An arty horror flick, MIDNIGHT CABARET succeeds in being different without ever becoming more than a curiosity piece. Moody rather than filled with a palpable sense of terror, it seems to have been defanged in the relentless pursuit of novelty.
Throughout the movie, the audience is held off guard as to whether it is witnessing real-life horrors or simply sampling scenes from the bizarre off-Broadway entertainment the film's characters are involved in. When members of the cast of this sado-masochistic play-within-the-movie are murdered,
young lead Tanya Richards (Laura Harrington) is alarmed. At first Tanya, a virgin, is seduced by the glamorous aura of her costar and director, Paul Van Dyke (Michael Des Barres), but when she's drugged during one of his soirees, she becomes wary. How does Paul happen on the scene when a thief
(Paul Drake) breaks into her pad and attempts to rape her? And why does this criminal hurl himself out of her window?
Experiencing psychic flashes, Tanya is terrified when she "witnesses" the murder of another actor, David (Thom Matthews), whom she was falling for. Confiding to a friend that she doesn't know if she's plagued by nightmares or facing insanity, Tanya now begins seeing visions of Paul, who
apparently has just been murdered by street thugs. When Tanya spends the night with her best friend, Dawn (Lisa Hart Carroll), Dawn's throat is slashed and the police suspect Tanya. Is she confusing onstage demons with real-life murders?
Head over heels for Tanya, hard-bitten Catholic cop Angelo (Bruce Wright) convinces himself of her innocence and delves into Van Dyke's satanic background. Sneaking into the devil's playground, Angelo discovers that Tanya has been impregnated by Van Dyke, who is Satan himself. Although Lucifer's
mother Orion (Carolyn Seymour) nearly kills Detective Angelo, Tanya proves she's no passive receptacle by leaping out the window and denying the devil his child.
Exquisitely lensed and cleverly conceived, MIDNIGHT CABARET juxtaposes a cabaret entertainment about devil-worship with real-life scenes about a courtship a la Satan. Brilliantly tricking us in the beginning (when we think we're witnessing a regular horror movie unfold rather than the stage
horror show within this movie), director Pece Dingo and co-screenwriter Lori Gloede use the cabaret scenes to comment on the action proper. Intended to build suspense, it sometimes breeds confusion once Tanya's dreams are introduced as another plot element. Keeping the different layers of reality
straight becomes an arduous task on occasion. By throwing us off guard at irregular intervals, the film loses a grip on the central thrust of the story; one wishes that the melding of Tanya's dreams and the actual murders and the scenes from the stage show had been handled more artfully.
Also, the ingeniousness of this tripartite premise is let down by the inexperience of some cast members, particularly Herrington, who is sincere and sweet but never persuades us that she would be forceful enough to have the lead in an off-Broadway play. Because she lacks the acting ability this
difficult role requires, we aren't pulled into the maelstrom of terror confronting this character. On the other hand, Carolyn Seymour, Norbert Weisser and Michael Des Barres demonstrate enough sexual magnetism to have any devil cult welcome them as comrades. Clearly the devil has the upper hand
here, since the film's good guys don't have the same hold on our imaginations; this is a performance problem rather than a shortcoming in the way the good guys are written. Further weakening MIDNIGHT CABARET are some poorly judged female bonding scenes between Tanya and Dawn--the terror grinds to
a halt as these gabfests boringly cover familiar ground.
Intriguing without being chilling, MIDNIGHT CABARET is an exercise in frissons that produces only sporadic spine-tingles. One admires its iconoclastic elan but the effect it has on us is minimal. Although, unlike that other CABARET, it doesn't succeed in mastering the art of having a stage number
flesh out the essential action of the plot, this handsomely mounted film is still a must-see for horror fans in search of outre kicks. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: An arty horror flick, MIDNIGHT CABARET succeeds in being different without ever becoming more than a curiosity piece. Moody rather than filled with a palpable sense of terror, it seems to have been defanged in the relentless pursuit of novelty. Throughou… (more)