With their potential high return on low investment, slasher movies became the must-make sub-genre on every studio’s production slate in the early 80’s. It was only a matter of time before studios began hedging their bets, injecting slasher tropes into other film styles.
In 1983, The Canon Group released its slasher-infused 10 to Midnight, a Charles Bronson police thriller directed by frequent Bronson collaborator J. Lee Thompson. Thompson was no stranger to the slasher genre, having directed Happy Birthday to Me two years earlier. This time around, the Scooby Doo finale is set aside as Bronson’s cop character is newly partnered with a younger, less experienced though brainy cop played by Andrew (The Fury) Stevens. They’re on a trail of a serial killer (Gene Davis, brother of Brad) who does his wet work in the nude. Things get more complicated when the killer targets Bronson’s student nurse daughter (Lisa Eilbacher from Bad Ronald and Leviathan), just as she’s starting a serious flirtation with Stevens.
While 10 to Midnight isn’t particularly scary or suspenseful, it’s an entertainingly seedy movie. The bloody stalk-and-slash scenes are more Toolbox Murders than Halloween, but they’re effective on their own terms. The leads all deliver solid performances, while some of the supporting actors are a little more iffy. Bronson is always reliable, and Davis, who offered another ballsy performance in Cruising, appears nude frequently throughout the film, as do several of his victims. TV prints offer up an underwear-clad version for happy family viewing. As a villain, Davis’ Warren Stacy character is clever, creepy, and the type of jerk you love to hate. The script by William Roberts moves briskly, tying its slasher, cop and romantic storylines together seamlessly, though it tends toward the crudely juvenile in its dialogue. Some choice examples:
Bronson (explaining the killer’s motive): “Anybody who does something like this, his knife has got to be his penis.”
Reporter to Bronson, dismissing a statement given by the Chief of Police: “I could fart a better statement than that.”
And Eilbacher flirting with Stevens: “Maybe we should check your prostate.”
Criticized for its perceived misogyny (a hot topic in regard to slasher movies at the time), and in particular for a scene that bears similarities to the student nurse murders committed by real-life serial killer Richard Speck, 10 to Midnight did well at the box office. Today, it’s readily available on a MGM disc, and it can be enjoyed as the sleazy, era-specific cop thriller and slasher hybrid it is.