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Violent Midnight

Violent Midnight(1963)

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Those who came by their horror film buffdom in the '60s hold a special reverence for the relatively small but remarkable oeuvre of Del Tenney, who produced and directed some memorable shockers on a shoestring in the wilds of Stamford, Connecticut that turned handsome profits from willing exploitation audiences. Dark Sky Film has resurrected various Tenney offerings for the DVD market, and they've recently done so with his first self-produced outing, Violent Midnight (1963), a crisply-made slasher story, fairly surprising for both the level of production value and, for its time, racy elements.

From the heroics that lead to his discharge from Korea to the hunting accident that killed his father, the life of reclusive heir Elliott Freeman (Lee Phillips) has been marked by violent and shadowy circumstances best left unspoken about. Living in near seclusion on the family estate, he fills his days in pursuit of a budding artistic career. Matters get complicated when his fetching, full-figured life model Delores (Kaye Elhardt) tells him that she's pregnant as a result of their brief affair, and he leaves her apartment after a bitter shouting match. Soon afterward, a shrouded figure breaks into the room and, in a lurid-for-the-day sequence, brutally stabs her.

Elliott is next seen welcoming home his attractive kid sister Lynn (Margot Hartman), who has returned in order to transfer to the local women's college. After the discovery of Delores' corpse, SPD Detective Palmer (Dick Van Patten) is faced with no shortage of suspects. There's her ex Charlie (James Farentino), laundryman by day and biker punk by night, who provoked Elliott into a bar fight the night of her murder. There's Elliott's waspish family counsel Adrian Benedict (Shepperd Strudwick) and his hulking mute chauffeur Max (Mike O'Dowd). There's Arthur Melbourne (Day Tuttle), the botany prof with a penchant for seeking voyeuristic peeks at his charges (who put in their share of screen time running around in various states of undress).

Palmer's quest isn't made any easier by Silvia (Sylvia Miles), the love-starred floozy only too willing to provide Charlie with an alibi. Elliot's pretty neighbor Carol Bishop (Jean Hale) refuses to believe that he could be involved, but when the body count continues to rack up at the campus, he's got a desperate quest to establish his innocence and uncover the real killer.

Tenney had been steeped in regional theater for a number of years before he undertook Violent Midnight, and he was networked with many a capable stage actor looking for a paying gig. That's one of the elements that helps the film belie its modest budget, as it is creditably played by an able cast, with players like Miles, Van Patten, and Farentino who would go on to have careers of note. Period TV lead Philips made a serviceable if somewhat stiff hero, and Broadway veteran Strudwick struck the right notes as the supercilious high-powered lawyer. The female roles in the piece didn't require much more than being eye candy, which Elhardt, Hale and Hartman (since-and-still Mrs. Del Tenney) delivered. Props are also due to the black and white cinematography of Louis McMahon, which lends the proceedings a polish beyond the constraints of the budget.

Dark Sky's mastering job on the print (1.33:1 aspect ratio) is impressive, and the 2.0 mono soundtrack is clean. The prize of the extras package is the feature-length audio commentary by the gentlemanly Tenney, who dialogues about the film's origins with Dark Sky's Shade Rupe. While script and direction credits on the project went to Richard Hilliard, Tenney declared that he himself did the work with the actors, and more and more of the technical end as the shoot progressed.

Tenney hinted in the commentary that a certain amount of the titillation footage--the dorm-room underwear shots, the makeout sequence between Farentino and promiscuous student Lorraine Rogers--made it into the final cut on the distributor's insistence. A gallery of lobby cards and posters, as well as trailers for the subsequent Tenney triumphs The Horror of Party Beach (1964) and Curse of the Living Corpse (1964), round out the supplementary materials.

For more information about Violent Midnight, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Violent Midnight, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg