10 to Midnight (1983)
Dressing down a pesky journalist in the first scene of 10 to Midnight, Charles Bronson’s Lt. Leo Kessler proclaims, “I’m a mean, selfish son of a bitch. And I know you want a story, but I want a killer, and what I want comes first!” I felt like cheering right then and there, and the title hadn’t yet appeared onscreen. The serial-killer police thriller comes from Bronson’s underrated ’80s run with Cannon Films and his fourth of nine collaborations with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes director J. Lee Thompson.
In this film’s case, the murderer is Warren (Gene Davis, The Hitcher), a young, creepy guy in a Members Only jacket who fixes typewriters for the office secretarial pool. He fancies himself quite the martial artist and ladies’ man. He’s definitely not the latter, because he gets rejected all the time, but gets his revenge by stabbing his busty jilters to death.
Examining the corpse of Warren’s latest victim, Kessler theorizes, “Well, if anybody does something like this, his knife has gotta be his penis.” Indeed, Warren’s M.O. is stripping nude before each and every kill, holding a sharp blade at genital height, all rapey-like. As Kessler inches closer to nabbing the scumball, said scumball targets the copper’s daughter (Lisa Eilbacher, Beverly Hills Cop), a student nurse — convenient for a cinematic massacre’s sake.
What makes 10 to Midnight great is not just Bronson being Bronson, but that his Kessler is deeply flawed. He’s not a supercop, but an imperfect man more interested in doing what’s right vs. what’s legal, which irks his idealistic, by-the-book partner Andrew Stevens (The Seduction). It’s also as if a slasher movie focused not on the Final Girl, but the investigating police detective, and Davis is absolutely hateful in his robotic-perv role.
Look for short bits by Kelly Preston in her movie debut and an artificial vagina. —Rod Lott