Ruby is a movie with an identity crisis. It wants to be a mobster movie, supernatural flick and possession tale rolled into one and, because of this, ends up being more disjointed than anything. Combined with some haphazard editing and “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality everything just feels a little bit off and even though the horror moments are relatively well done and it manages to be fairly watchable there’s no denying how stitched together the whole thing feels. So stitched together, in fact, they’ve deemed it necessary to throw in narration.
Piper Laurie stars as the title character who we first meet in 1935 Florida where she witnesses her beau violently gunned down by some mobsters when they go to a remote swamp for a romantic evening (huh?). Fast forward to sixteen years later and Ruby is now the owner of a small town drive-in that just so happens to employ the hit men who killed her lover all those years ago (double huh?). Granted, this is an amazing location to set a genre flick but I really don’t think they use the location that well and I have to question why, if you follow the script’s timeline, the 1958 b-flick Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is playing when it should only be 1951.
It’s here, within the first fifteen minutes, things start to get really sloppy. In between scenes of our drive-in patrons goofing around and Ruby spying on the drive-in from her house with a telescope before belting into a song and dance while drunk off her ass they introduce a supernatural element when the projectionist is attacked by an unspooled film reel – which is gloriously tossed onto the actor’s head from off-screen.
Yes, it looks like Ruby’s humble business may just be haunted. It also looks like it’s the return of her deceased beau who is out for revenge on his murderers. They’ve also seen fit to give Ruby an odd looking, big-eyed deaf-mute daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin, 'Gator Bait), bring in Dr. Keller (Roger Davis) who has psychic abilities to try and figure it all out, and even have Ruby visited by the spirit of her boyfriend while various attacks happen. And this is even before the flick takes a weird shift into possession in the last third that includes a scene involving Leslie that felt like a direct rip-off of The Exorcist's spider walk moment.
Ruby is an odd one for sure. As directed by Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter with Helen?, Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell) it’s definitely an interesting relic of 70’s horror. As I said, it feels like the producers were just cobbling together whatever was popular in the genre at the time and all these tonal shifts definitely don’t help the flow of the movie at all. They’ve also seen fit to bring in Laurie to star after she impressed us so much, and garnered an Oscar nomination, the year prior in Carrie as our telekinetic teen’s religiously fanatical mother.
Speaking of Laurie she’s definitely outrageous here. She may have also gone over-the-top in Carrie but in a completely different and believable way. She portrays Ruby as a lonely, heavily drinking woman who is suffering from not only losing her true love but also having a strange daughter and never being able to realize her dream of being a famous singer. Ruby is a true diva and Laurie is unrestrained in letting us know this. She constantly wanders around in a feather-lined robe and has a strange nightclub chanteuse moment. Baldwin has the odd look required of her and I really dug her Regan-inspired moments including the memorable blood-covered face scene used on the film’s poster. Also of note is character actor Stuart Whitman giving a solid turn as Ruby’s best mob pal.
When all is said and done I can only really recommend Ruby to fans of 70’s supernatural horror or those curious to see how messy it can get. The version I watched was called the director’s cut (it was just the theatrical version) since the film was edited for television with new scenes shot by Stephanie Rothman (The Velvet Vampire, The Student Nurses). I wish it was included on the DVD so I could compare the two. (Chris Hartley, 9/3/15)
Directed By: Curtis Harrington.
Written By: George Edwards, Barry Schneider.
Starring: Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis, Janit Baldwin.