Director: Richard L. Hilliard
Dark Sky Films/MPI

Originally shot as BLACK AUTUMN, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (aka PSYCHOMANIA) was the first film produced by Del Tenney, who would go on to greater B-movie fame with THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE. Although this effort is not as much fun as those two camp classics, it’s still a nifty little thriller with a significant amount of style in a noirish kind of way, and it's similar to the numerous Italian “giallo” thrillers that would follow.

Korean War vet Elliot Freeman (Lee Philips) is now a painter whose specialty is nude female models. Freeman has a disturbed history, as his father was shot during a hunting outing, and he still thinks he may be responsible for his death. Out one night with his latest model Dolores (Kaye Elhardt), he is confronted by her jealous ex-boyfriend Charlie Perrone (James Farentino) a rough biker boy. When Dolores is stabbed to death that very night, Freeman becomes the prime suspect, and with a college filled with young beauties nearby, more slashings occur as Freeman tries to prove his innocence.

If anything, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT was influenced by the enormous success of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, with the various shadowy camera set-ups and blood-soaked murder methods which the film employs. Made in Stamford, Connecticut, the film makes great use of the picturesque landscapes (presumably shot in the fall), mounting an interesting low budget shocker filmed entirely outside the Hollywood system, as some of the best of this type were. With its killer garbed in dark trenchcoat, black gloves and muddy boots, there are some pretty graphic (at least for the early 1960s) murders, and even though the killings are too far and few between, the engrossing enough plot, with its mostly depraved characters and sexual connotations, sort of makes up for it.

Lee Philips seems a decent choice for the lead, and although he continued to act in supporting parts, he became better known as a television director, working on various shows until his death in the late 1990s. The supporting cast is actually more interesting since they were mainly from the New York area, and at least three of them went on to major careers. As local greaser Charlie Perrone, James Farentino approaches the role in an early Brando-like way, making his character extremely despicable. Farentino is probably best known to horror fans as the sheriff in Gary Sherman’s DEAD AND BURIED. In a scene-stealing role, future Oscar nominee Sylvia Miles (MIDNIGHT COWBOY) plays the barfly girlfriend desperate for his intentions. Years before fame on TV’s “Eight is Enough,” Dick Van Patten plays the well-dressed detective on the trail of a murderer, and he’s hardly noticeable from the more comic mainstream roles he’s known for. Other cast members such as Shepperd Strudwick, Jean Hale and Kaye Elhardt were busy TV actors during the 1960s and 1970s, and Margot Hartman (as Freeman’s half-sister) is the wife of producer Tenney and would go on to star in his THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE.

Shown on TV throughout the years as PSYCHOMANIA, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT was mostly viewed in heavily edited versions, and it later drifted about on grey market videos. Dark Sky Films not only officially premieres the title on home video, but also presents it in its full strength “adults only” version, with shots of nude (and semi-nude) women and graphic bloodshed on display. The full frame image (most likely not the original aspect ratio, yet compositions look fine) is extremely clean and clear. The black and white image has great detail and excellent contrast, and very little in the way of print blemishes. The two channel mono soundtrack sounds fine too, aside from some very minor surface noise. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Extras include a commentary with Del Tenney, moderated by Shade Rupe. The commentary nicely covers a lot of ground about VIOLENT MIDNIGHT, and Tenney reveals that he directed most of the film, giving the credit to Hilliard, and that he and his wife actually concocted the story, which had some basis in reality. Lots of good questions are asked, as Tenney addresses the cast, locations, some spicy scenes that were shot later and added by the request of the distributor, and other aspects of the film. Tenney is still very active in theater and film today and still very happily married to Margot. Other extras include a still gallery (which showcases various lobby cards and stills under both VIOLENT MIDNIGHT and PSYCHOMANIA) and the original trailers for Tenney’s THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORSPE. (George R. Reis)