With After Midnight, The Wheats have opted for the old standby of the horror anthology. This has a history on the screen going back to at least the silent era and has produced a number of classic films such as Dead of Night (1945) and a string of anthology films from the British company Amicus during the 1960s/70s beginning with Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1964). The anthology has seen a big comeback during the 2010s, particularly films offering up segments from different genre directors with the likes of Chillerama (2011), The Theatre Bizarre (2011), and both The ABCs of Death (2012) and V/H/S (2012) and sequels.
The first episode, Allisons Story, is actually the wraparound. This comes with a striking scene during the early sections where professor Ramy Zada stands up in front of his class and to demonstrate the nature of fear abruptly pulls a gun on a cocky student (Ed Monaghan) who challenges him and then turns and puts the gun to his own head and blows his brains out, before this is revealed to be staged. It is such a sensational and attention-grabbing scene that nothing else in the film matches it. In any real world setting of course, the professor would be hauled up before an academic disciplinary board, not to mention the police, and his tenure cancelled before he could even reload the next chamber but it sure sets a great scene. It is certainly never matched by the closing sections of the wraparound, which feel rather perfunctory in the revenge story being told. The film goes out with an All a Dream and About to Repeat Again epilogue that the Wheats have clearly borrowed from Dead of Night.
The first episode (or second depending on whether you regard the previous one as a wraparound or a full story) is The Old Dark House. This is fairly average. The Wheats direct some passable jumps and spookings familiar to the haunted house genre, nothing terribly standout. The episode however arrives at an effective twist revelation about what is happening that is followed by a particularly dark and sardonic sting that justifies much of the rest of the piece.
A Night on the Town overcomes a slow start and a quartet of girls whose airheadedness makes you want to collectively slap them to become a reasonable affair. By the latter scenes with the girls attempting to make a getaway and the homeless man (Luis Contreras) holding on top of the car relentlessly stabbing through and tearing off the canvas of the roof, followed by the horde of dogs pursuing the girls through the streets, it becomes quite an intensive piece indeed.
The same can also be said of All Night Operator featuring a then-unknown Marg Helgenberger. The Wheats generate a good deal of suspense in the scenes with her on crutches trying to avoid the killer and of the taunting games he plays on the phone and then from inside the building. This is a piece that could easily have been drawn out to run as a full-length film. It is a shame that the Wheat brothers have not had any other chances to direct so far as the skill they show here holds considerable promise.