He Watched It Sober.

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a/k/a Blood Ruby

Part Three of Bad Blood Month

     "It was all for you, Nicky. It was always all for you."

-- Ruby     




Gonzoid Cinema




Well, I guess the eyes have it.

G'night, folks. I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress and drive home safe...


Watch it!



Sights &
  Alan Smithee
  (Curtis Harrington)
  Steve Krantz
  George Edwards
  Barry Schneider
  Steve Krantz
  George Edwards

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The Films of
Curtis Harrington.

Queen of Blood

How Awful About Allan

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo

What's the Matter with Helen

The Killing Kind

Killer Bees



We open in the swamps somewhere in Dade County, Florida, in the year of our Lord 1935, where a couple of young gangsters in love -- Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio) and his mol, Ruby Claire (Piper Laurie) -- prepare for a romantic evening by sailing a boat into the foggy marsh. (I mean, nothing says romance like a stinky old bog, right?) Alas, their evening's romantic rendezvous is cut short when the rest of the Dade County Mob show up and blow Nicky away in a hail of gunfire. You see, after Jake Miller, their old boss, was sentenced to a year in stir on a tax beef Nicky seized control of the gang in his absence, and also stole his girl, Ruby. An aspiring singer, Ruby was Jake's honey-pot when they horned in and took over several rival territories. Now, Jake's served his time and wants it all back; permanently. And after Nicky's bullet riddled corpse sinks into the bog, Ruby, critically pregnant, collapses, giving birth to her and Nicky's daughter that very night.

That was sixteen years ago, according to the prologue, so now we jump ahead to 1951 and find the Dade County Mob is now a relic of the past, all but dead and gone. Jake (Fred Kohler Jr.) is an aged invalid, wheel-chair bound, and not in control of his faculties (-- and yes, we're supposed to notice those over-sized sunglasses), who shares his decrepit mansion/ballroom/casino with the now batty grand dame Ruby and his equally subdued step-daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin). Yes, the old mob may be dead but the gang is still together, and they all work at Ruby's Drive-In Theater that sits adjacent to the mansion. With Jake's condition, Ruby leaves most of the daily operations in the hands of Vince Kemper (Stuart Whitman). It's quite obvious that Vince has a thing for Ruby, but she only carries a torch for her dear, departed Nicky. And while Ruby keeps tabs on things from the house with her trusty telescope, the evening crowd starts to filter in ... Meanwhile, in the projection booth, Jess (Eddy Donno) fires up the first reel of Attack of the 50ft Woman (-- which is some feat because, technically, that movie wouldn't actual be shot for another seven years in 1958). Then, as the projector projects, Jess finds his bottle and takes a long swig. Suddenly, he hears something. A rush of wind perhaps? Heck, we might even think this is just a bad case of the DT's until the projection booth comes to life, batters him around, and then the film starts to strangles him!

Outside, since the next reel is busy strangling the projectionist, the screen goes white when the first reel runs out. And as the perturbed crowd starts honking their horns and flashing their lights (-- including what appears to be Joe Bob Briggs and Harry Knowles together in the same truck), Ruby hears the racket and drives over to investigate. When they find Jess's body, hanging from the ceiling, Ruby thinks the old drunk committed suicide; and not wanting the hassle of a police investigation, she orders Vince to just get rid of the body -- after he gets the movie going again. (Priorities, people!) Elsewhere on the grounds, things turn even more sinister when Louie (Paul Kent), another ex-gang member, gets rejected by Lila Jane, (Crystin Sinclaire); a frequent drive-in frequenter -- usually with a different gentlemen each night, a/k/a the town slut, a/k/a the running gag. Anyways, after he's kneed in the groin and left to whimper (-- no means NO, buddy), he's seized by some kind of malevolent force that uses him like a ping-pong ball, smashing him off several trees, and after a few more volleys, Louie is kind of a mess. But no one finds him until the next morning, when the doe-eyed Leslie, out picking flowers with Vince, finds the bloodied and battered corpse dangling in the Spanish moss. Vince quickly sends the girl back to the house. Suspicious of the earlier suicide, and now convinced that someone is out to get them, when he confronts Ruby with the latest grisly discovery she doesn't seem all that surprised. In fact: she sensed this was coming, and it was only a matter of time. For, Ruby believes Nicky's spirit has come back from the dead to seek revenge on those who murdered him. And he won't stop until they're all dead...

Quick! I'll bet you can't guess what the most financially successful independent feature was before Halloween? Well, since we're reviewing that particular film, maybe you can. Ruby's reign was short-lived, however, and its been wallowing in obscurity ever since. I don't know if its falling off the radar had anything to do with its troubled, bitter, and somewhat cantankerous production but it's a pretty good bet.

Wanting to cash in on the recent financial success of the bloody supernatural films like The Exorcist and Carrie, executive producer Steve Krantz entered into a collaboration with writer/producer George Edwards and director Curtis Harrington. Edwards and Harrington had put together a string of Psycho-Biddy pictures derived from the antics of those nutty old ladies in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane with titles like What's the Matter With Helen and Who Slew Auntie Roo, and a downright disturbing piece on the mother/son-the-serial-killer relationship in The Killing Kind. Since his first film, Night Tide, Harrington's pictures have had a tendency to almost choke on their own gothic-ness. High on mood and style, his pictures tended to get bogged down in extremely dull stretches while he showcased his talent (RE: his leading ladies). Here again, Harrington wanted the film to focus on the doomed romance between Ruby and Nicky: an old fashioned Greek tragedy with all the trappings of a southern-gothic potboiler. Krantz, on the other hand, wanted to focus on the possession, the murder, and the mayhem; not the diva and the dead guy.

When the production began, the battle lines were clearly drawn between Harrington, Edwards and the cast versus Krantz, cameraman William Mendenhall, and assistant director Stephanie Rothman. And it all kind of makes you wonder if the story behind the movie is more interesting than what's playing on the screen, doesn't it? Well, all I'll say is this story's climax is directly linked to the climax of Ruby -- so I'll keep you in suspense for a little while longer as we rejoin our film with Vince bringing in an old friend, Dr. Paul Keller (Roger Davis -- a familiar face to all you Dark Shadows fans out there), the local spirit medium, to help them. And while Keller gets the psychic feel of the joint, and Ruby fills him in on the sordid history of the old Dade County Mob, Nicky's spirit continues to manifest itself rather anti-socially. Ruby, herself, has constant visions of him. But when she tries to explain that she wasn't in on the hit -- and it was all on Jake -- the ghostly apparition fades away before we can tell if he got the message or not.

Later that night, during the feature, something goes wrong with the soda machine. A young boy keeps pressing the button for a Grape-Nehi, but nothing comes out. Then, the machine cracks open a bit, revealing Barney (Len Lesser -- last seen molesting orphans in our last feature), another gang member that Nicky can cross off his list, skewered on the tubes inside. (This is long before aluminum cans, folks. This is a fountain-drink type machine.) Of course, the shell-shocked boy's mother doesn't believe him, vowing to never bring him to any more horror movies. But we're not quite done with this joke yet:


Fat person unwittingly drinking blood joke coming in 3...2...1...Bingo!

(See, it's funny because she's fat.)



Nicky's next appearance gives Dr. Keller his first clue as to why the spirit is manifesting itself now. Seems Ruby was on the verge of sending Leslie to a sanitarium, despite Vince's protests, because she could no longer handle her special needs. Leslie, who appears to have some psychic gifts of her own (-- according to Keller, anyway), didn't want to go and her displeasure over this development served as a conduit for Nicky, whose spirit now possesses her. So, while Keller does his best Father Merrin, Leslie goes all Regan on us (-- just not quite as graphically except for a very effective hysterical-arch sequence; better known as the spider-walk for those Exorcist aficionados out there). Talking in her father's voice, Leslie's spastic fits are punctuated by several stigmatas, where she bleeds from the exact same spots where her father was shot.

Meanwhile, with that evening's show rained out, Ruby tries to drown her sorrows with booze while listening to her old records. (Well, one record. Actually, one song. Played over and over and over...) Eventually, she wanders into the deserted drive-in, calls to her dead lover, and has another vision of Nicky as he talks to her through the speakers. And as soon as he disappears, there is a great gust of wind and Ruby hears a scream -- and the unmistakable sound, a dull wet thud, of something sharp plunging into something soft. Suddenly, the projector kicks on and shines a spotlight on the drive-in screen. There, dead center, impaled on a speaker pole, is Avery (Jack Perkins), leaving only Vince, Jake and Ruby left on Nicky's hit list.


A truly startling, disturbing, and very effective scene! Kudos to all the technicians who pulled that of.

The next morning, Ruby reveals that she has an ace up her sleeve -- make that something hidden in her closet -- that will surely convince Nicky that she still loves him and had nothing to do with his murder. Elsewhere, Keller has quieted Leslie down and then checks on Ruby, finding her in the ballroom, still lamenting the past. Suddenly, an evil wind blows through the house that brings Jake -- rocketing in on his wheelchair -- to join them. Jake doesn't seem to mind the bumpy ride, though, mostly due to a large butcher knife sticking out of his chest. And as Nicky's spirit whips a few kitties with the wheelchair, the stunt sends Jake sprawling to the floor, where he loses his glasses on impact, revealing empty eye-sockets that were hidden underneath. Aghast, Keller asks what happened to his eyes; but before Ruby can answer, Leslie starts screaming. When Keller runs to help her, Ruby heads to her closet, and as you've probably guessed already, that secret toy surprise she has hidden in there is, indeed, Jake's eyeballs, pickled in formaldehyde, that she pried out personally with some scissors after he killed Nicky. With this macabre offering, and a confession that all she wants is to just be with him again, Ruby is seemingly off the hook. Vince, however, isn't; and being the last one standing, he soon comes under a ferocious poltergeist attack that destroys the Drive-In, starting with an exploding ticket booth, several speaker spears, and finishing with a few cars being chucked at him. Despite all of that, Vince manages to get back to the main house, where he finds Keller with Leslie. Leslie seems fine now -- apparently, Nicky's spirit has left her -- and is miraculously cured of her muteness.

But they can't find Ruby anywhere in the house. However, they do manage to trace her down to the marsh, where the ambush took place sixteen years ago, and spy Ruby walking to the end of the pier. Then, the ghost of Nicky appears and he takes Ruby by the hand and leads her into the water. When Vince tries to stop this, Keller stops him, saying this is what Ruby wants. Right? Well, evidently not as Ruby is soon kicking and screaming as the skeletal remains of Nicky drag her into the muck, proclaiming She's mine now!

Cue ghostly maniacal laughter, freeze the frame, cue credits and --

The End

The hell was that ending all about?!

If you notice -- and it's pretty damned obvious -- that actress being drug to her watery doom is definitely NOT Piper Laurie. And that final twist wasn't how the movie was supposed to end, either. Ruby was supposed to walk into the water to be reunited with her dead lover willingly, a tragic ending to their doomed love affair from beyond the grave. That's what Harrington wanted. Krantz, on the other hand, adamantly wanted a shocker ending. This impasse proved to be the last straw for all involved, and when Harrington refused to make the changes he quit the production, even though it was basically done. Undeterred, Krantz shot the ending with the double and the skeleton, and re-cut the movie more to his liking. Harrington, of course, was furious and sued to have his name removed from the credits, making Ruby the first film at 3B Theater to be directed by Allen Smithee.

Despite all the acrimony and the changes Ruby proved to be a big hit -- but then it mysteriously vanished off the radar. VCI Entertainment has recently resurrected Ruby on DVD that claims to be the director's cut -- but it's Krantz's ending that is still used. I find this odd since the makers of the DVD are clearly in Harrington's corner. There's an hour long interview with Harrington -- that, for the record, would have been better if the interviewer would shut his damned pie-hole and let the man talk instead of answering his own questions for him -- and a commentary from the director and Piper Laurie. Listening to both, the dislike Harrington feels for Krantz is palpable. I don't know if the original ending was ever shot but its omission in this DVD is puzzling. Other cut scenes are restored, and the love affair between Ruby and the corpse is more pronounced, making that ultimate twist ending monumentally stupid. The restored cut is so schizo on this; one instant Ruby is a tragic figure to be pitied, in the other she's a crazed harlot. In truth, I'm almost curious enough to track down an old VHS copy of this to see Krantz's version to compare and contrast.

Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy Harrington's movies. When he's good, he's good. But when he's bad, he's duller than dirt. Sometimes, watching his flix is a lot like watching William Castle movies without the gimmick. With Castle's films, while some can stand on their own like The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill, others, like 13 Ghosts, the only form of entertainment is the Illusion-O glasses. Lot's of dull-dull-dull punctuated by brief blips of the macabre. Harrington's movies are the same way. Night Tide and The Killing Kind are fantastic, while What's the Matter With Helen is a chore to sit through to get to the disturbing ending with no audience aids to help us get there.

Luckily for us, Ruby is more than capable of standing on its own. And honestly, some of the credit must be given to Krantz. Despite his meddling, miserly budget, and refusal to pay for rehearsals, when you compare Ruby to Harrington's previous idiosyncratic grand dame excursions, the differences in Ruby, to me, are obvious, resulting in a efficient, effective horror film that needs to shake its undeserved label of just another Exorcist knock-off.

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Originally Posted: 08/16/04 :: Rehashed: 06/15/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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