of-print Anchor Bay DVD from 2000, which is unfortunately the only way this film can be seen now, except perhaps on YouTube. It definitely warrants an upgrade to Blu-ray!

Our story begins with a young boy getting ready to do his paper route. It is Halloween morning. After gathering his newspapers, he then puts on a Don Post Studios skull mask to do his deliveries in. We are then introduced to the town of Pitchford Cove, a New England town similar to Salem, Massachusetts. As the papers are delivered we meet some of the characters of the film. It’s a quaint town where everyone knows each other.

We are then introduced to the Grenville family, and lead character Phil (Lee Montgomery), who is heading to school. In class we are then introduced to the rest of our main cast, Mary (Dedee Pfeiffer), Melissa (Shari Belafonte-Harper), Mitch (Peter Deluise) and Vinnie (LeVar Burton). They are all hanging out, awaiting for the teacher to arrive. Mary and Melissa are playing the game Hang Man on the chalkboard, Mitch and Vinnie are discussing the people of the New England town and Phil is preparing for his report on Halloween and local history.

In the past, Phil’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was witch-hunter Nathaniel Grenville, slave owner of Lucinda Cavender (Jonelle Allen), Melissa’s great-great-great-great-grandmother. Lucinda cursed the town, releasing all kinds of demons. Nathaniel was able to break the curse at midnight on Halloween sending the demons back to Hell. Lucinda was then hung in the town square. The Witchcraft Museum in town houses the original clothes worn by Nathaniel and Lucinda, as well as a lot of other items from this time. Mitch then has the idea to break into the museum, borrow the costumes and wear them to the Halloween party that night.

They break in just before nightfall and start going through everything. Mitch grabs the clothes of Nathaniel Grenville and Melissa of course grabs the clothes of Lucinda. They then go into a back room where they find a trunk that belonged to Grenville. When they leave they take the trunk with them and like all teenagers do, go to the local cemetery.

At the cemetery they head to an area to try on the stuff they took. As they go through the trunk they find Grenville’s ring and an old parchment. Vinnie opens it and unknown to them, it is Lucinda’s curse. Melissa reads it, giving the curse power because of her heritage. They leave the cemetery, not knowing what they have done and unleashed. As they pull away, headstones start to move and the ground in front of them start to pulsate. The dead start to rise, including Lucinda, who is surprisingly well-preserved after three hundred years. Graves explode as the occupants escape. For some unexplained reason there is also a werewolf (though out of place, it actually looks pretty cool). One of the last corpses to arise is Sandy (Jonna Lee), who is also surprisingly well-preserved. They start heading to town.

Back at Phil’s house, everyone prepares for a night of celebration. Phil, in his costume, a sort of punk rock vampire, heads to the party. While pulling out of his driveway, he ends up hitting one of the newly-risen corpses, not hurting it at all. This zombie is played for comic relief and the actor does a great job not only conveying the confusion of what is going on but also making situations fun. When he gets hit by Phil’s car, he just looks at Phil with a “what’s wrong with you” stare, before walking off.

Meanwhile Mitch is at home also getting ready for the party. His father, played by Kevin McCarthy, is yelling at him for stealing the costume. He has been the town’s judge for thirty years and does not want his reputation tarnished.

Phil, on his way to the party, meets Sandy at an intersection. She asks him if the road they are on is Maple Avenue, as it does not look like the Maple Avenue she knows. She is wearing a cheerleader’s outfit, that she was buried in. Phil thinks it’s a costume and then Sandy realizes it’s Halloween. Phil invites her to the Halloween party and she says that maybe she will see him later.

At Vinnie’s house, he also prepares for the party. He is not used to living in a place that goes all out for Halloween like Pitchford does. He has wrapped himself in gauze and then rubs ketchup and eggs on the gauze. Mitch then arrives to pick him up. Mitch is obviously bummed out after his altercation with his father. We then cut back to Mitch’s house, where his dad is complaining about him to his mom. Judge Crandall then goes to bring out the trash and encounters the walking corpse of Vernon Nestor, a serial killer that he had sentenced to death many years earlier. He is killed, only to come back from the dead later.

The Halloween party is in full swing, with only Mary yet to arrive. Lucinda arrives as well as the walking corpse that Phil had hit earlier with his car. It is revealed here that Melissa and Vinnie are dating, though she seems to be losing interest in him. Mary arrives and Melissa helps her get dressed. Phil likes Mary, but she doesn’t give him the time of day. Lucinda comes in on Mary and Melissa and sees her dress on Melissa. Melissa then heads to the cellar to get more wine for the chaperone, encountering Lucinda again. In a very odd scene Lucinda, who is a witch, grows fangs and bites Melissa on the neck. While drinking of her, all of the wine bottles start to pop their corks causing a shower a red wine all over the cellar floor. Mary is now a vampire.

As the party continues Phil gets frustrated. His wig is itching him like crazy and everyone is hooking up except him. He takes off the costume and leaves. Sandy is wandering around town, coming to the location of her house, which is not the same house she remembers. Phil then finds her and they start to talk. She seems sad, saying that nothing is the same. The song “Sea of Love” is playing on the radio and she asks if it is a remake, as she is used to the Del Shannon version. Phil is confused, not realizing that the song was even remade. They then cruise around town and it is obvious that Sandy is becoming smitten.

Back at the party Melissa bites Vinnie on the neck, turning him as well. Meanwhile Phil and Sandy are getting closer. They share a dance in the parking lot of a movie theatre. Sandy, who says that she is not going to be around for long, wants to make the most of her time. They head to Lookout Point and Sandy wants to go in the back seat with Phil. A werewolf then appears, shredding the roof of the car as it tries to get to the couple. They are able to get in the front seat and take off. They brake suddenly causing the creature to go flying and then they hit him with the car, forcing him into the river.

At the police station, reports are coming in all over town of weird happenings. Phil and Sandy arrive to report their attack. The police don’t believe the reports, blaming it on it being Halloween. When they leave the police they talk about what happened earlier, when Phil and his friends were at the cemetery and read the curse. Sandy immediately knows what is going on, saying that the ritual worked. She also knows how to stop the curse and it has to be done by midnight. If not, the evil will remain and everyone touched by evil will become evil. They need to get the parchment, the ring Mitch is wearing, ground bones of Nathaniel Grenville and wax to re-seal the parchment.

From here we go back to the party for its only musical number, to a song called “Get Dead” sung by Shari Belafonte-Harper. The number is typical 80’s with a touch of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” thrown in. The song is actually pretty good and I wish there was an actual soundtrack to this movie available. Melissa then tries to change Mitch but is interrupted when his dad arrives, driving like he is drunk, but he is actually dead. When Mitch goes to check on his dad, Mary arrives and Melissa bites her. Mitch is then killed by his dad, only to also come back evil.

In an eerie scene, Phil and Sandy drive slowly through the town that has been taken over by all kinds of monsters, from all time periods. The lighting and smoke effects are very well done and the scene can be tense, as they try to get through the undead without getting attacked. They arrive back at the party, to get the ring from Mitch. Everything is quiet. They go into the house and there is no one to be seen. In one great tracking shot, when they enter the house we see an empty staircase and we follow Phil and Sandy into the living room where they grab a candle to be used to seal the parchment. As we follow them back into the hallway to leave, the stairs are now covered in the undead. They are chased through the house with Mitch in the lead. As he reaches his hand through the door they are able to grab the ring and escape the house. They leave in their car and head to the cemetery, with all of the ghouls following.

When they get to the cemetery, Phil crashes the car. They go into Grenville’s crypt and open his coffin. They grab a handful of bone powder and lock themselves in the car while they complete the ritual, with the car surrounded by the undead. When they complete the ritual there is a flash of light and everyone is gone, including Sandy. Everything is back to normal.

Phil gets out of his car to find a headstone that says Sandra Matthews, who had died in 1959. On the corner of the stone is Phil’s jacket, that he leant her earlier because she was cold. When he takes the jacket, underneath written in lipstick is “S.M. + P.G.” As he drives away he is listening to Wolfman Jack, who has the first dedication of November first, the song “Baby I’m Yours,” from Sandy to Phil.

When first broadcast, this film got mixed reviews. Is it a perfect film? No, but it is a fun film that will entertain for ninety minutes. It has a feel good ending and despite some plot flaws, it is one that your family can enjoy year after year. If you can find it, I highly recommend this film. To my knowledge it is no longer broadcast anywhere though Lifetime did show it a few times up until 1992.

Make sure to check out my FILM BOOK OF FEAR series.

~David Albaugh

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