One of the most fun parts of Halloween is seeing all the cool stuff that the holiday brings to television. Annual Halloween programming floods the airwaves each year, from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” to “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure.” Regular series broadcast their own Halloween specials as well, from the “Treehouse of Terror” episodes of “The Simpsons” to reruns of the spooky “Roseanne” Halloween shows. And then, there are the made-for-TV movies, awesomely fun and family friendly gems like Halloweentown and The Worst Witch. One of these cool Halloween television movies is the 1985 musical horror comedy mashup The Midnight Hour.
The Midnight Hour is about a group of high-school friends – Phil (Lee Montgomery from Burnt Offerings and Girls Just Want to Have Fun), Melissa (Shari Belafonte-Harper from “Beyond Reality”), Vinnie (LeVar Burton from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Mitch (Peter DeLuise from “21 Jump Street”), and Mary (Dedee Pfeiffer from The Horror Show) – who decide to steal some antique clothing from a museum to help make their Halloween costumes more authentic. They grab a box, but are chased from the building and end up in an old graveyard. While examining the contents of their haul, they find an old incantation. Melissa jokingly reads it, and everyone laughs as they leave. However, the script worked, and all of the corpses and cadavers in the cemetery rise from their graves. Some are friendly and just want to party with the living, but others have personal vendettas against the residents of the town.
Because it’s a TV movie, The Midnight Hour is pretty tame as far as horror goes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without chills and thrills. The movie, written by Bill Bleich (“Poltergeist: the Legacy”) and directed by Jack Bender (Child’s Play 3), is a fun gateway movie for casual fright fans, yet is still packed with enough fun references for it to be an enjoyable watch for the hardcore horror aficionados, paying tribute to everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Halloween III and recalling memories from both Vincent Price movies and Stephen King short stories. To top it all off, it’s got a perfectly out-of-place tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – an original song called “Get Dead” performed by a zombie witch at a party (sample lyrics from the chorus – “I’m dead, you’re dying!”). It may not be the scariest of horror movies, but The Midnight Hour is nothing if not fun.
There’s something for everyone in The Midnight Hour; in addition to the typical zombies, there are also witches, ghosts, werewolves, and vampires that rise from their graves in the cemetery. Every main character has his or her own experience with a ghastly ghoul. Melissa meets one of her ancestors, a famous witch named Lucinda Cavender (Jonelle Allen from “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”). Mitch is confronted by the zombie of a murderer named Vernon Nestor (Mickey Morton from the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special) whom his father had executed. Phil falls for a ghostly girl named Sandy (Shattered Innocence’s Jonna Lee) who may be the only one who can save his friends and the town from the onslaught of recently risen ghouls. With its different types of beasties and its undead invasion theme, The Midnight Hour turns into a cool cross between The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps.
In another subtle nod to classic horror, the cast The Midnight Hour seems to be packed with imitations of legendary stars of the genre. For example, Phil’s mother is played by Sheila Larken (“The X-Files”), who is the spitting image of scream queen Adrienne Barbeau. Similarly, substitute teacher Miss Jensen is portrayed by Cindy Morgan (Tron), who looks a lot like Barbara Crampton. A nerdy security guard named Lester (Dennis Redfield from Dead & Buried) is a passable David Arquette, a cop played by Hank Garrett (The Sentinel, The Boys Next Door) channels James Farentino, and Kevin McCarthy (Invitation to Hell) does his best Stacy Keach impression as Mitch’s father, the Judge who has to fight off the con whom he had executed. The Midnight Hour doesn’t need the real stars, it improvises with some effective knock-offs.
Of course, there are a handful of bona-fide eighties pop culture figures in the film as well. In addition to the core cast of LeVar Burton, Peter DeLuise, Shari Belafonte-Harper, and Lee Montgomery, the film features television stalwart Dick Van Patten (“Eight is Enough”) and future star Kurtwood Smith (“That 70s Show”) in supporting roles, and famous DJ Wolfman Jack lends his unmistakable voice talents to the soundtrack. There’s even an uncredited sighting of Macaulay Culkin in with the extras (similar to his incognito appearance in Jacob’s Ladder). Oh, and Joe Gieb from The Manitou plays a midget zombie. There’s talent everywhere in The Midnight Hour.
Aside from the original “Get Dead” number mentioned earlier (performed by Shari Belafonte-Harper herself), the soundtrack to The Midnight Hour consists mostly of classic songs from the fifties and sixties with spooky pun Halloween titles. Of course, Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” is there, but so are Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ “Li’l Red Riding Hood,” The Guess Who’s “Clap for the Wolfman,” and Bobby Vee’s “Devil or Angel.” The song selection is fairly predictable, but fun nonetheless, and it keeps the movie rocking the whole time.
Unfortunately, The Midnight Hour doesn’t get the same repeat annual broadcasts as a TV movie of its caliber should, so it isn’t exactly considered a Halloween tradition to most viewers. However, anyone who wants a good, clean, fun Halloween movie should look no farther than this little gem.