Charles Bronson’s star was already faltering by 1983 when he starred in this nasty little thriller. The Death Wish series was showing diminishing returns after just one sequel and, to be blunt, Bronson was looking tired. While he’d continue acting for another 16 years, he’s in cruise control here as Leo Kessler - the hard-boiled cop who hates quiche and coleslaw because he’s a man, damnit. A man!
This isn’t the best way to endear you to a film, but there’s a certain joy in the performance. Bronson comes across as world weary and completely at odds with a new sort of deranged killer. If you need any proof of this, just wait for the scene where he tries to comprehend the ‘male stimulation’ toy found in a suspect’s apartment.
10 To Midnight, a title which seems to have no bearing on the story itself, is directed by J. Lee Thompson (of Cape Fear fame) and follows Kessler as he tries to solve a series of murders, all of which involve young, semi- or fully naked women. Gene Davis plays the killer, who strips naked before each murder to ensure no evidence is left behind. Davis plays it intensely and then some, zipping between cold indifference and screaming, hysterical frenzy.
As we already know the killer and can see quickly where the plot is going, there are strange moments in the film where the characters interact as if they were at gunpoint. Long car rides, stony silences, a house party which sets up a few awkward gags are all present and correct, padding the film out. But there’s real reason to see this film - for one, it’s a fairly entertaining game of cat and mouse and the final twenty minutes go into overdrive with bloodshed, twists and unlikely policing.
Secondly, while it often walks the well beaten path, 10 To Midnight sometimes has more in common with William Lustig’s Maniac than your average procedural. The killer’s acts are portrayed in a grim, psycho-sexual manner that can be uncomfortable to watch. While the ‘his knife is his penis’ psychology is flimsy (and done much better in Cruising, which came out three years earlier), Davis’s performance at least places him as an excellent villain who deserved a better film.
The supporting cast do their bit as well. Amongst the screaming victims, Lisa Eilbacher stands out as Kessler’s daughter, who’s more independent and liberated than other films of the time might have led you to believe. Andrew Stevens (whose acting career appears to have peaked with this film, following it up with such classics as the Night Eyes trilogy and Mongolian Death Worm) holds his own.
10 To Midnight is no classic, but there is a good chance you may have missed it, and with the dross that was released in the 80s (as direct to video started to boom), it’s a film that stands out from the pack.
Not many thrillers can say that, no matter what the reason.