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Ruby (1977)

VCI
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/12/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/5/2017

The 1970s were a wacky time for horror movies, and it's an era that can be difficult for a younger generation to understand. Before the dawn of VCRs and video stores (Oh wow, younger people don't know what those words mean either!), filmmakers would pump their low-budget horror films into theaters and hope for the best. In order to ensure financial gain, they would often mimic or downright steal from hit movies so that their product would look familiar to potential viewers. 1977's Ruby is an example of a film with a scattershot approach which attempts to draw from a numerous of diverse influences. Can something so broad achieve enough focus to be good?

The year is 1951. Ruby Claire (Piper Laurie), a former nightclub singer, runs a drive-in movie theater along with her colleague, Vince (Stuart Whitman). Years before, Ruby had been in a relationship with Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio), a mobster who was gunned down by members of his own gang. As time has gone by, Ruby and Vince have hired those guys to work at the drive-in. While Vince oversees the theater (which apparently shows only one movie), Ruby spends her time in her house on the hill, drinking and staring out the window. She shares the house with her daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin), who is mute. This odd situation is made even stranger when the drive-in employees begin to die in mysterious ways. In order to get to the bottom of this, Vince brings in Dr. Keller (Roger Davis), an expert in the supernatural. Is a force hunting people from beyond the grave?

To put it very mildly, Ruby is a weird movie. The film is a prime example of the changing tide in movies which emerged in the 1970s. The subdued, reserved tone of horror movies was giving way to a more gory and explicit approach, and audiences were eating it up. And it's quite obvious that Ruby was trying to cash in on the latter. The murders are elaborately staged and are certainly reminiscent of The Omen. There is also a moment in which Leslie thrashes on a bed which only the most naive viewers won't link to The Exorcist. So, the film could easily be accused of ripping off some 70s horror hits.

But, there's also a lot of other, stranger things happening here. Even considering that the movie is set in 1951, it plays like something from a different era. Ruby comes off as some sort of low-budget Norma Desmond, as she never leaves her house, walks around in lavish clothes, and longs for the good-old-days. There's even a scene where she performs a song for Dr. Keller -- a scene which brings the movie to a screeching halt. These old-fashioned moments are intercut with the murder sequences, which have a modern feel, giving the movie a very disjointed feel. And then we have the issues with the story, which is all over the place. Given how Ruby can't stop talking about her love for Nicky, you'd think that she would dote on Leslie, their child, but instead, she ignores the girl and talks of sending her away. Vincent reveals that he met Dr. Keller in prison. Why was an expert in the paranormal visiting a prison? The story behind the murders is sort of a ghost story, but it's also a possession story for some reason. There's also a recurring subplot about a trashy girl who frequents the drive-in which feels unnecessary. The final shot, which has been disowned by Director Curtis Harrington is cheesy and don't even get me started on the fact that the drive-in keeps showing Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, a movie which wasn't released until 1958.

Adding to the confusing nature here is the art for the Blu-ray Disc box, which I assume was taken from an original poster. It has a picture of Leslie and it states, "Christened in blood. Raised in sin. She's sweet sixteen, let the party begin." Seeing this, one would assume that we are looking at a picture of the main character and that her name is Ruby. (It also says, "A Love Affair With The Supernatural", which is a little closer to the truth.) This says to me that the advertising was trying to make the film look like Carrie. (And Piper Laurie's presence only added to this.) But, Ruby isn't like any of the other movies which it resembles. It also isn't as good as any of them. It certainly plays well as a curiosity piece, and a great example of drive-in fare from the 70s, but it's never scary or creepy, or very interesting for that matter. It's great to see Laurie chewing the scenery, but Ruby never feels as if it's worth her efforts.

Ruby will also appeal to those who miss drive-ins on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of VCI Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. This release delivers a new 2K film transfer from the original 35mm negative. The picture is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times. However, there is a notable amount of video noise, and some of the darker scenes appear to have a slick sheen across them. Speaking of dark, the image certainly skews dark at times, leading to colors which are somewhat muted, although the reds do look good. The Disc carries a Linear PCM 2-channel audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We don't get any dynamic effects here, but the score never overpowers the actors and there is no hissing or popping on the track.

The Ruby Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Director Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie. "2001 David Del Valle Interview with Curtis Harrington" (59 minutes) opens with a discussion of what was cut from the director's version of the film. We then learn that Ruby was a success. From there, they talk about Harrington's career and his work on Ruby. "Sinister Image Episode Vol. 1: David Del Valle Archival Interview with Curtis Harrington" (28 minutes) and "Sinister Image Episode Vol. 2: David Del Valle Archival Interview with Curtis Harrington" (29 minutes) delivers another chat between the two in which some of Harrington's specific works are discussed.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long