Proof that Damiano didn’t have a monopoly on morbidity, Richard Mahler’s Midnight Heat begins and ends with murder. Sandwiched in between is the tale of a man who’s chosen to live life on the edge; a man who’s addicted to danger and now faces the consequences.
Jamie Gillis plays Alan, a hitman that bites the hand that feeds and knows the price he’ll pay. Holed up in hotel room that resembles a cell, he spends his time gazing out of the window and ruminating on the past. He stumbles across the contact details of a prostitute while leafing dispassionately through the Bible, and in doing so, acquires himself an unlikely companion. While there’s a definite Sadean ‘ring’ to the condemned man choosing the comfort of a prostitute over that of the Bible, Alan is more inclined to talk than fornicate. Did I mention that this is a hardcore sex film?
“I am Lazarus; come from the dead.”
Midnight Heat is almost as dark as a synopsis suggests, and can legitimately be described as an existential film on a number of counts. Firstly, and perhaps predictably under the circumstances, the dialogue between our protagonists is concerned almost exclusively with life, death and the paths we choose. Secondly, and more tellingly, it’s clear that Alan’s predicament is entirely of his own making; resultant of nothing more than the choices he made. According to Sartre, existentialism is empowering – a philosophy of action – but Mahler’s film is also deeply pessimistic. During the course of its brief running-time we witness infidelity, two loveless marriages and, in keeping with the quote that opens the film, sexual interactions motivated by power rather than affection.
While it’s obviously more cerebral than most adult films, this is also a very stylised affair. As we’ve already seen, Alan’s room is appropriately cell-like, and he looks every inch the condemned man, sitting alone in the half-light on a steel-framed bed. Indeed the bleakness of the environment is crucial to the tone of the film, with Mahler choosing to punctuate the action with slow-motion footage of grimy urban streets. As things progress, the slow-motion effects are introduced into the narrative portions of the film, infecting them with a decidedly nightmarish quality. Nowhere is this more apparent than the climactic scene, in which Alan fights for his life, bathed in infernal red light.
“You never have anything to say, do you?”
Presumably a film that had unsuspecting patrons rushing for the exits (something of a Mahler trademark), Midnight Heat illustrates just how sterile today’s adult movies have become. There’s no room for this kind of darkness in an industry premised on surgically-enhanced, interchangeable blondes, and it’s really no surprise this has yet to be issued on DVD. One can criticise certain aspects of the production – perhaps it’s a little too ambiguous at times – but this remains an extremely unusual, thought-provoking film, the likes of which we may never see again.
It would be remiss of me to conclude without mentioning the outstanding performance of Jamie Gillis, who brings chacteritic intensity to the central role. Frankly, it could have been written for him. I don’t want to reveal too much about the film’s ending, but it does call into question Alan’s attitude to the dereliction he’s surveyed throughout. I’d suggest the following line holds the key: “Ever stop to think about what separates us from them? One morning they just woke up and said ‘fuck it’.”
Note: Richard Mahler is a pseudonym for Roget Watkins, director of two similarly gloomy hardcore films – Her Name was Lisa and Corruption – and the horror film Last House on Dead End Street.