The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - NIGHT TIDE (1961) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - NIGHT TIDE (1961)

night tide review
A sailor falls in love with a woman who may be a sea creature.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Curtis Harrington

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Luana Anders, Gavin Muir, Tom Dillon

night tide powerhouse indicator

Nicolas Winding Refn tidies up a neglected early work from Dennis Hopper and first feature from Curtis Harrington. It aims for the moody woozy threatening dreamscapes of Carnival of Souls and Eyes Without a Face but flounders with its hoary tale of Seamen (in this case sailor on shore leave Hopper, who is supposedly a naรฏve charmer but comes off as a dead eyed incipient serial killer) being lured to their deaths by sultry sirens, in this instance Mona (Linda Lawson), a boardwalk mermaid who may have taken her role a bit too literally.

night tide review

Plot is not a strong point in this film. Harrington indulges his love of Poe with this tale of haunted love with a soupcon of Cat People. With its mix of sexual allure and deadly transformation, it's more concerned with a haunted dreamlike atmosphere than a narrative as such. Harrington started out as a film critic before working with Kenneth Anger and developing his own short films. Here he mixes poetry with horror, creating a distinctive but uneven film.

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The feeling of dislocation and uncertainty is the film's strongest point; its dream-like imagery is strong and never overblown (apart from an octopus attack, which ruins the atmosphere of subdued eroticism). Hopper's twitchy, relatively restrained performance always feels as though the repression is about to come bubbling to the surface, and when something dark is unleashed it plays to the film's sense of the uncanny. It invests in the trappings of the new wave of horror but remains resolutely outside the horror genre, a gothic tale of romance transported to then contemporary San Diego.

night tide review

This 4K restoration looks absolutely amazing on blu-ray and really heightens the pellucid oceanic leanings of the film. Harrington however has another side, a director with ambitions of grandeur who turned his hands to TV movie horrors and generic small screen fare. The script attempts to make the mysterious explicable, shoehorning in Gavin Muir as Captain Murdock, sideshow owner and father figure/lover to Mora. He's also a part time alcoholic and full time exponent of unnecessary exposition.

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To say more would spoil things, but the film becomes an unholy mess of Lynchian imagery meets Scooby Doo plotting. By making the reasoning behind the mystery so pedestrian, Harrington undermines what makes his film so great. Unable to marry the pedestrian climax with the sense of danger that is embodied by a sinister woman (Marjorie Cameron) who seems to have an unearthly hold on Mora, he essentially drops a whole section of the film for the sake of narrative resolution. It could be interpreted as a wink to the audience, hinting that there may be more to this than what the Captain is saying, but it feels more like lazy scripting.

night tide review

It’s a bold move to give this the full bells and whistles treatment. It's too clumsy and awkward to be a cult classic but distinctive enough to linger in the memory. The kind of film you used to stumble in on late at night, the imagery staying in your mind. Revisiting may show the flaws, but it also hints at a potential that was never truly fulfilled.

A curate’s egg then. A mixture of sublime visual storytelling, student film pretension and a "will this shit do?" attitude of a hack looking for a pay check. As a package its unique atmosphere and psychosexual subtext are the fruit de mers, while the on the nose scripting is very much just merde.

Two discs of briny fun to get your crab claws into:

Disc one contains an audio commentary with Harrington and Hopper, and a new audio commentary from renowned critic Tony Rayns. An archival interview with the director, and also of worth are two episodes of a show called Sinister Image devoted to a career spanning interview with Harrington. Throw in the usual trailer and image gallery, as well as subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and you have a pretty good disc.

Powerhouse have gone the extra mile and compiled a second disc containing eight avant-garde shorts spanning the director's career, with two Edgar Allen Poe shorts that serve as bookends to his career and also fit nicely with the mood of the feature. Rounding out the disc is a selection of rare photos from the director’s personal collection. All come with subtitles.

This limited edition also contains an 80-page booklet featuring writing on Night Tide by Paul Duane, Harrington on Night Tide and the short films, archival articles by Harrington on horror cinema, experimental films and the making of Picnic, an overview of critical responses, Peter Conheim on the restoration of Night Tide, and film credits.

The presentation of the 4k restoration is exemplary and the extras for a relatively minor work with historical significance are peerless. 

A valuable, if flawed film with an unparalleled set of extras.

Night Tide is on blu-ray now from Powerhouse Indicator.