Midnight. That eerie time when the veil between reality and the supernatural runs as thin as the booze flows come end of the year festivities. While we numb our own faces in preparation for a new year of unknown excitement, the hands on a clock’s move toward that ultimate time where past and future adhere to their respective corners. During this time of year midnight is often celebrated with extravagant hubris, but for storytellers of the horror genre midnight serves as a gateway time between the living and agents of evil. These films remind us that midnight is not just a number on a clock, but a weird state of being.
The horror genre mechanizes ghouls, myths, murder, the devil himself, and even a few existential rules come the midnight. In the grand tradition of New Year’s, the films below get the party started just as the clock strikes 12. Let the countdown begin!
12. The Fog (1980)
Small town legends really come alive at the midnight hour, but none quite as much as the nautical curse of Antonio Bay in John Carpenter’s and Debra Hill’s The Fog. When a ship of lepers depart for peace on a secluded island, the townspeople’s sabotage turns into a recurring cycle of death, six deaths to be exact, on the 100th anniversary of the accident. With five minutes left to midnight, Mr. Madchen tells the story of doom, but at the stroke of 12:00, the real terrifying, supernatural events arise.
11. The Midnight Man (2016)
Travis Zariwny’s (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon) latest teen horror is not exactly a fresh installment into the horror genre, but its primary focus is on midnight and its evil sister time, 3:33 am. Friends play a game where they summon an evil entity at midnight who uses their fears to kills them. They must survive until 3:33 am in order to defeat the game. I’m not sure about you, but I can think of a million other things I’d rather be doing during those obscure hours of the morning… except for watching The Midnight Man again.
10. Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (1997)
Hailing from the deep south myself, it’s difficult for me not to include Clint Eastwood’s (Gran Torino) adaptation of John Berendt’s bestseller on a list detailing the timely count of midnight. We’ll call this one a personal choice. While it’s more horror-adjacent by landing comfortably in the category of drama and true crime, this gothic tale defines the laws of midnight with the hoodoo belief that the time for “good” magic to occur is the hour following 11:00 pm, while “evil” magic manifest promptly at 12:00 am. It poses one of my favorite party rules, one that is perfectly relevant come New Year’s Eve: “Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen.”
9. New Year’s Evil (1980)
Evil comes for the “naughty girls” in the most literal way during Emmett Alston’s (Demonwrap) New Year’s Evil. When a deranged murderer phones into a punk rocker’s New Years special, the carnage of Times Square is no match for what he has in mind. The lunatic named Evil, donning a perfect horror film mask, promises to kill a woman he deems indecent with every stroke of midnight in each time zone. It’s an odd resolution to carry out before the year is over, but everyone has personal goals… I guess.
8. Midnight Meat Train (2008)
This one may be a stretch, but deserves the recognition not only for its incredible title, but for its 12:00 am sharp relevance. Ryuhei Kitamura (Downrange) spins a web around a photographer who involves himself in a stranger’s business of late night commuter murder in Midnight Meat Train. Midnight comes into play not only because it’s the butcher’s most active time of mayhem, but is also the time when subway routes are less available. If you don’t catch your ride before the clock changes from PM to AM, you could be stuck in a subway car with a depraved murderer... and Bradley Cooper. Thank god for Uber, right?
7. Terror Train (1980)
This midnight party train chugs along with Roger Spottiswoode’s (Tomorrow Never Dies) 80’s slasher Terror Train. Nothing quite screams “Happy New Year!” like cadavers, costumes, and good old, fashioned revenge. A cruel, and severely odd, prank played on a young coed at midnight during a franternity’s New Year’s Eve party sets off a chain of brutal murders when the traumatized pledge seeks vengeance on its later chapter members. What makes a frat party more menacing than usual? A frat party hosted on a train counting down the hours of a shamed pledge’s psychotic break… in costume.
6. Ghostbusters II (1989)
Ivan Reitman’s sequel to the wildly popular Ghostbusters may not be as beloved as the original, but earns respect from the horror community just the same. I refuse to bathe in a bathtub because of it. When a (terrifying) painting inhabited by an evil warlord orders a baby to be sacrificed for his possession on the New Year, it’s up to the gang to serve up a hot plate of New York comraderie. No one is immune to the debilitating weakening hum of Auld Lang Syne when midnight comes calling. No one.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rarely do I care to support Roman Polanski’s work, but if there is anyone who can successfully give birth to pure evil in our basic reality, it’s him. His adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel, Rosemary’s Baby makes way for a demon born unto an unsuspecting, innocent mother. A demon conceived and born just after midnight.
4. Omen III: The Final Conflict (1976)
Speaking of the birth of the devil incarnate… John Moore (Max Payne) gave the son of Satan a childhood in The Omen. As an adult, portrayed in Graham Baker’s (Alien Nation) third installment to the franchise, Damien Thorn is just as devilish (and political) as we can imagine. Aiming to fulfill his Antichrist destiny, he orders a modern day genocide of all male babies born between midnight and 6 am on the day of the the second coming of Christ. We can only pray a certain someone in a certain powerful state of office sticks to Twitter and not the Book of Revelations when deciding on upcoming delegations in 2019.
3. End of Days (1999)
End of the world, I say? Anyone old enough to understand the Y2K hype during the dawn of the new millennium almost always feels a little anxious come to countdown to midnight. We didn’t know what to expect and whether people like to admit it or not, most had a twinge of doomsday suspicion come the minute of the final hour of 1999. Peter Hyams (Timecop) was bold enough to spin a story around that terrifying notion, and add Arnold in for good measure, with End of Days. The Devil (there he is again!) has to consummate relations with a woman of his choice in order to break free from his eternal prison by the last minute of the last hour before the new millennium. Our hero does not believe in the Devil, but his presence, and obsession with midnight, is obvious.
2. Into the Dark: New Year, New You (2018)
Sophia Takal and writer have joined forces and creativity to bring one of the most fun, yet meaningful New Year’s Eve stories of the modern decade in the January episode of the year-long holiday anthology Into The Dark. As a group of friends gather to celebrate the coming of a brand new year, tensions flare and drama ensues as jealousy and resentment cause a bitter, bloody battle. What’s crazy is that all happens before the clock hits midnight.
1. Gremlins (1984)
You know the rules. If you don’t, then you’re not quite fit to own a Mogwai. Joe Dante (The Howling) introduces us to the chaotic world of Gizmo and his Mogwai critter friends as well as the rules they must follow in order to stay subdued, one being to never feed them past midnight. When that rule is ignored and the Mogwai begin their late night snacking all holiday hell breaks loose. It’s an unfair rule, if I do say so myself. Everyone knows that all of the best snacks are served past 12:00 am.
Time is up for these whacky scenarios. Some end on a positive note, others not so much, but we all control what happens to ourselves when that minute hand makes its final move in 2018 and enters 2019. Be sure to make each year count, follow the rules, stay off trains, and try your best to sterr clear of the Devil, even though we know he is a total midnighter. Nothing raises midnight to a form of art like the horror genre and nothing weirder happens before midnight.
What’s your favorite midnight scene in horror? Which horror films are you watching as you count down the new year? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!