One of the last notable
films made by the late Curtis Harrington, RUBY is an eccentric EXORCIST wannabe
starring Piper Laurie. A huge success in its day, the movie, despite some
memorable elements, hasn’t dated well at all.
RUBY (1977) is not one Curtis Harrington’s better films, but it was his
biggest moneymaker. In fact, it was the most successful American indie ever
until the following year’s HALLOWEEN. The presence of veteran actress Piper
Laurie, on the comeback trail after playing the demented mother of CARRIE, was a
definite factor in its success.
Curtis Harrington, who passed away in May of 2007, was among the most
interesting and individual of horror movie directors during the sixties and
seventies. His early days were spent making experimental shorts and the surreal
NIGHT TIDE in 1961.
In later years he became known for directing veteran actresses in stately genre
fare, such as Simone Signoret in GAMES (1967), Shelley Winters in WHOEVER SLEW
AUNTIE ROO? (1971), Debbie Reynolds and Agnes Moorehead in
WHAT’S THE MATTER
WITH HELEN? (1971), and of course Piper Laurie in the present film. Despite its
success, Harrington spent the remainder of his career in the television arena,
directing the forgettable TV movie DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL and assorted
episodes of programs like DARKROOM, CHARLIE’S ANGELS and DYNASTY. Too bad.
Ruby is a half-mad middle aged woman living in an old mansion overlooking a
drive-in she owns. Years earlier Ruby was severely traumatized by the murder of
her boyfriend Nicky by gangsters.
Now, in the “present” year 1951, strange things are
happening: Ruby’s mute 16-year-old daughter Leslie, fathered by Nicky, has been
acting strange, and there are several suspicious killings at the drive-in.
These include a projectionist strangled by celluloid and an employee impaled by
a microphone stand. There’s also the fact that Ruby has been having visions of
the undead Nicky.
Things come to a head when Leslie begins speaking in
Nicky’s voice; she’s possessed by Nicky’s unquiet spirit, looking to avenge his
murder. This it does in a wild supernatural conflagration that concludes with
Ruby reunited with her long-lost lover...in decidedly unorthodox fashion!
Curtis Harrington’s films were characterized by darkly atmospheric settings
and dreamlike horror. Those things are in scant evidence on RUBY, which tends
to rely on cheap shocks to achieve its effects--blood emitting from a vending
machine, a seeping bullet wound appearing in Ruby’s daughter’s forehead--along
with a seriously tacky PSYCHO-inspired score. Plus it cribs shamelessly from
THE EXORCIST in its later scenes, as Ruby’s child becomes possessed and exhibits
a full spectrum of Linda Blair-isms.
The film is, however, somewhat trashily enjoyable. Gorehounds will get a
kick out of all the exploitive bloodletting, and Piper Laurie gives a memorably
histrionic performance as the title character. As for the loony ending, it
would be better if it weren’t so abrupt; apparently Harrington’s original cut
had a more elaborate fade-out that was jettisoned by producers. For that
matter, the entire film was heavily recut for its network television and VHS
showings, but with the 2002 VCI DVD release we can at last experience the
closest approximation to a director’s cut that exists. Lucky us.
Director: Curtis Harrington
Producer: George Edwards
Screenplay: George Edwards, Barry Schneider
Cinematography: William Mendenhall
Editing: Bill Magee
Cast: Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis, Janit Baldwin, Sal Vecchio,
Paul Kent, Len Lesser, Crystin Sinclaire, Jack Perkins, Edward Donno, Fred
Kohler, Rory Stevens