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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Heart of Midnight is a very strange movie, and I mean that in a good
way. Broadly speaking I guess it falls within the horror genre, but it
draws upon elements from many different subgenres and works on many
levels. You can take it as a haunted-house movie, a ghost story, a
psychological thriller and a character study rolled into one.
Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a superb performance as Carol Rivers, a fragile and sensitive young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown. When her estranged uncle dies of AIDS, she mysteriously inherits his deserted nightclub and, upon moving in, discovers its seedy past as a "massage parlour". From here on in, the story gets darker and more twisted, but suffice it to say that it contains many of the ingredients of full-bore horror: moaning voices in the night, taps dripping blood, secret passageways, beheaded rats, apples that ooze maggots and so on. For much of the film, we're kept in the dark as to whether Carol is privy to hallucinations and sinking into another nervous breakdown, or whether there is actually a dark force living in the empty nightclub with her.
Heart of Midnight is not a perfect film. There are some plot loopholes and the usual budget limitations of a B movie, including a pesky boom mic that dips into the frame a few times. But it makes up for its flaws with a strong visual style and a convincingly claustrophobic atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife. Along the way there are several recognizable nods to films like Peeping Tom, Suspiria, The Shining and two Roman Polanski classics - Repulsion and The Tenant.
Jennifer Jason Leigh really gives it her all in the lead role as Carol. She is an exceptionally talented and striking actress, and Heart of Midnight provides the then 25-year-old with a strong early showcase for her talent. Her portrayal of the frail but determined Carol is passionate, believable and always sympathetic. She's a horror-movie heroine of unusual strength and intelligence, which means we really root for her during this often harrowing nightmare. Peter Coyote, Frank Stallone and Brenda Vaccaro all lend decent support, but it's Leigh who makes this dark journey worth taking.
From the opening scene of Matthew Chapman's Heart of Midnight, we know we
are in for a visual tour-de-force. Jennifer Jason Leigh begins a new life in
a bizarre, sinister, Lynchesque apartment complex, formerly occupied by her
weird uncle, a pervert of sorts, whom Leigh slowly begins to
Writer/director Chapman breathes sinister life into this creepy abode of a building. It seems to take on a life of its own in between the shadows, macabre lighting and ethereal noises that emanate from nowhere.
The film instantly draws us into a dark world where we are never sure what is exactly real and what is a figment of Leigh's imagination. Like any good psychological thriller, circumstances and events are revealed to us slowly, as we need to know them, and always advancing the plot.
More than anything else, the film sustains a brooding, macabre feel that always keeps us feeling uneasy, which seems to mirror Leigh's character. She is excellent here as a woman trying to comes to grips with both her mental illness and a sordid past. The musical score is both eerie, yet powerful, further drawing us into the film's creepiness.
Those who are fans of David Lynch and of movies that create a convincing, yet creepy world of their own, should enjoy Heart of Midnight.
I was surprised to discover this was really a horror film. I don't know
if it's labeled that, but that's what it should be called. It's spooky
and creepy and just plain weird. With Jennifer Jason Leigh in the lead,
I'm not surprised. She is pretty good at playing disturbed people as
she showed later in "Single White Female."
For me, however, the best part of this film was the color. This film had a color palette that was fascinating at times. and the audio was good, too, with creepy sounds to go with the colorfully-painted nightclub/house interiors.
Some of the story left a bad taste in my mouth, just a bit too sordid in spots. With the exception of the social worker, there are no likable, trusting characters in this film. The one who is hardest to figure out is the one played by Peter Coyote.
Yet, despite this not being a particularly attractive story, the haunting audio and visuals keep sucking me back every 5-8 years into this bizarre tale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Really fanatical film buffs have long considered Jennifer Jason Leigh's
performance in "Heart of Midnight" deserving of 1989's Best Actress
Oscar. She was at least as good as runner-up Isabelle Adjani ("Camille
Chaudel") and clearly superior to winner Jessica Tandy ("Driving Miss
Daisy"). While ironic that Leigh's best performance was in her least
seen film, it is understandable considering the subject matter and
almost expressionistic style of "Heart of Midnight", which needs at
least two viewings to be properly appreciated.
The film, which is better directed than it is written, should be seen simply for Leigh's performance but is also a stylish little horror film with a few genuinely scary moments. Leigh plays Carol Rivers and the story (which includes a number of flashbacks) is told from her point of view. Carol seems to have an innate distaste for physical contact and a history of psychological problems of unknown origin. It is slowly revealed in the film that she was abused as a child. Leigh researched the role extensively, speaking with women who had been abused as children and experts in the field.
"Heart of Midnight", an odd mix of "Repulsion", "The Tenant", "Exotica", and "The Story of Adele H"; is about Carol's descent into madness. It was probably inspired by the two Polanski films; and Catherine Deneuve's "Repulsion" character was also named Carol. The twist being that this time it is actually a voluntary descent into insanity. For most of the film Carol grapples with why she does not like herself. Once she discovers the reason for this, madness becomes preferable to existing with that knowledge.
Although Carol's conduct throughout the film seems bizarre, once you understand her background everything is logical. But it is only predictable in retrospect so many viewers will find the film uncomfortable viewing. Carol is often forced to retreat but admirably forces herself to confront her fears. Leigh has a real gift for communicating the depth of her character's fear and pain.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
I have seen this movie many times over the years. It's just the right genre of creepy for me, interesting old place the girl inherits full of old clothes, etc., it has that grandma's attic feeling about it. A little Psycho, a little sixties scary-movie feel. Then the psychological twist gets folded in, along with a nice little romance and good acting. This movie is not formulaic overall, when you consider that it's almost impossible to make a scary movie of any kind that hasn't been done before. Sure, familiar elements are there, but even though the setting is modern for the period, it has a bit of a Gothic feel to it. If you like suspense and a creepy plot without the gore, this is for you.
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a psychologically devastated young woman who
inherited an adult club from her recently deceased uncle. She initially
remembers only his kindness to her, and wants nothing to do with his past
business life. Her goal is to transform the closed building into a dance
club and to try to make it on her own. She sets up housekeeping in her
uncle's former living quarters, and pays a contractor to oversee the
renovation. The film contains some graphic sexual content, but it adds to
the horror rather than plays a purely exploitive role. The story is about
the irreparable harm caused by abuse and it is a powerful celluloid
indictment of sexual predators who leave few obvious physical scars on
The movie died a quick box office death. It was not designed for the fans of X-rated fun & games, and it was too dark and unsettling for most regular viewers looking for a pleasant night out. Leigh's character is the only role fully developed. Most of the other acting is B-movie quality at best and the dialogue is often wooden. Nonetheless, her performance and the story are good enough to carry the picture.
The story functions best as a psychological horror story and the cinematography contains some truly frightening visual images of things she sees or thinks she sees. These elements work well to underline her insecurity and instability. They also highlight her courage in trying to make it on her own in a world ready to accept that she is merely weak-minded and unable to cope. The script is not at the same level as that of "Spoorlos" or "Sixth Sense," but it is as good as many quality thrillers. There are very few pictures that deal with this subject area in more than an oblique way and rarely from the perspective of the abused. Give this movie a chance to work. Realism in cinema is hard to find, and this is an imperfect but realistic exploration of a difficult topic.
Can't see why this movie has gotten such low ratings. For a thriller movie,
not my favorite genre, it was really good. Maybe watching it at 3 AM muddled
my critical sensibilities, but from where I was sitting, Leigh nailed every
line in the film, and she was totally convincing and sympathetic. Did anyone
else out there appreciate the classic slight-of-hand approach to the
"paranormal" the film took, as well as the serious issues it raised? In my
opinion, a scary movie has to include something real to be scared about.
Monsters and boogymen just don't do it for me. Not that that there weren't a
few "aaaaaghh!" scares in this film, there were [the medicine cabinet scene
scared the hell out of me!], but it was the movie itself, not any specific
spooky part, that gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I don't know. Maybe my tastes aren't as exacting as they used to be, but I'm not afraid to say I think this was a damn good film. So there!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like another reviewer I, too, don't understand the low ratings given this film. Granted, it probably won't be everyone's cup of tea. I saw this film first soon after it came to cable and before I knew much about Jennifer Jason-Leigh or had come to appreciate the power this amazing young actress can exude in the careful and often understated nuances she brings to her craft. She was as good then as she is now. Credit should be given, also, to the set design with it's seedy candy apple red painted cinder block walls, stark bare light switches and yards of metal conduit lining long hallways off of which open rows of cribs which we come to realize housed all sorts of perversions. We learn that her uncle not only pandered to and reveled in those same perversions but was also willingly sacrificed his own life by enslavement to those same twisted desires and actions. This was a timely and bold film, also, because it dealt squarely with the oncoming invasion of the heterosexual world by AIDS at a time when most straight folk still believed themselves immune. The suspense and terror builds credibly and effectively and manages to take the worn out "damsel in the old dark house" plot and not just dress it up but actually transform it into something new and original. But, you've got to see it at least twice...once to let your head adjust to the oddness of the story and then a second time to really experience the multiple levels of terror present in this film, both real and imagined, the most palpable being that lying buried in the human soul.
Heart Of Midnight is a perverse, disturbing, highly underrated atmospheric thriller with a knockout turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh, a superb actress who isn't afraid of taking risks, going to some dodgy places and travelling to the dark side of the soul in her excellent work. In this film she plays a girl who inherits a dilapidated, out of business night club from her creepy dead uncle in a part of town that's the last place she wants to be in. She takes up residence their and attempts to fix it up, utilizing a lazy construction team that's about as productive as a paper mâché bulldozer. She realizes something isn't right about the place pretty quick though. There are various rooms in this scuzzy labyrinthine hell hole that look like they are for violent fetish rituals and shadowy, illegal stuff. She starts having vivid, surreal nightmares that begin to bleed into her waking life. When she calls the police a mysterious detective (Peter Coyote) shows up, but he's distant and only vaguely cooperative, adding to the mystery. I love this films atmosphere to death. There's an ambient, voyeuristic, abstractly horrifying aspect to the cinematography, that makes us feel like we're in a sleazy Gothic nightmare where nothing makes sense and every clue only points in the opposite direction. It's like Mullholland Drive meets 8MM by way of The Sentinal, with a touch of Ken Russell just for fun. It's not without it's absurd comic relief though. Frank Stallone (Sylvester's brother) is hilarious as a kooky police sergeant. At one point Jennifer walks into his office and the entire staff are in full song as he belts out a rollicking set on a ukulele. That's how delightfully strange this films vibe is. They just don't make these extremely atmospheric, enigmatic fright fests anymore. Or at least not with the hazy, scarily bizarre haunted house vibe they had back then. Be warned though: it goes to some pretty dark, messed up places and is definitely not for the average cookie cutter film goer. It's incredibly niche, relentlessly strange and altogether special just for those reasons. Anyone willing to step over to the dark, weird side, give it a go.
'Heart of Midnight' is an unusual, bizarre thriller. Jennifer Jason
Leigh, in her trademark weird roles, plays an emotionally disturbed
young woman who leaves home after a bout of extreme instability and
tries a spat of independence upon inheriting her mysterious uncle's
strange nightclub and home. But, cheerful Uncle Fletcher is not quite
the endearing relative that the young woman remembers as she discovers
more and more things about the house--many rooms designed for some
weird sexual fantasies.
After an attempted rape, the young girl alerts the police who become involved in an investigation. Well, actually, one man does. Claiming to be a police detective from internal affairs investigating the death of one of the culprits, killed when fleeing the police who had arrived on the scene. But, the detective is not who he seems, and the young woman's paranoia becomes increasingly more unbearable for her and those who around her. The game of cat and mouse introduces a bizarre psychological thriller, although a doubtful one at that when it seems that the young woman sees hints of another presence in the house, but can't convince others of the same, never having enough evidence to make such claims credible.
The movie is especially bizarre, given the motives of those responsible for bothering the girl. The viewer is given little backstory on the uncle and his strange habits are eluded to only through what evidence the woman also receives. What are all of these rooms for? What was her uncle like? And so forth. Just as the girl's own background is strange, the viewer experience everything with such suspicion and to some extent, revulsion, as she does since we only get as much detail as she does. It is done stylishly so, at least as far as visual efforts, but may be for a certain audience. For those who enjoyed the early 90s noir thriller, Liebstraum, you might enjoy this less sophisticated, but equally odd tale of suspense.
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