The Del Tenney Collection
by Jef Burnham
Released by Dark Sky, available March 25 from MPI Home Video.
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I spent the greater part of five hours this Saturday immersed in the early 1960’s films of independent filmmaker Del Tenney (I Eat Your Skin). Tenney got his start in theatre, working on over 250 plays from summer stock to Broadway, before moving to film, where he worked on more than 15 productions. From Dark Sky Films and distributor MPI Home Video comes this collection containing Tenney’s first three pictures: Violent Midnight (also known as Psychomania), The Curse of the Living Corpse, and the cult classic, The Horror of Party Beach. As I was already familiar with The Horror of Party Beach, thanks to the film’s riffing on Mystery Science Theater 3000, for the purposes of this review, I watched the feature with commentary by Tenney.
Violent Midnight (1962) was the first film produced by Tenney. Featuring a cast primarily composed of stage actors, Violent Midnight is a murder mystery chock full of girls dancing in their underwear, taking showers, fornicating and generally being nude in one fashion or another. Aside from the blatant attempt to sell the film with sex, it is more intelligent than the usual low-budget thrillers of the ’60s (Coppola’s Dementia 13 is a good example). It is written in such a way that to a certain point in the film, you could make a convincing argument that any character is the killer, much the same way as in Twin Peaks. (On a minor note, there was an exchange of dialogue in the film I found to be particularly gross and thought I’d share. A guy grabs a bottle of whiskey away from a girl and takes a swig. “That’s unsanitary,” she says, which, of course, implies the transfer of germs/diseases. He leans right in and replies, “Anything you got, I want, baby!” Ew.)
The Curse of the Living Corpse (1963), Tenney’s next film, on which he is credited as writer, producer and director, is one half of his double-bill with The Horror of Party Beach. In his film debut as Phillip Sinclair, Roy Scheider (Jaws, Marathon Man) stars in this combination period piece and slasher flick. Fearing he might be buried alive, Rufus Sinclair makes strange stipulations in his will, requiring his family to follow a list of bizarre rituals lest he come back from the grave to subject them to their greatest phobias, including fire, strangulation and facial mutilation. You can pretty much guess where it goes from there. Though the film tends to be a little sluggish at points, it is a lot of fun, with a great payoff and an exciting premiere performance from Scheider.
Tenney’s third and most successful film is The Horror of Party Beach (1963), which he produced and directed. As a result of illegal toxic waste disposal, hot dog-mouthed fish fiends from the depths devour any rump-shaking cutey they can get their claws on. The commentary on this intentionally goofy film is really relaxed, featuring Tenney in conversation with Shane from Dark Sky Films about what’s happening on the screen. Tenney shares many great anecdotes about the making of the film and occasionally snaps at Shane, who asks about continuity mistakes and so many things Tenney cannot remember over 40 years after the production wrapped.
All three films feature commentary by Tenney, and a nine-minute interview with Tenney accompanies The Horror of Party Beach. In this interview, Tenney talks about his history in the theatre and how these three films came to be. Though the DVDs presented here (the double feature DVD of The Horror of Party Beach with The Curse of the Living Corpse and the Violent Midnight DVD) are available separately, it’s only about $4 more than the price of one to get both DVDs in this collection.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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