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Old 05-09-2006, 08:14 PM
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Default Violent Midnight




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: May 9, 2006

Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 3/28/2006
MSRP: $14.98
Region 0, NTSC
Full frame 1.33:1



inline ImageBy the early 1960’s, it was becoming much more common to see potentially offensive content and subject matters in widely released American films. While Hollywood made a number of small steps away from the conservative that had marked big studio releases since the early 1930’s, in other parts of the country independent producers were being noticeably more audacious. While mainstream independents produced features like Fail Safe (a nuclear thriller with a premise so controversial at the time that the producers were blocked by the government in their attempts to acquire military stock footage), the ultra low budget independents were going almost berserk with their newly realized freedom. H.G. Lewis and Dave Friedman went hog wild with gore effects after a stint in adult filmmaking, while Texas director Larry Buchanan produced his own slew of exploitation films. A minor but important member of this saga was Del Tenney, a Connecticut based theatre actor who made a temporary transition to filmmaking during the time period. Violent Midnight was the first film he was associated with in a significant way. Originally released under the more exploitable title of Psychomania, the film remains Tenney’s least known production.

The Story

inline ImageMeet Elliot Freeman (Lee Phillips), a reclusive artist living at a remote estate in Connecticut. Elliot is regarded by many of the locals as something of a kook, traumatized by his experiences in the Korean War and by the tragic death of his wealthy father in a hunting accident. His dislike of others causes him to avoid unnecessary human contact, and he largely keeps to himself, meeting only with his lawyer Adrian Benedict (Shepperd Strudwick)) and the various models who pose for his paintings. One such model is Dolores Martello (Kaye Elhardt) whom he slept with when she first started posing for him.

inline ImageIt seems that Dolores has fallen in love with Elliot, much to the dismay of her on and off thug boyfriend Charlie (James Farentino). One night while Elliot is driving her home she suggests that they stop off at a nearby bar and restaurant, knowing full well that Charlie will be there. Sure enough, no sooner have they sat down when Charlie approaches them. He and Elliot come to blows and Charlie pulls a knife on him, which turns out to be a useless gesture because Elliot kicks his ass anyways. In the end, Elliot becomes so violent that he has to be pulled off of Charlie when it becomes obvious that he’s going to kill him. Dolores takes Elliot back to her apartment where she confesses her feelings for him, and he spurns her. After he leaves, somebody sneaks in and stabs her to death with a huge knife.

The murder sends shockwaves through the community, and both Elliot and Charlie become suspects. Elliot’s attention, however, is distracted by the arrival of his little sister Lynn (Margot Hartman), who is coming to town to attend a local college. Soon after she arrives and befriends the girls at the school, another incident happens. The horny young Alice (Lorraine Rogers) has fallen for Elliot, but has also slept with Charlie as well. One night at a local bar she tries to hook up with the artist and follows him out to his car as he goes to get a pack of cigarettes. He rejects her, and as he wanders back towards the bar he is jumped from behind by Charlie, who knocks him out cold. Charlie and Alice go for a moonlight swim, but when he gets too aggressive she bites him on the hand and he knocks her out cold and leaves her unconscious. After he leaves the same assailant who murdered Dolores shows up and slashes her to death as well. But who is this psychotic madman, and what is his connection to poor Elliot?

inline ImageViolent Midnight is a production from 1962 that was ostensibly directed by Richard Hilliard and produced by Tenney, who would soon after reverse roles for the much more famous Horror of Party Beach and Curse of the Living Corpse. Even more so than that latter feature, Violent Midnight is very much a precursor to the Italian giallo wave. The black gloved killer could easily have stepped out of any number of later continental films, and the efforts to keep the audience guessing as to the murderer’s identity are surprisingly good, with the whole film ending with a twist that, while not surprising today, probably packed a decent whallop for some viewers back in the 60’s. Though it lacks a lot of overt violence, its sexual content (including some surprising nudity) and frank, unambiguous dialogue concerning that sexual aspect give it a much more modern ring. It also has a very different feeling to it, a feeling similar to the numerous “true crime” films that would come out in the years to follow (the plot was inspired by an incident that took place while Tenney’s wife was in college).

inline ImageTenney’s connection to the film is always so thoroughly mentioned by commentators that it’s easy to forget that he isn’t actually credited as the director. Nonetheless, it appears that his contribution to the production was as much artistic as it was business. In the commentary track that is included with this release, Tenney details how Richard Hilliard proved to be most unsuitable as a director and ended up having to be babysitted through the shooting. Though perhaps Tenney exaggerates a bit, the finished film does still display much of the same shooting acumen that prevented his other films as a director from becoming dull. But the similarities end there. The three other genre films directed by him during the 1960’s (Curse of the Living Corpse, Horror of Party Beach and I Eat Your Skin) tended to be exploitive and tacky for the sake of cinematic excess, and in the case of the first of those three, also very theatrical. Violent Midnight is different. It’s certainly exploitive, but rarely tacky or overdone. It’s more realistically handled and executed, with stark black and white photography and good choices of shooting locations, including scenes shot at what had to have been section-eight housing. If Tenney really did direct much of the film, then a comparison of it to his later work might suggest he spent the rest of his time after Curse of the Living Corpse working in the wrong subgenre.

inline ImageUnfortunately, and in spite of having a lot of decent performers in the cast, the plot is too convoluted and unfocused to really give the film as much power as it could have. One of the big problems rests with the character of Elliot himself, a character whom we never get to truly know, and whom gets a surprisingly meager amount of space in the plot for a protagonist (in contrast, James Farentino gets a far larger role than necessary, outstripping by several times the importance of the Charlie character to the plot). The viewer never really gets enough of a view into who he is, or his relationship with his sister, or with anybody else. Due to the disjointedness of the plot, it sometimes even feels like events are happening in a completely separate world from Elliot.

Violent Midnight is certainly worth watching once. I won’t exactly call Tenney a visionary, but for a production shot in 1962 the film can certainly be considered a little bit ahead of its time. Though it breaks no new cinematic ground per se (Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had already done that two years earlier) it is a good example of an area of filmmaking that most in Hollywood were eager to stay away from during the time period.

Image Quality

inline Image Violent Midnight is given a full screen 1.33:1 presentation. The excessive amount of headroom visible at times hints that a matte framing might have been more appropriate, but considering the mixed results that occurred when this was done to Dark Sky’s Horror of Party Beach/Curse of the Living Corpse double feature, it was probably better that they left well enough alone. The framing looks pretty good as is, despite having lots of dead space at the top and bottom.

In whatever case though, the film looks great, let there be no doubt about that. The black and white image features deep blacks, clean whites and a suitable grayscale in between. The picture is sharp and crisp, and marred by only few instances of specks or blemishes, and one or two vertical lines. In fact, the only real qualm I have with this release is the presence of some unusually noticeable digital artifacts which pop up on a number of occasions.

Sound

The only audio option is the film’s original Mono mix presented in Dolby 2.0. The sound quality is mediocre overall, and not helped by the sub par original sound recording (mixed with some unconvincing post dubbing). There’s a tinny sound to much of the dialogue that was not post-dubbed, as well as some audible hissing and popping in the background.

Optional English subtitles are included.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThe only major extra on this release is a commentary track with Del Tenney, and moderated by Dark Sky’s Shade Rupe. Unfortunately, like the commentary tracks on the Horror of Party Beach/Curse of the Living Corpse double feature, this one is a bit of a disappointment. It starts off well enough, with Tenney being prodded by some decent questions, and giving decent answers, despite having an obviously fuzzy memory. However, around midway through Tenney begins to peter out. He starts to become quieter and mumbles a lot. He does cover some of the interesting points of the production, particularly how he had to shoot footage after the fact to appease the distributor, which wanted more exploitation material in the film. The commentary is a decent enough listen, but not really good enough to watch more than once.

This release is rounded off by a very short still gallery and trailers of for the two films in the aforementioned double feature.

Final Thoughts

Violent Midnight will have a definite appeal to lovers of mysteries and slasher thrillers, as well as those who are interested in the various films that preceded the giallo boom. It is an imperfect and but sincere thriller. It’s also been a given a good (if flawed) presentation here on DVD. All we need now is a good quality release of I Eat Your Skin (which is already available from el-cheapo companies like Alpha) and our Del Tenney DVD collections can be complete.

Rating

Movie – B-
Image Quality – B+
Sound – C
Supplements – B-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 33 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • English subtitles

Supplements
  • Commentary track with Del Tenney
  • Still gallery
  • Trailers

Other Pictures

 

 

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