We move from gory 80s cheese to a moody and quiet murder mystery involving the supernatural. Night Tide was actor Dennis Hopper’s first leading role, and director Curtis Harrington‘s most respected work. Sadly, both have passed on which enhances the somber nature of the tale. The movie wears its B-movie, no-budget cap proudly, which prevents the movie from aging well, but it’s an ethereal mystery that remains with the viewer longer than anticipated.
Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) is a Navy man who has trouble connecting to others. When he meets the quiet Mora (Linda Lawson), the two develop a relationship. However, rumors of Mora’s last two boyfriends, who died under mysterious circumstances, obstructs the relationship from moving forward. As Johnny and Mora become closer, will he end up suffering the same tragic fate?
Night Tide has a similar set-up as Cat People, wherein a woman believes she’s the descendant of an archaic race which threatens her relationship. The movie moves from there into a murder mystery with people questioning Mora’s last doomed relationships, and whether Johnny’s in danger. Director Curtis Harrington films in the style of early 1960s auteurs (before he made Hollywood movies he was influenced by Kenneth Anger), and the style of this is reminiscent to Carnival of Souls and Little Shop of Horrors with stark sets and expert interplay of light and shadow. Johnny is a loner; a man surrounded by couples in a smoky bar, but unable to find his own better half. Dennis Hopper shows a bit of the star power which would carry him into the 1970s, but it’s hard to embrace it within the film. He plays the role mechanically and stiff which heightens his distance, but also makes you wonder if he needs to go back to acting school. He’s certainly more comfortable than Linda Lawson who’s accented performance takes some getting used to.
The movie is a brisk hour and 25-minutes, and it suffers from a lot of 1960s touches such as a meandering plot with impromptu dance sequences and rambling scenes which take a while to pay off. The best comparison is the aforementioned Carnival of Souls, where the character has to learn about themselves before the plot’s events make sense. Johnny and Mora’s relationship blossoms slowly which makes it believable for the audience. There’s no big rush of love coming out of nowhere; these two learn about each other and care for each other deeply. Once the introduction to the mermaid and murder plot comes around, the action and intensity increases, even if the movie remains rather quiet and reliant on mood. There’s no large “gotcha” moment here, other than a scene where Johnny and Mora go scuba diving and the man assumes he’ll be murdered. The reveal of the actual murderer at the end is laughable in its ridiculousness; apparently, a character is just inspired to confess.
Kino has lovingly restored Harrington’s work and there’s no audible hisses in the audio nor is there any noticeable crackling in the picture. The movie includes audio commentary with Harrington and Hopper. Obviously, this is the standout of the picture since neither man is here anymore. It’s almost bittersweet to hear them go down memory lane of making this movie; Hopper only a kid at the time (late 20’s). Both men go on to ask where various actors are, and it’s certainly fun to hear two men reminisce about a simpler time. There’s also two 20-minute interviews Harrington did for the public access series, Sinister Image. He covers his entire career between the two interviews and it’s worth it to get an overview of his time in Hollywood. Rounding out the features are trailers for The Stranger (which I reviewed), White Zombie (also reviewed although not the Kino release), and this film.
At its core, Night Tide is a romance between two lonely people in the world. Mora has been sheltered and abandoned, and the magical elements of her lineage provide fascination, a way of life, and ultimately, a curse on her very existence. She’s very much in the vein of Irena from Cat People; a woman who wants to experience love, but hobbled by a set of circumstances she never asked for. Even once the plot is unraveled, you realize Mora will never be the same; Johnny is similarly hindered in his isolation. Take away the murder and the mermaids and you have a touching story of two people who find solace in each other, if only for a moment. Night Tide may experience malaise in its plot, but the characterization and performance from Hopper is enough to have you disregard that.
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