Mill Creek Musings: Night Tide (1961)

Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) is a sailor on leave in a seaside town. He spends his time off exploring the area, having a bit of fun by taking in the sights and sounds of the local carnival and enjoying some live music at the town watering hole.

Johnny's first stop on his night on the town is a photo booth. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Johnny’s first stop on his night on the town is a photo booth. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

While at the bar one night, Johnny takes interest in a pretty young lady (Linda Lawson) who he sees sitting across the room. Eager to meet her, Johnny asks if he can sit with her to get a better view of the stage. Before he can learn anything about her, she has a strange encounter with a woman speaking a foreign language and then quickly runs out of the bar.

Rather than giving up, Johnny follows the woman out of the bar and offers to walk her home. He finally learns a bit about her. Her name is Mora, and she works at the carnival, playing a mermaid.

Mora's a little creepy and standoffish, but Johnny continues to pursue her. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Mora’s a little creepy and standoffish, but Johnny continues to pursue her. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

After an odd string of events, Johnny begins to suspect that Mora doesn’t just pose as a mermaid: she’s an actual mermaid… and not just any mermaid, but a mermaid who kills!

Night Tide was released in 1961 and directed by Curtis Harrington, who also adapted the screenplay from his own short story. This film appears in Mill Creek’s “Sensational Sixties” boxed set.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

I’ll begin by discussing the quality of Mill Creek’s print of this film. Like many of the films in these sets, it’s decent quality. As you can see from the screen captures above, the pictures isn’t too distorted. A bit fuzzy and low on contrast at times, but definitely watchable. The sound quality is quite clear, too. Not too shabby for a public domain flick. The print runs at about 85 minutes, one minute short of the run time listed by IMDb for the film.

As for the film itself, I enjoyed this one quite a bit. In tone it reminds me a lot of Carnival of Souls, one of my favorite largely-forgotten spooky flicks, though this one’s quite a bit less dramatic. It isn’t a fast-paced, scare-a-minute chiller but it’s got an eerie mood, successfully built from the beginning.

Johnny and Mora begin spending time together, but eventually Johnny becomes suspicious of her. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Johnny and Mora begin spending quite a bit of time together, but eventually Johnny becomes suspicious of her. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Like the recently-reviewed The Wild Ride, this film is an interesting watch for the talent involved, seeing an actor more well-known for their modern films in such an early role. Dennis Hopper stars as Johnny in Night Tide.

This film didn’t come quite as early in his career as The Wild Ride did for Nicholson — that was Nicholson’s second film, whereas Hopper had been taking on screen roles in film and television for a little over five years prior to taking on Night Tide. Still, my knowledge of his mid-century work is limited, so it was cool for me to see him in this film. His performance is quite good here, working well with the film’s tone and story.

Johnny consults the other carnies, including the fortune teller, to find the truth about Mora. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Johnny consults the other carnies, including the fortune teller, to find the truth about Mora. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Night Tide isn’t a spine-chilling film, but it’s a good watch with a decent amount of the spook factor. The story it tells is interesting and has no trouble keeping the viewer’s attention. The score: 3.5/5

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