After making a name for herself with horror fans back in 1986’s divisive sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as one of Leatherface’s could-be victims, radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Block, actress Caroline Williams returns to the airwaves as another DJ in distress in Erik Bloomquist’s unique genre offering Ten Minutes to Midnight.
As a staple of the station for 30 years now, Williams’ no-nonsense Amy Marlowe has made a name for herself as a late night companion for devoted listeners during her midnight (or ten minutes to, technically) shift. The night the film decides to focus on is one that proves out of the ordinary, with Amy immediately at a disadvantage by running late; something we are informed of is an extreme rarity for the consummate professional. Just why she is late is classic horror fodder, with both a raging storm outside preventing her from quick travel and she just so happened to be attacked – and subsequently bitten – by a bat that has left two distinct bloody markings on her neck.
If that wasn’t enough, station manager Bob (William Youmans) drops another bombshell in the form of college graduate Sienna (Nicole Kang), a seemingly sweet fan who will be shadowing Amy for the evening in what is clearly the first step in a replacement plan; thanks to the loose lips of producer Aaron (Adam Weppler) however, Amy learns that this night will be her last on air. After losing her cool on a line-up of callers, Amy spirals out of control within the walls of the station – the storm meaning she is unfortunately locked in – and when she bites Sienna it becomes all too clear that all is not well. Is she hallucinating, is she dreaming, or could she be turning into a vampire?
All valid questions, and Bloomquist (and his co-writer brother Carson) certainly wants to make sure his audience is never entirely sure as to what tragedy has befallen Amy. In the span of just 70 minutes he manages to cover an awful lot of ground, creating a surrealist tone early on that he never lets up until the closing credits roll. And as much as Ten Minutes to Midnight is a horror film in the sense that it’s got a freakish, dreamlike mentality, as well as incorporating a nice amount of blood and gore, the fact that he addresses such mental friction as youth being favoured over experience in the workplace means the film has a topicality that I suspect will catch audiences off guard.
Although the film adheres to the horror genre in terms of allowing exaggerated performances to pepper the narrative, Williams is firing on all cylinders as the unraveling Amy, navigating the emotional and the horrific aspects of her character with an ease. She’s well supported by a cast all clearly game to embrace the lunacy too, particularly Nicholas Tucci (who sadly passed away after completing filming) whose role as the security guard suggests early on in the film that an unearthly manner of events will unfold.
Ten Minutes to Midnight is a B-grade feature wrapped up in a 1980’s mindset that gloriously marches to its own bizarre beat. It won’t be for everyone – especially younger audiences expecting something more of a straightforward horror feature – but those who grew up with the more schlocky, experimental titles of the genre should find comfort in tuning in to Bloomquist’s biting effort.
Ten Minutes to Midnight is available now on VOD and all digital platforms in North America. An Australian release is yet to be determined.