Most helpful critical review
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"To understand fear, you have to experience fear."
on November 1, 2005
I do enjoy horror anthologies, as it allows for short stories to be presented in such a way as to appeal to their strength, that being that they're short (as a bonus, if you don't like one story, another is coming soon). Let's face it, if you tried to stretch some of these tales out to a feature length film, they just wouldn't work...keep it short and sweet, and move on...which is exactly what they do here in the film After Midnight (1989). And speaking of horror anthologies, I'm especially looking forward to the upcoming remake of the 1982 film Creepshow, along with Creepshow 3, both tentatively scheduled for a 2006 release...but back to this film...co-written and co-directed by Jim and Ken Wheat, the brothers who wrote the story for the movie Pitch Black (2000), the film features Marg Helgenberger ("China Beach", Species), Ramy Zada (The Judas Project, "Port Charles"), Jillian McWhirter (Strangeland), Marc `Jimmy Olsen' McClure (Superman, Back to the Future), Pamela Segall (Sgt. Bilko), Judie Aronson (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Weird Science), Nadine Van der Velde (Moving Violations, Critters), and Luis Contreras (Extreme Prejudice, Alien Avengers II), among others.
The film begins on a college campus where we see a blonde girl named Allison (McWhirter) meeting up with her friend Cheryl (Segall). It's the first day of class, and something isn't sitting well with Allison (probably her lunch)...actually, it's the course Cheryl talked her into taking, a psychology class the students have dubbed Fear 101. Here we meet Professor Edward Derek (Zada)...why he has two first names I have no idea...and we quickly see his methods are a bit out of the ordinary, along with learning his belief that to truly understand something, you must experience it...after a student complains about the Professor's unorthodox ways (there's always a whiner in the bunch), the Professor offers to hold seminars in his home, for those students truly interested in further exploring the subject matter at hand, outside of the restrictive college classroom setting. A handful of students arrive later that night as a storm begins kicking up, and the group begins passing scary stories around, the first being about a young married couple, out celebrating the mans birthday, finishing out the night by taking a midnight drive. Their car breaks down near a creepy, secluded mansion (legend has it it's a murder house) on a twisty, coastal road, and they're forced to seek help from within...a light indicates someone might have taken residence of the long vacant property, but I wonder if they'll be helpful...the second story involves four young girls out for a night of fun in the city (girls gone mild), but circumstances lead them to get lost in a very deserted warehouse district. After a run in with a greasy, crazed, knife-wielding drifter, his bitey dogs pursue the girls vigorously. The third story features Helgenberger as Alex, the lone overnight operator at an answering service who ends up taking numerous phone messages for one of her female clients from a real wack-a-doo. Obsession quickly turns to murder, and Alex soon finds out she's next on the mental defective's `kill' list.
The film consists of three proper stories, tied together by a fourth, usually called the `wraparound'. The wraparound story is generally the weakest part in the horror anthology film, as its primary function is to serve as filler between the stories and pad out the running time, and here this holds true. On the surface the wraparound tale here seems kinda cool, tying itself into the other three stories, but it uses a technique, which I won't disclose as not to spoil things, that I generally abhor only because it allows for so much leeway and opens the door for the laziness exhibited here near the end of the film. Things quickly switch from interesting to just plain bizarre, to which I immediately guessed what was going on and where the story was headed, thereby putting the kibosh on any surprise intended by the writers. As far as the various stand alone stories, I thought they were pretty well done, for the most part. The first tale featuring the young couple was a fun one, complete with a spooky house, great atmosphere, and good set up, but I did manage to figure the twist out before it was revealed. The second story seemed the weakest, as it involved no twist, and I found the characters fairly annoying and ultimately victims of their own stupidity. The good thing is the character I found the most bothersome ended up becoming kibble for the dogs, the bad thing is the rest didn't...the third story, featuring Helgenberger, was the best of the bunch, despite some flaws. The antagonist character was a bit over the top, and I couldn't figure out why Helgenberger's character didn't call the police immediately after she learned the stalker was in her client's apartment (she only called her boss). Seems to me this would have been standard operating procedure, but whatever...the pacing is quick, keeping you on your toes, allowing little time to figure out what's going on before the surprise ending. The good thing about all these stories is that they're kept relatively simple, move along well, and populated by professional actors, although I didn't care much for Zada as Professor Edward Derek. He's certainly a handsome man, but his portrayal felt odd only for the sake of being odd, and not a characteristic emanating from within the character himself (his dumb antics at the school would have surely gotten him fired, and most likely arrested, deservedly so). One aspect I liked was how the directors were able to develop some worthwhile tension at a number of points in the movie, keeping my interest throughout. The bad thing is the was a sense of predictability and familiarity throughout, but the effort was there (except for at the very end), and that counts for something with me.
The DVD has both the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and fullscreen formats, and looks very clean. The Dolby Digital mono audio comes through very well, with no complaints. There is an original theatrical trailer included, but nothing else in terms of extras. All in all, a decent film with some good moments, but I'd definitely recommend renting before buying.