CC: Night Tide

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Friday, December 13, 2013

CC: Night Tide

Not directly connected to Lovecraft or any of the other Mythos authors tonight’s movie and director/writer has all the hallmarks of a good Mythos tale.  Night Tide is a 1961 thriller film, written and directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Dennis Hopper.  It was filmed in 1960, premiered in 1961, but was held up from general release until 1963.  The film was restored by the Academy Film Archive in 2007.  But first, the director and writer of the film, Curtis Harrington.

Gene Curtis Harrington (September 17, 1926 – May 6, 2007) was an American film and television director whose work included experimental films, horror films, and episodic television.  He is considered one of the forerunners of New Queer Cinema1.

He began his career as a film critic, writing a book on Josef von Sternberg in 1948.  He directed several avant-garde short films in the 1940s and '50s, including Fragment of Seeking, Picnic, and The Wormwood Star (a film study of the artwork of Marjorie Cameron).  Cameron also co-starred in his subsequent film Night Tide (1961) with Dennis Hopper.  Harrington worked with Kenneth Anger, serving as a cinematographer on Anger's Puce Moment and acting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954).  Harrington had links to Thelema2 shared with his close associate Kenneth Anger, and Marjorie Cameron who frequently acted in his films.  One of Harrington’s mentors was avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren, an initiated voodoo priestess.

Roger Corman assigned Harrington to turn some Russian science fiction footage into a whole new American movie; the result was Queen of Blood, which led to further films such as Games.  He also directed Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) with Shelley Winters, What's the Matter with Helen? (1972) with Winters and Debbie Reynolds, and Killer Bees (1974) with Gloria Swanson in one of her last film roles.

Harrington made two made for television movies based on screenplays by Robert Bloch: The Cat Creature (1973) and The Dead Don't Die (1975).  Harrington had a cameo role in Orson Welles's unfinished The Other Side of the Wind.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Harrington directed episodes of Dynasty, Wonder Woman, The Twilight Zone, and Charlie's Angels for television.

Harrington was the driving force in locating the original James Whale production of The Old Dark House (Universal Pictures, 1932).  Even though the rights had been sold to Columbia Pictures for a remake, he got George Eastman House to restore the negative.  On the Kino International DVD, there is a filmed interview of Harrington explaining why and how this came about (the contract stipulated that they were allowed to save the film only, not release it, essentially to prove no profit motive).  Harrington was an advisor on Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters, about the last days of director James Whale, since Harrington had known Whale at the end of his life. Harrington also has a cameo in this film.

Harrington's final film, the short Usher, is a remake of an unreleased film he did while in high school, Fall of the House of Usher.  His casting of Nikolas and Zeena Schreck in his updated version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ”Fall of the House of Usher” is in keeping with the magical thread that runs through the film-maker’s career.  Financing of the film was partly accomplished through the Shreck's brokering of the sale of Harrington's signed copy of Aleister Crowley's The Book of Thoth3.

He died on May 6, 2007, of complications from a stroke he had suffered in 2005.  He is interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  House of Harrington a short documentary about the director's life, was released in 2008.  It was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby and filmed several years before Harrington's death.  It includes footage of his high school film Fall of the House of Usher.  Curtis Harrington's memoir Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood will be published in June 2013 by Drag City.


Night Tide (1961)

  • Genre: Horror – Mystery – Thriller
  • Directed: Curtis Harrington
  • Produced:
    • Aram Kantarian 
    • Jules Schwartz 
    • H. Duane Weaver
  • Written: Curtis Harrington (Short Story "The Call of the Sea")
  • Starring: Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Gavin Muir, Luana Anders, Marjorie Eaton, Tom Dillon, H.E. West, Ben Roseman, Marjorie Cameron
  • Music: David Raksin
  • Cinematography:
    • Vilis Lapenieks 
    • Floyd Crosby
  • Editing: Jodie Copelan
  • Studio: Phoenix Films
  • Distributed:
    • The Filmgroup  
    • American International Pictures  
    • Rhino Home Video  
    • Milestone Film & Video  
    • The Roan Group  
    • Image Entertainment  
    • Alpha Video Distributors  
    • Film Forum  
    • Kino Video  
    • Miracle Pictures  
    • Something Weird Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 6 June 1963
  • Running Time: 86 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Even among Lovecraft aficionados, Night Tide is obscure.  Only recently, this writer came across it.

For years people have been trying to connect Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, but in fact here is one case they are connected.  Through Marjorie Cameron, Jack Parsons, and L. Ron Hubbard (who did meet H. P. Lovecraft) there is a tangent.  Crowley had allowed Parsons to devote his work in California to occultist practices.

Cameron may have lived with Dean Stockton and Dennis Hopper, and both Cameron and Hopper played in Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide.  Filmed in 1960 mostly on location, it was not released until 1963.  As usual, Lovecraft was considered unfilmable, so the movie is disguised as an Edgar Allan Poe cult film.  It is indeed Lovecraft through and through. – Miskatonic Books

Seaman Johnny Drake, on shore leave, finds a "Mermaid" sideshow attraction at the marina, operated by Captain Murdock.  The "Mermaid" Mora, who lives in a hotel above the marina merry-go-round and Johnny fall for each other.  Everyone around them is wary of the romance, as her previous lovers have died mysteriously.

Mora believes she is a descendant of the Sirens, mythic sea creatures who lure sailors to their deaths.  From time to time a mysterious and seemingly sinister woman appears and frightens Mora.  She believes the woman is the leader of the mermaids, calling Mora to fulfill her destiny.  Mora's origins seem to be driving her to commit murder by the full moon.  Johnny is unable to believe his lover is capable of murder, but Mora herself seems more certain. During a diving trip on the day of the full moon, Mora cuts Johnny's breathing tube and he is forced to surface, leaving her below, where she swims away into the shadows.

When Johnny returns to the marina the next day, he sees that the lifeless body of Mora is now on display in the mermaid tank.  Murdock appears, brandishing a gun.  It was he who committed the murders and convinced Mora that she was an actual mermaid.  Mora had discarded her oxygen tank in the sea, and had drowned.  In the ensuing struggle between Johnny and Murdock, the glass tank is shattered, and the water and debris pin Murdock down.

In the film's conclusion, at the police station, Murdock confesses to the crimes and Johnny returns to his ship accompanied by the shore patrol.  The one loose end to Murdock's story is that he denies any knowledge of the mysterious woman who had been frightening Mora.  The police dismiss it as the man protecting her, but the door is left open to other possibilities.

In order to film some of the underwater sequences in Night Tide, director Curtis Harrington gave detailed instructions to a cameraman who then shot the scenes underwater at the director's request.  Harrington had previously worked with Marjorie Cameron - his 1955 black and white short documentary The Wormwood Star is about her and her artwork.

The production company, Virgo, defaulted on their Pathe Lab loan of $33,793 and Pathee were preparing to foreclose of the picture.  Roger Corman asked the lab to hold off on their legal actions to allow Filmgroup to distribute the film, guaranteeing Pathee $15,000 within 12 months of the film's release.  Pathee agreed, and Filmgroup released through AIP.

The role of Mora the Mermaid (played by Linda Lawson in the film) was originally to be played by Susan Harrison, who had been the lead in Sweet Smell of Success (1957).  A friend of director Harrington's at the time, Harrison initially agreed to do the role, but then reneged due to a personal relationship at the time.


1  New Queer Cinema is a term first coined by the academic B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound magazine in 1992 to define and describe a movement in queer-themed independent filmmaking in the early 1990s.  The term developed from use of the word queer in academic writing in the 1980s and 1990s as an inclusive way of describing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender identity and experience, and also defining a form of sexuality that was fluid and subversive of traditional understandings of sexuality.  Since 1992, the phenomenon has also been described by various other academics and has been used to describe several other films released since the 1990s.  Films of the New Queer Cinema movement typically share certain themes, such as the rejection of heteronormativity and the lives of LGBT protagonists living on the fringe of society.

2  Thelema is primarily a philosophical law, which has been adopted as a central tenet by some religious organizations.  The law of Thelema is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.  Love is the law, love under will."  The law of Thelema was developed by Aleister Crowley, the early 20th-century British writer and ceremonial magician.  He believed himself to be the prophet of a new age, the ├ćon of Horus, based upon a spiritual experience that he and his wife, Rose Edith, had in Egypt in 1904.  By his account, a possibly non-corporeal or "praeterhuman" being that called itself Aiwass contacted him and dictated a text known as The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which outlined the principles of Thelema.  An adherent of Thelema is a Thelemite.

3  The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians is the title of The Equinox, volume III, number 5, by English author and occultist Aleister Crowley.  The book is recorded in the vernal equinox of 1944 (an Ixviii Sol in 0° 0' 0" Aries, March 21, 1944 e. v. 5:29 p.m.) and was originally published in an edition limited to 200 numbered and signed copies.  This book describes the philosophy and the use of Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, a deck of Tarot cards designed by Crowley and co-designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.  The Thoth Tarot has become one of the best-selling and most popular Tarot Decks in the world.  The original 200-volume signed limited edition was bound in Morocco leather and printed on pre-wartime paper.  Crowley sold ₤1,500 ($2452) worth of the edition (equal to £57,540 ($94072) in 2013) in less than three months.

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