Theater of Horror
Midnight Matinee is a passable way to spend some time
By Isaac Thorne
Whether it’s Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, The Twilight Zone, or something else, horror fans seem to love a good anthology. The best of these feature some element that ties all the stories together: whether it’s a plot device within the vignettes themselves or a “host” that introduces and offers commentary on each tale. JD Productions’ Midnight Matinee (2017) is a 40-minute film that attempts to recall something of the style of earlier anthologies and combine it with underground theater.
The project contains five short films, four of which are horror, each of which are bookended by movie screen titles that provide Cryptkeeper-style commentary and introduction. The film is written, produced, directed, and edited by Justin Doescher, who also stars in the first segment, “Open Sea.” Of the five films, “Open Sea” and “Night Night” are the best photographed. “Open Sea” is perhaps a bit surprising in that respect because it is a found footage tale. “Night Night,” on the other hand, is a more traditional bedtime-style horror story.
There are three films between the strong first and last that form more the meat of Midnight Matinee’s running time. Unfortunately, none of those efforts are as active in story or creativity with the camera as the others. The second film in the anthology, "Let Go," is a story about a man named Max (Shaun Woodland) who is trying to get over a past girlfriend by creating a profile on new online dating site. There’s a horror subgenre that describes this type of story. Unfortunately, providing you with the name of that subgenre would spoil the entire plot of the short. You might guess how this story’s going to go after Max gets his first rejection from the site and, soon after, begins to fall ill. I’ll just leave you with that.
The third film in the anthology, “Premonition,” feels as though it is trying to recall The Ring. Maggie (Becky Edwards) is going through a deceased relative’s old things and discovers a VHS cassette with a Post-It note on it addressed to Maggie herself. The note commands her to watch the tape. Upon examining the tape’s label, she discovers that it apparently contains a 1981 interview her now deceased younger sister Jennifer (Sophie Edwards) with someone named Dr. Livingston. Before she watches the tape, Maggie calls an aunt and asks her about the label and Dr. Livingston. The aunt (Aggie Binkley) helpfully fills in all the backstory we need for what's going on when we finally watch the tape. This segment is dialogue heavy, and its ending is predictable. However, it did manage to keep me from checking the status of the runtime while I watched, and that's a point in its favor.
“Frances,” the fourth film in the anthology, is the only effort that cannot be classified as horror, although it does have the twist ending style that is typical of horror anthology shorts. In this piece, a drug addict is attempting to deliver stolen goods on behalf of his boss when things go awry. Of the five films in the anthology, this one is the least interesting and the most out of place. There’s quite a bit of dialogue that is delivered without proper emphasis, and there are some accents involved that sound fake and forced.
Overall, the video quality and camera work in this anthology are good. The acting can be a bit stiff at times, but the cast is diverse and exciting to watch for the most part. The only technical aspect that could use some work is the sound engineering. It is relatively easy to tell when a sound has been dubbed versus location sound, and that's distracting for the viewer. Also, the bookend pieces weren't impressive. They might have worked better if there had been an actual "host" delivering the information to the viewer instead of titles in a PC standard specialty font on a false movie screen.
If Midnight Matinee had been a 20-to-30-minute short featuring only the first and last pieces, I think it might have ranked a bit higher with me than it does. That said, it is worth the 40 minutes for anyone who enjoys horror and wants to help support independent filmmakers. There have been far worse starting points makers of celluloid horror. Midnight Matinee is available for streaming on Amazon.