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RUBY

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.

The Package 
     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.

The Story 
     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! 

The Direction 
     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. 


Vital Statistics 

RUBY
Dimension Pictures

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
 


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