Director: Pete Walker
Cast: Alison Elliott, James Aubrey, Debbie Linden
Length: 111 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: Jun 17, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
- Video Interview with Pete Walker
- Theatrical Trailer
The subject of sex and minors in film always carries the potential to cause contention. Adolescent sexuality is a difficult line to tread, especially when the subject matter falls strongly on the side of under the age of consent. Depending on how the issue is tackled it can result in thought provoking material—the argument being not everything is as black and white as it seems.
Seventies Britsploitation director Pete Walker took a break between making horrors to turn his attentions to this exact subject; the result was the drama Home Before Midnight (1979). Sandwiched in between The Comeback (1978) and House of Long Shadows (1983), this film marked a change in direction for the filmmaker. Departing from his tried and tested methods of sleazy and explicit horror and following the end of his working relationship with scriptwriter David McGillivray, Walker attempted to inject new energy into his portfolio. However, when you take the bulk of his other work into consideration one has to consider just how serious the director could get when it came to taking on such a sensitive subject. The film is important for fans of the filmmaker as it marks his last 70s venture, signifying the end to his, now dated, brand of feature making filled with flesh and graphic concepts. His penultimate turn in the directorial chair, Walker would make just one more film after this, the American financed House of Long Shadows—a classic horror comedy obviously made for the commercial market. This is the last film of his career that truly speaks in own voice, the final installment carrying none of his usual tropes. This lesser known Walker effort is now brought to Blu-Ray as part of the ongoing series of his work from Kino/Redemption.
Home Before Midnight is the cautionary tale of a 28 year old rock star Mike Beresford, who becomes romantically involved with a 14 year old girl Ginny Wilshire. After offering Ginny a lift when he finds her hitchhiking, Mike unwittingly gets himself into murky territory. The girl is a minor, but presents herself as a fully grown woman. The two quickly enter into a sexual relationship—with Mike still unaware of Ginny’s real age—and rapidly become besotted with one another. When the truth is revealed, Mike has to make the choice of whether to continue seeing the girl or not. With a potential life damaging decision to make, he is forced to decide whether to follow his heart or his head.
Just by reading the synopsis of this film it would indicate a melodrama with potential for hard hitting story-telling. Indeed the scope of the premise does bring the opportunity for this to happen. However, if you take some of the casting and scripting choices made for this feature into consideration, it is easy to see why things take a very different direction indeed.Central to the plot working—and, therefore, the right amount of drama being distilled for the audience—is the believability factor. Casting Alison Elliot as 14 year old Ginny could be considered by some as a misstep. The audience needs to be convinced that Mike can easily mistake the girl for being a lot older than she is, but also when act two begins, believe she is a vulnerable minor. Actress Elliot is obviously a lot older than 14, in fact, she looks in her mid-twenties, and, as a result, it is not shocking to see her on screen engaged in various sexual acts, or exposed in full frontal nudity. Walker is working with a double edged sword, and when the tables are turned she is less convincing turning out the position of an underage, confused teen. This flaw is not completely down to the actress and her physicality, but the script. Ginny initially seems like a young woman very much in control of her sexuality. She moves and talks like a woman older than she is, rather than a hormonal teenager in the throes of infatuation with a much older man. Likewise, Ginny’s friend Carol (Debbie Linden) takes on a very similar persona, the two holding a confidence that usually comes along later in life. Walker relies heavily on the Lolita theme to try and give his story some grounding. Suggesting that teenage girls are somehow consumed with sexual desire and ready and willing to deceive young men to get what they want. Lead James Aubrey as Mike in comparison is portrayed as a sensible young man just looking for a decent woman in his life, despite his background in rock music. With masses of young groupies at his beck and call, he chooses to reject this temptation as he seeks for something more substantial and meaningful. However, some of the choices he makes as the plot transitions do not ring true to his character. For the cast, regardless of scripting, they all play their parts well. For a low-budget number, the acting all-round is of an excellent standard. With strong supporting roles from Juliet Harmer as Ginny’s mother, Mark Burns as the caring father, and also a small part for Mick Jagger’s brother, Chris Jagger, as friend Nick, the quality of the acting does in part ensure the film is not a complete disaster.
Flaws aside, Home Before Midnight does represent a valuable addition to the Pete Walker catalogue. The film carries a certain sleazy Brit flair that will make it attractive to those who enjoy gritty 70s filmmaking. Some aspects—especially the copious amount of nudity and sexual content in the first act—will also appeal to fans of exploitation cinema. While the dated fashion, dialogue, and twee pop ballads add to the overall charm—if you can call it that. The film is also surprisingly engrossing. For those acquainted with Walker’s M.O of downbeat endings, the story grips initiated viewers with the knowledge that anything is possible, but it probably will not turn out a happy ending for anyone. Under these circumstances the viewer is carried along by the plot regardless of its obvious weaknesses. Walker does try to find some balance in his tale and avoids being overly moralistic; however sympathy seems to lie more in the direction of Mike as victim. One does have to take into consideration the film is very much a product of its time and in this context a lot can be forgiven.
Kino Lorber and Redemption Films have done their customary best in bringing Home Before Midnight to Blu-Ray. Following their “less is more” restoration philosophy, the film has not been cleaned up, and there are numerous small specs and scratches here and there. But, overall, the print is in good shape, so such anomalies don’t distract much. Film grain is of the fine variety and is well resolved. There are many shots where the image is soft, almost gauzy, but this was Pete Walker’s intended effect—owing to the use of mostly bounced lighting—and no attempt has been made to artificially sharpen the image in any way. Colors are organic-looking, if somewhat somber, and have not been artificially amped up.
Like the video, the LPCM 2.0 track essentially presents the audio as is. Owing to the meager production budget, the film’s sound is far from state of the art. There is minor distortion in the top registers, especially during loud bits of dialogue, and the sound generally has an opaque quality. This is not out of keeping with the age and provenance of the film, however.
The extra features are not as plentiful on this release, as on some others, but the main attraction here is well worth watching. It’s an 11-minute video, Promiscuous Behavior; An Interview With Pete Walker, in which the director talks about how and why he came to make Home Before Midnight, the difficulties in casting, and the critical reception. Also included is an original theatrical trailer.
This lesser known Pete Walker feature is one that has failed to attract as much attention as the director’s horror or sexploitation films. A different direction for Walker, and in his hands, the material is perhaps not handled as sensitively—or indeed as convincingly—as it could have been. Regardless, for all Pete Walker fans, for those who enjoy well-made exploitation cinema, or films with a heavy 70s vibe, there is plenty here to satisfy. Out now on high definition Blu-Ray it is the perfect opportunity to pick it up.