Midight Movies: Genre Films of the Week
As well as keeping up to date with the latest releases and the independent market for Horror, I also enjoy watching older movies from back in the day which have loose ties to the genre. In this article, I’m going to re-cap on some of the lesser-known movies that I’ve enjoyed watching this week as a recommendation for my readers if you ever fancy a black comedy or a made-for-TV psychological thriller! Each film discussed features the theme of powerful yet psychotic women which says a lot about the feminist in me! Therefore I will dedicate this review to some of the most underrated female villains and their opponents within these closely-linked genres. I hope you enjoy my nostalgia-fest. If you’ve seen the movies feel free to comment and if you haven’t be sure to check them out sometime. Mild spoilers are included.
1. Jawbreaker (1999)
Teen movies were rife back in the late 90’s, particularly 1999. Darren Stein’s Jawbreaker could almost be deemed a satire of the trend of teenage flicks that emerged at the time as well as being heavily compared to Heathers (1988) from the previous decade. I noticed on IMDB that many fans of the two films compare, contrast and debate over which is the better film, in all honesty its a tough call as both have their merits.
Jawbreaker is a cult classic with some deliciously sweet performances from the well known stars of the time. The plot focuses on three stereotypical popular girls who accidentally murder their Prom Queen friend in a kidnapping-gone-wrong. Courtney (played by Rose McGowan- well known for her role as Paige in WB series Charmed) is the ring leader, Marcie (played by Julie Benz AKA. Darla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and more recently Amanda Rosewater in Defiance) is her follower, while Julie (played by Rebecca Gayheart, who fantastically acted the psychotic Brenda in Urban Legend) is the smart one who breaks away from the clique following the grizzly murder. The film spoofs the trope of Dawson Casting superbly by deliberately casting actresses in their mid-twenties as seventeen-year-old’s in a homage to Grease (1978) and also provides a cameo for the late Jeff Conaway.
Jawbreaker is a black comedy through and through, in the same vein as the previously mentioned Heathers and Very Bad Things (1998), its outrageous, surreal and but also has a heart to it. The death scene is hilariously done as victim Liz (Charlotte Ayanna) is choked to death by none other than a jawbreaker! The girls reactions at the beginning to what they’ve done conveys the right balance of tragedy and comedy. Julie is the most identifiable character and the film is spent rooting for her as she attempts to thwart Courtney’s cover up, Rebecca Gayheart plays the empathetic role really well and shows off her acting range. Rose McGowan is equally as fantastic as the ruthless, alpha-bitch, under the delusion she can control those around her. The lengths she goes to are sick and twisted, without revealing too much. To add to the drama the girls are caught in the midst of covering their tracks by the meek and geeky character Fern (Judy Greer) who in return for her silence Courtney transforms her into Reagan High’s flavor of the month. The film uses the whole “popularity is superficial” as its main focus point which was a repetitive trend that appeared in the movies from the late 90’s. A fun watch with a cool and fitting soundtrack, look out for the Marilyn Manson cameo! For me, one of the most memorable teen flicks of 1999.
2. Midnight’s Child (1992)
Lifetime movies have always been a guilty pleasure from a young age and over the year’s I’ve caught some compelling yet cheesy thrillers that provide enjoyable viewings, I still catch them from time to time, the most recent being Courtney Cox’s directorial debut TalHotBlond (2012). The Lifetime Movie of the Week incorporates similar thematic elements and plots in each film. The films are tailored to a female target audience, however it would simply be sexist to assume that they are in place for only women to enjoy as well as assume because you’re a woman you’ll be attracted to these type of films. Themes that are dealt with through these made-for-tv dramas include stalkers with a sexual motive, rape, incest to name a few. Sometimes the film’s plots such as TalHotBlond are taken from real life incidents. The villains of the piece almost always receive a comeuppance, usually ending in death.
Midnight’s Child (1992) was one of the film’s that clearly capitalized on the popularity of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) sharing very similar plot lines, although Midnight’s Child does deviate from it toward the end as it brings in an occultist plot, reminiscent of the conclusion of Witchcraft (1988). The antagonist of Midnight’s Child is evidently based on the infamous Peyton Flanders, both blonde, attractive and clearly round-the-twist. These were the types of films that put off married, career women from hiring a nanny for their children as 1. They almost always want to take over the mother role and 2. seduce your husband. It challenges the role of the stay-at-home mother and almost acts as a dark fable for the modern woman who can have a top end career and raise a family, with the message of “have a career, lose your child and husband”. Interestingly, in this film the husband works from home as an artist but still isn’t deemed capable of caring for the daughter and is gullible enough not to suss out what’s going on under his own roof. Therefore, I find it interesting how these type of films challenges ideas of what is masculinity and femininity.
Its the summer holidays and Kate (Marcy Walker) makes the decision to hire an Au Pair for her eight-year-old daughter Christina (Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men fame). A drawn-out-lengthy scene at the beginning shows an anonymous woman in a nunnery murdering another woman then stealing her identity. Anna Bergman (Played by Olivia d’Abo, well known for her role of Karen Arnold in The Wonder Years) moves into the household as a live-in-nanny. Hiding behind a Swedish accent, she begins to bond with Christina very well much to Kate’s eventual annoyance. Also an artist, Anna shares her hand-drawn “story book” with the young girl, and enthralls her into a story about a Princess and a Prince, she supplies her with gifts and takes her to the theme park Kate had planned for her birthday. Later its revealed that Anna is not quite who she says she is and is and nothing will stand in her way with Christina and a strange, satanic plot.
Midnight’s Child is a pretty hammy movie at times but the cheesy, over-the-top acting makes it what it is. It does include some pretty creepy imagery that depicts Anna’s relationship with Satan and her involvement of Christina and the husband which gives it an unsettling edge. A predictable but compelling thriller that keeps you gripped as the plot unravels.
3. Hush Little Baby (1993)
This is a film I’d been on the look out for, for a long time. I recall seeing it on television at a young age and had vague memories of it. A few years ago I had a conversation with somebody who described The Hand that rocks the Cradle, it sounded so familiar therefore, I bought it on VHS. After viewing it I had a niggling that it wasn’t the correct film and the only similarities it shared was a blonde, psychotic antagonist who took over the family home, and their demises at the end. So I took to IMDB and was taken to the page of this made-for-TV from 1993. With Cradle, the name Peyton didn’t sound familiar, so once I’d seen the main character’s name was Edie it was definitely what I had recollected.
After purchasing the only DVD copy I could find off Amazon from a seller called Andy’s Shop of Horrors (I’d definitely buy from again) I sat down to watch the movie. The plot focuses on Susan (Wendel Meldrum), a married mother of two who was adopted at a young age. Susan shares a close bond with her adoptive parents and is settled in her life with her husband Martin (Geriant Wyn Davies), she’s also doing a degree in Art History. The film shares similarities with Midnight’s Child with the theme of art bonding people together as well as an intrusion in the home and mother/daughter relationships. Susan receives a phone call from a private investigator who has located her birth mother Edie Sanders (Diane Ladd) and decides to make contact. She invites Edie back to her home to meet her family. What’s supposed to be a two week visit turns into months of hell as Edie becomes extremely jealous of everyone in Susan’s life and manipulates her way through the family. Edie is a disturbed woman who will stop at nothing until all her daughter has is her. Even though this could again be considered a hammy, psychological thriller at times, it has very believable performances. Diane Ladd is excellent as the maniac and volatile Edie who is nice on the surface with an evil interior, she also has some comic, under-the-breath one liners that makes her character even more unhinged but also lightens the tone at points.
On a deep level the film is disturbing, and questions whether blood is thicker than water as Susan is plagued by nightmares of almost being scolded in the bath as a child and attempts to make sense of these horrific dreams. Edie nastily murders Susan’s mother through an insulin overdose, unbeknown to the rest of the family, causing her father to leave town for a while. She then clashes with the live-in-nanny Meg (Ingrid Veninger), who meets a sticky demise at her hands and then begins to start on Susan’s step-s0n Dylan (Illya Woloshyn). Edie’s erratic behavior makes compelling viewing, giving the audience hope that Susan will soon uncover the devastating truth about her mother. The characters are incredibly believable, leaving the viewer empathizing with them. By today’s standards, the violence is pretty tame, yet works effectively.
The film is low budget however feels on the whole quite realistic. The plot is rather predictable but is still engaging. The ending feels rushed and cheaply done, considering the build-up’s consistently good, I was left expecting a bit more. In the UK it seems difficult to locate and I’m unsure if it will ever air as a late night movie but its definitely worth a watch if you enjoy psychological thrillers such as Fatal Attraction (1987) or Single White Female (1992) but on a lower budget level. Its directed by Jorge Montesi, who brought the cult favorite Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? (1996).
Please let me know if you’d like to see me do some more old-school reviews. I always appreciate the feedback.
Hayley Alice Roberts.