7. Jacob’s Ladder
A thinking man’s horror film for the night owl who loves the chills, creeps, and damage that comes with the terror, but not the adrenalin fuelled startles many cheaper horror flicks rely on; and for horror game fans reading, this is also well known as the key inspiration for the fascinating psychological horror franchise Silent Hill.
Set in the 1970’s we follow Jacob, a middle aged Vietnam vet played by a shabbily likable Tim Robbins, as he starts seeing bizarre and monstrous visions amongst his day to day life, while also flashing back to his time at war and to his mysterious former family. And that’s really the bones of the plot.
It’s a refreshingly character driven chiller that focuses on the drama of Jacob trying to comprehend his demons as they tear apart his life, and we are shackled to him through this journey- steadily dragged rung by rung down the ascending terror and emotional trauma.
Inspired by the art of Francis Bacon and severed knee’s deep in Biblical themes and imagery; this is a mind warping horror stroll that keeps you huddled firmly at the back of your seat; opting for a deep unnerving tension and drama, and a lust for forthright terror over quick candyish jumps. But it’s its surprisingly down to earth style and genuine human heart that makes it such good pre-tomorrow watch.
Using its realistic character drama to blend the horrors into its shabby reality- a foreboding tone that never fades no matter the scene, so you never know when you’re about to be pulled into another nightmare- ‘til when the credits roll and you won’t even know if they’re Jacob’s or yours.
From the grandfather of Italian surrealist cinema, this is the high-brow stop on the list; for the midnight meanderer who likes to appreciate their films as much as or more than enjoy them. Federico Fellini’s 81/2 is a breezy yet feverish experience, about a film director stuck in a mental and moral schism, as he tries to start working on his latest movie he has no inspiration for and has to choose between the women in his life.
This turmoil in Guido’s life is shown to us more than told, in long panning shots of over loud character’s buzzing like flies for his attention, and in bizarre and sometime hilarious dives into his memories and mind as we learn what shaped this conflicted being into the sometimes funny, sometimes charming, almost always frustrating man we get to know.
Functioning almost entirely like a hallucination, its methodic pace and sleepy, tired, tone makes it enjoyably hard to distinguish between the realities of the already dreamy spa setting and the fantastical tangents of Guido’s escapism.
Even as the film’s breezy and dramatically farcical never ending second act plotters on into deeper, stranger visions, you’ll never lose your relaxed sensation of vague intrigue, and grand appreciation for the craft itself; even as you lose patience with Guido’s conflicted artist shenanigans.
9. Escape from New York
Who said this list had to be all off-kilter thrillers and surreal dramas; sometimes you just need a little fun. A B-movie star from the alternative side of 80s Hollywood, John Carpenter’s slow-burning thriller traps us in a post-apocalyptic New York, now an overrun prison city, on a suicide mission to rescue the president with the original eyepatch wearing badass himself, Snake Plissken; played with an amusing grumpy swagger by Kurt Russell.
The film sweats style and cool from every rugged pore, creating a highly infectious and enjoyable gritty campness it takes its time to engross you in, with a much more style over action approach than the set-up would have you think.
Bathed in neon colours, impressive practical effects and sets, and given life by a chilling synth riddled score composed by Carpenter himself, this is a moody midnight adventure with enough character and form to make-up for its fuse-wire pace, and more genuine thrills than a dozen modern explosion soaked action flicks.
10. Blue Velvet
An 80s gem from the weird Uncle of surreality David Lynch, and a good watch for the little pervert in all of us. Blue Velvet reestablished Lynch as the ruler of the strange and edgy fringe of independent film after his blockbuster buster Dune, even though it is one of his more straight forward works.
A dark violent mystery, the heart of this tale is Kyle MacLachlan’s innocent but curious Jeffrey, who the film masterfully contrasts against his schmaltzy Coming-of-Age romance with Laura Dern the Detective’s daughter, and his warped and violent investigation ‘into’ a disturbingly terrorised Isabella Rossellini. And that’s where the genius of Blue Velvet lies, that it is as much an authentic 80s Coming-of-Age drama as it is a twisted psychological thriller, swelling synth score and all.
The whole thing plays like a perverted satire of a John Hughes classic as seen through the sliver of a closet door. The title even sounds like the slutty cousin of Pretty in Pink. But it is as much an enthralling noir tinged mystery; drenched with arresting images, true blacks that everyone slithers out of, and a constant voyeuristic air achieved through each shot being slightly wider than it needs to be, giving the sensation like the audience themselves are peeping toms just as much as Jeffrey.
Suiting it’s voyeuristic, behind the curtain, themes and story to a pitch black tee. Add on-top a velvety smooth pace and off kilter but luscious visuals, this is one of the director’s most satisfying achievements; a nasty piece of 80’s that can be only served at midnight, when the night is as thick as Blue Velvet.
11. Lost in Translation
A film for when you just want to lay back and let story and characters gently wash over you like a tide rocking you to sleep. Set in a whimsical but isolating Tokyo, the film meanders with a faded movie star played mournfully by Bill Murray and a young neglected wife played by a reserved Scarlett Johansson, who gradually form a deep bond over their stay, and the heart of the film is captured in their many misadventures and melancholy tinged conversations about life and Tokyo.
It’s for the most a quiet, fleeting film, making it perfect for that relaxing night in; flittering between scenes with a thought like nuance, capturing the strange irregularities of the away-human experience; of being lost at a kilter in a place you don’t understand.
It’s that mutual maroonedness, both emotionally and geographically, that draws Murray’s and Johansson’s characters together- both lost in the beautiful sea of Tokyo and life itself. Their gradual but charming encounters range from sometimes funny, to sometimes sad, to most times both, but serve as the real meat of the trip, giving you an emotional anchor to sail around during the film’s more tangential moments.
But beyond the casual melancholy meanderings of our characters, possibly the most important figure is Tokyo itself. Beautifully shot as a colourful wonderland of possibilities, an alien place where their unlikely bond can flourish, its eccentricity never overshadows the frustrating alienation it wroughts upon its lonely characters. But it’s those tinges of fear and worry along with the wonder that makes this a genuine away-from-home home experience, and a film you can’t help but get lost in.
12. The Faculty
A love letter to Sci-fi B-Movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this underrated 90s gem is here as a love letter to the midnight-movies I said this list wasn’t for; but the tacky, fun, not safe for daylight films are an important part of what Midnight can be – So here it is.
Starring some of the most recognizable faces from the 90s and 2000s, including Elijah Wood, Clea DuVall, and Jon Stewart, just to name a few. This wacky thriller follows an eclectic mess of likable and drug fuelled, high school stereotypes as they fight to save their school from body stealing Aliens who have infested their teaching staff.
Written by the mind behind Scream and directed by Robert Rodriguez, this is an endlessly silly, but endlessly fun flick that walks that fine line between camp and tense, comedy and horror. Brimming with charm, action, and gloriously bad special effects, it’s like a teen revamp of The Thing and is a perfectly fun way to ebb into the hours of early morning.
Author Bio: Mark Tonkin is a flourishing screenwriter still attempting to have a career, a poor comic strip illustrator, and an all-round only slightly pretentious film aficionado.