Splash: The Early Years

on November 11, 2008 by Steve Simels
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Attentive readers will recall my raving about the Dennis Hopper retrospective I was lucky enough to catch the other week at the Cinemateque Francaise, but it's dawned on me that I didn't mention one of the coolest things about it -- a wonderful mini-exhibit devoted to one of the lesser known films in the Hopper ouevre. I refer, of course, to Night Tide, a 1963 oddity -- part experimental film, part drive-in horror movie -- directed by Curtis Harrington, and pardon me for having used two pretentious French phrases in the preceding sentence.

In any case, Night Tide (shot in 1960, on authentic locations around the Venice and Santa Monica Beaches) stars a shockingly low-key Hopper as Johnny, a naive young sailor on shore leave. Roaming the California coastal boardwalks, he meets and immediately falls in love with Mora (Linda Lawson), who poses as a mermaid in a local sideshow; their romance takes a sinister turn when Johnny begins to suspect that Mora may in fact be a cursed sea creature who murders a hapless man during every lunar cycle. Harrington, who straddled the worlds of avant-garde cinema (he was a close friend and collaborator of Kenneth Anger) and commercial Hollywood (he directed the excellent Hitchcockian shocker Games with James Caan and Simone Signoret and in the 80s did lots of episodic TV, including Dynasty), invests the whole thing with a nicely dream-like aura, and gets terrific performances from his cast across the board, in particular the criminally undervalued beatnik babe Luana Anders. The film may disappoint gore hounds, but it's one of the most haunting and accomplished indie horrors of its day; think Val Lewton's Cat People if it had been directed by John Cassavetes.

Here's the misleading, if amusingly exploitive, trailer; that's Anders as the girl warning about Mora's dead boyfriends.

The film is public domain, so there have been a lot of crappy home video versions over the years; thankfully, the DVD from Image Entertainment, which derives from a beautifully restored print originally done for laserdisc by the Roan Group, looks terrific and comes with a nice commentary track by Hopper and Harrington. You can (and most definitely should) order it here. In the meantime, the Hopper exhibit runs in Paris through early January, after which it's apparently coming to the states; if it shows up anywhere near you, I suggest you pounce.

 

Tags: Night Tide, Kenneth Anger, James Caan, Simone Signoret, Val Lewton, Cat People
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