RUBY (1977) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Curtis Harrington

In the wake of the enormous success of CARRIE, Oscar nominee Piper Laurie was hired to do this, an independent horror film that would exploit her remarkable performance in Brian De Palma's classic. RUBY now makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of VCI, with the fine supplements outweighing a subpar visual presentation.

The film commences with a 1930s prologue as pregnant Ruby Claire (Laurie) a partying, singer/moll witnesses her gangster boyfriend Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio, OSCAR) being shot to pieces by his gang. Sixteen years later, Ruby runs a backwoods drive-in theater. She watches over things (with a telescope) from a large house next to the drive-in where she lives with her deaf-mute daughter Leslie (wide-eyed Janit Baldwin, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, HUMONGOUS), her crippled and blind former lover Jake (old-time serial actor Fred Kohler Jr., looking like Lugosi in THE HUMAN MONSTER), and rugged but competent Vince (Stuart Whitman, THE MONSTER CLUB), who seems to take care of everybody (and the drive-in). Ruby has hired most of the old gang to work at the outdoor theater (including Len Lesser from BLOOD AND LACE and Jack Perkins from INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS), keeping them out of prison. But one by one, they're found dead in a number of bizarre ways. Believing that the vengeful spirit of the mobster is responsible, Vince calls upon his former prison shrink Dr. Paul Keller (Roger Davis from "Dark Shadows"), as he’s an expert in psychic phenomenon. Soon Ruby's daughter speaks in her father's voice and does Linda Blair-type gymnastics on her bed, but this film thankfully spares us the pea soup.

Curtis Harrington directed this in between a number of above average TV movies, and even though there are glimpses of arty concepts (with Harrington’s fondness for 1930s era Hollywood in check), it's basically just a trashy exploitation film with a decent cast and a few good shocks. The idea of a drive-in film within a drive-in film (complete with ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN on the screen) is novel, and some of the death scenes are very impressive (including a projectionist being hung by celluloid and a concessionaire found dead inside a soda machine). Likely do to its lack of budget, the film goes overboard with its depictions of psychic phenomena, but comes off more like a parody of recent cinematic past glories as well as the direction horror movies were headed into at the time. Much like "Happy Days" after the second season, period detail is thrown out the window, and actors walking around with shaggy hair and long sideburns at times makes it hard to believe this is supposed to be 1951 (hell, 50 FOOT WOMAN didn't even come out until '58!). Crystin Sinclaire (a familiar face from Jonathan Demme’s CAGED HEAT and Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE) plays a busty, blonde man-teaser, though her scenes never live up to film’s R rating (which reflects the violence and minor gore more than anything else).

VCI has had a long-association with RUBY, first releasing it on DVD back in 2001. Their new Blu-ray is purported to be a new 2K film transfer from the original 35mm negative and in the restored, director’s theatrical cut (the same theatrical cut as their previous DVD release). Presented in 1080p HD in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is a mixed bag and passable at best. RUBY has never been a stellar-looking film (nor does anyone expect it to be), but the Blu-ray is mostly a soft and hazy-looking affair. Grain is plenty, not so much in a filmic manner, but rather as fuzziness resulting in noticeably unimpressive, noisy textures and lackluster resolution. Colors are inconsistent and tend to bleed, with flesh tones frequently leaning towards orange. For a film that takes place mostly at nighttime, the darker scenes are especially muddy and lack any kind of appropriate detail (outdoor daytime scenes come off best, but there’s only one or two of them). Inexcusably, at the 0:21:31 mark, the screen goes black for almost 10 seconds (while the audio continues) in the middle of a frantic death scene! The English LPCM 2.0 audio is fine, with no significant drawbacks. Optional English subtitles are included. A standard DVD, featuring the same problematic HD transfer and extras, is also included.

Extras on the disc include the audio commentary with Harrington (who passed away in 2007) and Laurie, carried over from the 2001 DVD. Both have a lot of laughs watching the film again, sounding a lot like old friends that hadn't seen each other in years. There are a number of nice anecdotes, but at times they recall more about the caterer than the other actors involved, special effects, etc. The conversation remains very congenial, until the end when Harrington asserts his disgust at the final shot. Executive producer Steve Krantz changed the ending (a scene involving a fake skeleton and a bad Piper Laurie double) and Harrington obviously remained furious about this. Also carried over from the 2001 DVD is David Del Valle's excellent on-camera interview with Harrington (59:04), a lengthy piece that covers all aspects of the director's career, including RUBY and many of his earlier films.

Two episodes of Del Valle’s “Sinister Image” series from 1988 (Volume 1 at 28:06 and Volume 2 at 29:00) both with Harrington as his sit-down guest are included. Those not familiar with the independently-produced public access cable TV series, it contained essential interviews with a number of popular figures in cult cinema (most of which are no longer with us). In the first part, Harrington discusses being interested in horror films and the macabre from an early age, his collaborations with underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and his early features NIGHT TIDE and QUEEN OF BLOOD (a few clips from the PD NIGHT TIDE are also shown throughout the episode). Part 2 focuses on his first studio film GAMES (where Harrington wanted Marlene Dietrich in a role which went to Simone Signoret), WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (he has the nicest things to say about Ralph Richardson) and the 1974 telefim KILLER BEES. Del Valle is also on a new commentary along with Curtis Harrington expert Nathaniel Bell, who states that Harrington wanted the picture to be called, “The Apparition”. It’s revealed that the project was actually conceived before CARRIE, that it made more money than any other movie Harrington directed, and Harrington's difficulties with the film (and producer Krantz in particular) are also touched upon. Both gentleman not only discuss Harrington’s influences and filmmaking style, but also much about his personal life (Del Valle was good friends with him), giving us great insight on the man, and the participants take their subject to heart. The original trailer is also presented here in waxy-looking HD. Nathaniel Bell pens the liner notes found on the back of the Blu-ray’s cover. (George R. Reis)