As I've said many times before, HALLOWEEN (1978) and the slashers that followed didn't appear out of the blue. The subgenre has had a long history of cross pollination, and VIOLENT MIDNIGHT is a good example of the marriage between exploitation and horror thrillers that would bear gooey fruit twenty years later.
For a murder mystery thriller you couldn't ask for a more shady bunch of characters. VIOLENT MIDNIGHT revolves around reluctant rich playboy, Elliot Freeman (Lee Philips), who wiles away his time painting a sultry nude model Dolores (Kaye Elhardt) (and she does indeed show her bazooms to the camera!). However, the audience quickly realises he might not be all there upstairs, as he's using a butcher's knife as a palette knife! He's also a Korean war vet who apparently went postal and became a one man killing machine, plus he's dealing with the guilt of blasting his father in the face with a shotgun during a hunting trip (or did he?). Dolores – whilst on a run for cheese and beer – thinks someone is watching her shapely figure (and indeed a black gloved hand can be seen pulling down a branch in that staple-to-be of the slasher flick). She's subsequently surprised, but unharmed, by Elliot's shifty lawyer, Adrian Benedict (Shepperd Strudwick), and his even shiftier mute chauffeur Max (Mike O'Dowd).
Pouring oil onto troubled waters, Dolores tries to play Elliot off her previous greaser boyfriend, Charlie (an early turn for star-to-be James Farrentino). This causes the two men to have a flick-knife fight in a coffee bar (how 60s!), but they are separated before they can kill each other – and Charlie is pulled away by blonde strumpet, Sylvia (Sylvia Miles, who went on to play a fortune teller in Tobe Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE (1981). In one last ditch attempt to snag Elliot, Delores tells him that she is pregnant. Elliot leaves, but Delores is later stabbed to death by someone is army boots, wearing black gloves and a fedora.
The next day, Elliot's psychology student sister, Lynne, turns up on route to the local girl's boarding school, which is packed to the rafters with potential victims (including a whole roomful of young ladies either taking a shower or getting ready to, and literally twisting the night away). Add to this a peeping tom headmaster who just can't keep his eyes off all that nubile flesh. Before you can say exploitation overload another corpse joins Delores in the morgue as the knife wielding killer continues to whittle the cast down to size ...
It'd be fair to call VIOLENT MIDNIGHT a proto-slasher, but like many other films that pre-date the subgenre boom of the late 70s and early 80s it doesn't quite conform to what we now know and expect. The inspiration was, of course, what many people see as the great Grand-daddy of the slasher movie, Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960). Perhaps to a lesser degree than what happened after the success of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, Hitchock's seminal thriller inspired a whole slew of imitators. Whilst VIOLENT MIDNIGHT isn't quite as over-the-top as the producer Del Tenney's later HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964) (which is the archetypal 60s trashy beach monster mash), it does share an entertainingly cheesy streak that you'd be sure was intentional and knowing was it not for the film's ample vintage. PSYCHO had freed up the thriller film from long episodes of exposition punctuated (if at all) by none-too-thrilling scenes, in favour of visceral shocks and faster pace. VIOLENT MIDNIGHT amplifies this, although, obviously, to not such devastating effect.
VIOLENT MIDNIGHT is at its most proto-slasherific in the opening and closing thirds of the film. The murder of Dolores is, if you'll excuse the pun, particularly well executed. The shots of the killer's army boots stalking the prey are eerily similar to those used in Joseph Zito's later THE PROWLER (1981). Plus the black gloves, fedora and rain mack all later became staples of the giallo. The murder itself is strikingly shot in silhouette to hide the killer's identity. However, after this the film settles into well a worn exploitation rut. Given that the killer has a whole school full of scantily clad young ladies to take a pick from it's somewhat surprising (given the power of hindsight and what we would expect from later 'dorm slashers') that this isn't the focus of the film. Still, there is a killer scene later on right out of a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, where another murder takes place as a horny drunk couple go skinny dipping at midnight in a lake.
Ultimately, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT is as much looking back as it is looking forward, with that hoary old cliché of a grand denouement, and big reveal, during a thunderstorm. Although, I must admit I didn't guess the identity of the killer (although I feel rather ashamed that I didn't!).
Worth a look for those interested in how the subgenre morphed into the stalk-and-slashers of the early 80s.
female:2 / male:1
1) Male shot in the face with shotgun
2) Female stabbed to death with knife
3) Female stabbed to death with knife