Starring Lee Philips, Sheppard Strudwick, Jean Hale, Lorraine Rogers
Directed by Richard Hilliard
Released by Dark Sky Films
Dark Sky continues their celebration of all things from the mind of Del Tenney this month with this DVD release of his first movie, Violent Midnight, aka Psychomania. Having never seen this flick before I can honestly say it holds up pretty well by today’s standards, though a quickening of the pace sure wouldn’t have hurt.
Our story opens on a hunting trip; an older man and people we later learn are his children are out stalking that most elusive of prey; quail. Someone decides now would be the best time to dispatch the old man, the old “hunting accident” excuse, and he takes a shotgun to the face. Of course, this was made in 1962 so the damage isn’t near what it should be, but it’s still nice they were able to throw some blood on the screen almost right off the bat.
Cut to a few years later, and immediately we’re shown the wonderfully curvaceous form of Dolores Martello (Kaye Elhardt), who is modeling for young artist Elliot Freeman (Philips) in the nude. 10 minutes in and we’ve already got blood and boobs; I’m sure the 60’s crowd for this film was enraptured right away.
Freeman’s got some emotional issues, as do most artists, which lead to his refusal to go any further with his relationship with Dolores outside of he artist/model situation they’re already in. Again. Seems they had a bit of an affair six months previous, and after he gets in a bar fight she lays it out for Freeman; she’s pregnant, will tell everyone the child is his, so he better just get used to it. He leaves before he can loose his temper, which we’re told various times is quite bad and that he was known as a killing machine during the Korean War, but she still ends up dead at the hands of a mysterious black-gloved killer.
The police investigation opens and numerous suspects start showing up like the creepy teacher at the nearby all-girls school where Freeman’s sister is a student, the rebellious, motorcycle jacket-clad bad boy with a bad temper, and of course Freeman himself. We, the viewer, aren’t let on to the identity of the killer, until the end, but when it was revealed I have to admit I was a bit surprised. Good direction and solid characters helped keep the action moving along nicely, save for two incredibly slow scenes that seem like they were thrown in last minute to titillate the audience of the time… One of them involves the aforementioned bad boy bedding the school slut, a process which goes on for way too long without any bare-breasted payoff, and another with the same two characters frolicking in a pond at (day for) night, but at least that one ends in a murder.
Fans of 70’s television will likely recognize Dick Van Patten, a character actor known more for his comedy than his serious turns, in the role of a tough-talking police detective, which is disconcerting at first. He does well with the role, but like most of the characters in here it’s not exactly a deep piece to wrap acting chops around. Tenney points out many times during the commentary that they were very focused on just making a movie that would appeal to the main stream, so this kind of lack of character development is almost expected. Still, the leads do a good job with what they’re given, with Philips doing an especially good turn as the tortured artist who believes his misdeeds in the Korean War may have unlocked a violent side to him that’s not easily locked back up.
Dark Sky does another commendable job with the clean up here; the film looks fantastic considering its age and the quality of the print I’m sure they had to work with. You can tell the Dark Sky crew takes their work very seriously, and even though there’re only a minimal set of features here, giallo fans will find a lot to like about Violent Midnight, as will fans of 60’s cinema in general. Lots of girls with lots of curves take up a lot of screen time, and that’s never a bad thing.
The only features to speak of on this disc are a commentary by producer Del Tenney, who admits he really did most of the directing on this feature but had already chosen to give credit to Hilliard, moderated a bit by one of the DVD’s producers. It’s sporadic and not terribly interesting, as you can tell Tenney was only making this movie as a job more than because of any real passion for cinema, but still worth a listen if you’re interested in the film’s history. Other than that there’s a quick photo gallery, the film’s trailer, and a trailer for Horror of Party Beach and Curse of the Living Corpse, which are on the previously mentioned double feature DVD Dark Sky has out this week.
I’m sure those that appreciate Tenney’s works are already sold on this release; the rest of you… well, if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re curious, so you might as go one step further and check it out. Don’t expect anything above a minor potboiler mystery with some good direction and you’ll be pleased.
Commentary by producer/writer Del Tenney
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