Curtis Harrington had the thread of magic running through all of his films. One of the leaders of New Queer Cinema, he also directed Queen of Blood, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, What’s the Matter with Helen?, Who Slew Auntie Roo?, the Sylvia Kristel-starring Mata Hari, tons of episodic television shows and the TV movies Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, The Dead Don’t Die, Killer Bees, The Cat Creature and How Awful About Allen.
His links to the occult, include the study of Thelema with his close associates Kenneth Anger (he played Cesare, the somnambulist in the magician/filmmaker/author’s movie Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome), Marjorie Cameron — who is pretty much the nexus point of twentieth-century occult doings and appears in his film Night Tide — and avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren, an initiated voodoo priestess.
Harrington was also the driving force in rediscovering the original James Whale production of The Old Dark House and — as a friend of Whale near the end of his life — advised the making of the movie Gods and Monsters.
His final film was Usher, based on a high school film he made of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the Hosue of Usher. He cast Nikolas and Zeena Schreck — the daughter of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey — who financed the movie by brokering the sale of Harrington’s signed copy of Crowley’s The Book of Thoth. Perhaps even more interesting is the theory that singer Taylor Swift is a clone of Zeena. No, really.
But hey — we’re here today to discuss 1977’s Ruby, a movie that brings Piper Laurie from Carrie into a story about possession and flashbacks.
In 1935, a lowlife mobster named Nicky Rocco is betrayed and executed in the swamps as his pregnant girl Ruby (Laurie) watches. The moment he dies, she goes into labor. Fast-forward sixteen years and she’s living with a mute daughter named Leslie (Janit Baldwin, Gatorbait, Phantom of the Paradise, Born Innocent, Humongous) and running a drive-in with several ex-mobsters like Ruby’s lover Vince (Stuart Whitman!) and Jake (Western actor Fred Kohler Jr.), a wheelchair-ridden man whose eyes were once cut out.
Ruby misses her days as a lounge singer, but the present has some nasty surprises. A poltergeist begins killing people at the theater, including the projectionist and a creepy guy who runs the concession stand (Paul Kent, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Pray for the Wildcats and the founder of the Melrose Theater). Before long, our heroine — such as it is — believes that Nicky’s spirit has returned and believes that she caused his death.
Vince is visited by Dr. Keller (Roger Davis, Dark Shadows, Nashville Girl and the first husband of Jaclyn Smith), who helped him get out of jail early. He’s a clairvoyant who believes that there’s something in the drive-in, which is true, because Nicky starts speaking Ruby’s name over the speakers at the drive-in. Before long, Ruby’s daughter is speaking with the voice of her dead father and showing the wounds he endured before his death.
The producer chose to change the ending, and both Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie refused to be involved in the re-shoot. It was allegedly shot by Stephanie Rothman (the director of The Student Nurses and the writer of Starhops). This ending, where Nicky comes back from the grave and drags Ruby into the swamp, was part of the TV commercials for the film.
Keep an eye out for Len Lesser in this — he was Uncle Leo on Seinfeld — as well as Crystin Sinclaire, who appeared in Eaten Alive and Caged Heat.
You can watch this on Amazon Prime. There’s also a Rifftrax version on Tubi.