It’s January, and you’re now acting on some sort of New Year’s Resolution you recently made, like running 10 miles a day, not drinking or opting to only breath two times a minute. It’s your call.
January is that time of year that’s a bit quiet and the vast empty void of winter starts to eat at your consciousness. You’ve got not very much going on and wondering what to do next. A Sunday night rolls around and you opt to stay in, do laundry and make some sort of healthy meal. You think: “I’m totally in the mood to watch a brooding film noir or something of the “midnight movie” variety.”
Most films I come across because I was interested in something else and wanted to find out more. At this particular time, around a year and a half ago, I was opting to watch a number of earlier films by indie stalwart actor Steve Buscemi including Parting Glances, Mystery Train, King of New York and Miller’s Crossing – the latter being an early Coen Brothers film that works the gangster, crime and film noir categories.
There’s a number of films around this time that Buscemi did that I was never aware of, and one of these films was Heart Of Midnight, which was directed by British director Matthew Chapman, who did a small run of films in the 80s and then writing screenplays for a good number of other directors. Buscemi has a small role in this film, as a local urban thug that gets up to some nasty things, but all with that slacker vibe that was present in a lot of his earlier roles. This was also an early film for Jennifer Jason Leigh, so it seemed like things were working in it’s favour already.
The film’s title comes from a club called Midnight, which Leigh’s character, Carol, takes up management of after she inherits it from her estranged uncle, against her mother’s wishes. It’s established that Carol has some mental health issues but the allure of running some mysterious nightclub seems like the right thing to get into doing.
Upon her arrival the club is in a state of disrepair, with lazy workmen continuing renovations, likely preturbed that a young woman has taken charge of this place.
The club itself is quite a standard place but as Carol starts exploring the upstairs rooms on part of her moving into the premises, the rooms themselves are moody characters of their own, with a vibe very much like Blue Velvet by David Lynch. Lots of blood red corridors, films filled with strange furniture, props, malfunctioning TVs and the like.
Soon Carol gets attacked by hoodlums hanging out on the street (one being Buscemi) and starts to experience strange phenomena in the hotel, including objects moving, the feeling that she’s being watched, lots of apples with worms and at one point being charged at by a giant eyeball (?). Carol goes to the police but they typically are reluctant to get involved due to Carol’s history of mental illness. One of these cops is played by Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother: Frank. The other is played by actor Peter Coyote.
As the film progresses some more things start happening that amp up the psychological horror, moving onto events that start to get a lot more seedy and weird. Carol finds out most of the club was a strange brothel catering to those with very perverted tendencies and the dark history of her uncle starts to come to light, And that the bumps and noises she keeps hearing in the walls is someone very scarred from what went on in these rooms, hiding out in the between spaces of the building.
Overall this type of scenario would be similar to Polanski’s Repulsion, released a couple of decades earlier, whereby a woman in fragile mental state starts to become victim of her surroundings and a line is blurred between what is real and imaginary. Most critical analysis of this film seems to point to how the film falls down massively due to the plot and all of it’s “arty” clutter.
However for mood and the film’s general strangeness it’s still a good watch; a “2am” sort of film. I suppose like a number of films that came out around the same time, there seems to be some influence from the somewhat newly founded MTV and a push for more style and visual flair that sometimes took precedence over continuity and character development. And for those looking for some masterpiece of story-driven genius there is a lot lacking here.
As one critic had said: “I am not sure he knows where he’s going with this film, but he gets there in style.”
However, for myself I watch films for different reasons and each time I watch them it’s for difference reasons. I watched this one a couple of times and found it enjoyable both times, the second because I know the atmosphere I was expecting and it worked. It’s very stylish, Leigh is great and the weird, awkward digital synth-laden soundtrack created by a then unknown “new age” composer Yanni makes it even more alien.
There’s two versions of the cover packaging for this film: the first showing the Leigh’s character with her back to the audience, wearing a backless, lace-up PVC dress. There’s also another cover with Leigh in a more artistic rendering, in a black bob which a hairstyle she does not wear in the film. In most cases these situations arise due to a film being marketed to different audiences in different countries.
Finally, as a sidenote: Peter Coyote’s real name is Peter Cohon. He changed his name to Coyote after he had ingested peyote and had a hallucination in which he saw his footprints as coyote paw-prints. A few years later, he came across Coyote’s Journal, a poetry magazine, and recognized its logo as the same paw-prints he had seen during his drug-induced experience so therefore changed his name.