Midnight Mass DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Lions Gate Entertainment
Directed by Tony Mandile
Written by F. Paul Wilson and Tony Mandile
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 98 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on July 8th, 2003
Pamela Karp as Gwen Waters
Douglas Gibson as Fr. Joe Cahill
Marvin W. Schwartz as Fr. Alberto Palmeri
Mariana Matthews as 'Mickey' Edwards
David Dwyer as Carl Edwards
Midnight Mass opens with a sequence of news reports about a virus sweeping the world. Harried reporters tell the viewer there is nothing to worry about, people should carry on with their daily lives as they normally would. The last report seen in this montage of news surfing is a young woman warning the people it is not a virus, but vampires whom have taken over the world. The government has been lying.
Now, in a world overrun by vampires, enter Gwen, guerrilla atheist and our movie heroine. Gwen, one of the few surviving humans, is sitting on a boardwalk bench looking out at the surf and pondering life’s mysteries when a group of Goth punks accost and attempt to kidnap her. Luckily for Gwen, a blonde woman was witness to this potential travesty and inadvertently managed to distract the Goths long enough for Gwen to escape. Unfortunately for the blonde, she takes Gwen’s place in the abduction.
Gwen, probably feeling guilty about the whole incident, tracks the Goths to their not-so-secret hideout, a deserted church. While spying through the window, she witnesses the blonde sacrificed to a group of vampires. The sacrificial ritual is led by one of the former priests of the church, who is also now the leader of the local vampire coven. Apparently, since vampires have overrun the world, humans are few and far between. The Goths work for the vampires, collecting human sacrifices under the promise they will be given eternal life once the food supply and demand evens out.
After witnessing the sacrifice, Gwen finds her old friend Father Joe. Joe used to be the head priest of the parish where the ritual was, but was wrongfully accused of a hideous crime (guess which one) and ousted from the church. After much convincing from Gwen and witnessing a ritual himself, Joe decides to take a stand and take back his parish!
GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! DVDS 60% OFF!
That’s the sign Kemp Mill Records had on the window. 60% off full retail sometimes beats Best Buy’s sale price, so I went inside to see what was left. After some picking through, Midnight Mass caught my eye. While the back slightly interested me, "Written by F. Paul Wilson" really sold me on the deal. Wilson has written some really great books, including "The Keep" and the Repairman Jack novels. Having really liked his take on the vampire lore in "The Keep", I decided to give the movie a shot.
I almost liked this movie. Almost.
Every time I started to like it, something would go wrong and aggravate me. This movie, while watchable, was so close to being a good movie, seeing its promise consistently slip away was frustrating. Midnight Mass had a lot of potential for a "B" movie, but its constant ball dropping overshadowed the movie's possibilities.
Among other things, the acting is out of control. Since this is a low budget flick, I didn’t expect Oscar-winning performances. However, I did expect some sort of acting. Typically, in lower budget, or "B" movies, you run into two types of acting. The first type is the "over the top" acting where the actors don’t take the movie too seriously and have a good time with the film. This is not a bad thing. Sometimes that makes a bad movie better because you know the actors are hamming it up and you have a good time right along with them. The second type of acting in these types of movies is the melodramatic "we are taking this too seriously" type of performances. This type of presentation generally makes the movie suffer because, for one, the actors tend to take themselves more serious than the movie. This leads to melodrama and overacting and is very rarely good. Midnight Mass suffers from the second type. The story idea was pretty damn good and the script, for the most part, was decent. However, the actual delivery of the lines left a lot to be desired.
Another disappointment in the film was the way it was shot. The day shots are exceptional in creating a world of desolation, abandonment and loneliness. This is just what is needed in a planet infested with vampires. First-time director Tony Mandile did an outstanding job in creating a feeling of a depressing world with the day shots alone. However, the night and interior shots were not nearly as good. Many times, there was inadequate lighting, or no lighting at all. Mandile addresses the lack of lighting in the commentary saying most directors are afraid to shoot in the dark but he likes using the dark.” Um, Tony, I watch movies to WATCH movies. There is nothing wrong with using the dark as your friend, but it must be used appropriately. Some scenes were literally unwatchable because of the lighting, or lack there of.
On the plus side, the special effects and makeup was pretty decent, considering the low budget. Mandile’s background is special effects and the vampires in Midnight Mass show this.
But the biggest problem I had with Midnight Mass was a scene towards the end that appeared anti-Semitic. The Bible tells that the Romans killed Jesus after he was betrayed by his own people, the Jews. The Jewish elders were jealous of Jesus' power and played a role in the capture of Jesus by the Romans. The Romans were the actual people who crucified Jesus, but the idea the Jews themselves killed Jesus has wrongly found it's way into some people's beliefs. Mostly your bed sheet wearers and Aryan types.
That being said, towards the end of the movie, Father Joe is tied, spread-eagle, on a table as Father Palmeri prepares to turn him into a vampire. Joe — in his mid-30s, has longish brown hair, bearded and physically fit — appears like Christ on the cross. Father Palmeri is maniacally telling Joe he is going to bring him over to vampirism (forcing him to convert?) and Joe will hate everything he ever loved. While there was nothing to portray Father Palmeri as Jewish (his name actually seems Italian), the whole scene seems anti-Semitic. The Christ-like figure with a darker, older man standing over him mocking his humanism (Christianity?) smacks of the Jewish elders condemning Jesus in their jealousy.
However, I believe while it seemed anti-Semitic, any such impression was likely unintentional. First, both the commentary and the ‘making of’ featurette mentioned Gwen’s atheist character was originally a Jewish rabbi. The Rabbi character was changed to the atheist character because F. Paul Wilson felt it made the story line seem anti-Semitic. Also, Marvin Schwartz, who plays Father Alberto Palmeri, appears to be the Jewish photographer behind "Jewish Moments". The synopsis for "Jewish Moments", according to rottentomatoes.com, “Acclaimed photographer Marvin W. Schwartz shares his photo essays documenting the experiences of Jewish life, from ritual gatherings to personal moments.” Now, I’m not 100% sure Schwartz is Jewish, however it was mentioned in the commentary he is a known photographer and a search on the Internet yielded a film entitled "Jewish Moments". If Schwartz is Jewish, I’m betting he would not have done that particular scene if it was meant to be anti-Semitic.
But unintentional or not, the scene is still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Video and Audio:
Midnight Mass is presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen. While the day shots seem especially crisp with their bluish filter for a desolate mood, the night shots are quite bad. The blacks are grainy and many scenes suffer from ineffective lighting.
The movie has horrible audio problems. There are moments of static highs and at some points I had to turn on the subtitles because of the dropouts. I don’t know if this is because of bad mic work, bad mastering or both, but in any event it makes the movie almost unwatchable. In Lion's Gate's defense, the problem seems to lie more with the movie.
Also, while the dramatic scenes had a haunting and sometimes beautiful score, the action scene music sounded like bad '70s cop show music. So the music becomes another prime example of how the movie gets the job halfway done. In addition, keep your ear out for the song being played during the church-cleanup scene. The song itself is not bad; it’s the placement that is all wrong. I felt like I was watching an episode of "Dawson’s Creek".
Midnight Mass is presented in Dolby Stereo with English and Spanish subtitle options.
- Behind-the-Camera Featurette
- Bloopers and Outtakes
- Still Gallery
The commentary is not bad and is worth listening to. While a lot of it was “and here they are looking in the window”, the character’s motives and actions are further explained. Also, there are a few interesting stories such as how the crew had to deal with local police on certain scenes. I hate to say it, but the commentary is almost better than the movie soundtrack. I would not say it’s mandatory to listen to the commentary, but it is helpful.
The ‘making-of’ featurette was pretty interesting. It contains interviews with most of the cast and crew. While it looks like it was filmed on an old camcorder and transferred to DVD, it’s still worth a watch. The featurette runs about a half an hour.
The blooper reel was a fun three minutes and the still gallery was, well, a still gallery.
I always find it amusing when small-budget films outshine their bigger competitors when it comes to special features.
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