Caroline At Midnight

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Produced by Roger Corman and released straight to video by New Horizons, Caroline At Midnight (1993) is one of the quintessential erotic thrillers of the nineties, albeit one of the lowest budget entires in the niche genre. Unlike many films of this ilk Caroline At Midnight features an all star cast of players that helps to give the illusion that there is more value to the film than there actually is. Just like the film’s femme fatale, Caroline At Midnight isn’t as alluring as it initially appears.

The plot of Caroline At Midnight is a well worn one that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a film noir picture. Essentially the film follows investigative journalist Jack Lynch (Clayton Rohner) as he follows the trail of a police corruption case to a dead ex-girlfriend named Caroline (Caroline Barclay) and her surviving best friend Victoria (Mia Sara). Victoria’s abusive husband Ray (Tim Daly) is one of the cops dealing in smack that Jack has been investigating. As Jack closes in on Ray and his associate Susan Prince (Virginia Madsen) he finds there is more to Victoria than he thought.

Caroline At Midnight is, in terms of its writing, utterly boiler plate stuff. The narrative beats are familiar, the plot twists predictable and the character development is lackluster at best. What drives the film is director Scott McGinnis’ sense of visual stylization. McGinnis succeeds at evoking the dark shadowy world of forties film noir better than most nineties neo-noir films including those of the Coen Brothers. Caroline At Midnight is so heavy on atmosphere that it is impossible to look away from its images. It is a film that revels in the fetishization of cinematic style in which a dark interior shot is as alluring as the equally fetishized beauty of Mia Sara.

McGinnis’ great accomplice in this endeavor is composer Mark Snow who is best known for having written the theme to The X-Files television show. Snow’s music for Caroline At Midnight takes its cues from Angelo Badalamenti’s work for director David Lynch, adding a glossy quasi-auteurist layer to the mix. But Caroline At Midnight is not as accomplished as Blue Velvet (1986) or Wild At Heart (1990), it simply attempts to pass itself off as such.

However, in the context of Roger Corman’s career as a producer and master exploiter of cinematic trends Caroline At Midnight is fascinating. Corman had already done his low budget take on the shark movie, the disaster film, Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Alien (1979) and a slew of other hits and sub genres before tackling the erotic thriller. The resulting Caroline At Midnight isn’t surprising really, it’s just intriguing to see how Corman distilled the trend to what he believed were its most bankable elements. In Corman’s hands the erotic thriller takes on a narrative form with greater fidelity to the earliest film noir pictures while embracing the soft core sex scenes that made the genre so infamous and popular.

As is the case with many a direct to video film, Caroline At Midnight has gone on to become a much sought after item in the VHS format. Gradually films like this are beginning to appear in remastered Blu-Ray editions via labels such as Vinegar Syndrome and Kino-Lorber. The persisting collectability of the VHS format and a renewed interest in the too often ignored direct to video features of the late eighties and nineties has only raised the profile and renewed the cultural relevancy of Caroline At Midnight and similarly “forgotten” films.

What’s interesting about this popular re-engagement with a defunct medium (VHS) and those films, like Caroline At Midnight, that only ever found a life on that format is that the audience has formed a relationship of fetishization and commodification that mirrors McGinnis’ and Corman’s own within the intertextual circuit of Caroline At Midnight. The same horniness and nostalgia that motivated the authors of Caroline At Midnight propels audiences towards the film as well as towards remaking or reasserting the aesthetic conditions of the film. It’s a dialectical loop that recurs regularly in the cinema though less regularly outside of the theater to home video marketing cycle.