“Ruby” (1977): Christened in blood, and raised in sin, she’s sweet sixteen, let the party begin!

By on January 3, 2019

Dimension Pictures’ Carrie & The Exorcist-inspired supernatural thriller Ruby — directed by Curtis Harrington and released theatrically on June 23, 1977, with the tagline “Christened in blood, raised in sin, she’s sweet sixteen, let the party begin!” — is just one of the great vintage cult titles horror movie mavens can find streaming in our New Cult Arrivals section on Night Flight Plus.

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Ruby — produced by Harrington’s producing partner George Edwards, who had already produced a few movies directed by Harrington, including 1967’s Games — was originally titled Bloodbath Drive-In.

As that title suggests, much of the action here takes place at a drive-in movie theater, located near Florida swampland, which is owned by ex-torch singer/gangster gun moll “Ruby,” played to absolute perfection by Piper Laurie.

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In a pre-credit sequence, set in 1935, we see a very pregnant Ruby and her handsome gangster wannabe boyfriend “Nicky Rocco” (Sal Vechio) are about to enjoy a midnight cruise in a row boat.

Nicky has recently joined the Dade County gang, whose members show up and Nicky ends up being gunned down by some of his gang. He swears revenge on them as he dies.

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That same night Ruby — clearly in shock as she goes into labor — gives birth to Nicky’s deaf-mute daughter, “Leslie Claire.”

Leslie’s play to the hilt by Janit Baldwin, who was a groupie in Brian De Palma‘s 1974 cult shocker, Phantom Of The Paradise, another of Night Flight’s favorites.

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After the credits, we’re transported forward in time to 1951.

We learn that Ruby now owns Ruby’s Drive-In, an outdoor movie theater in the swampy backwoods of Florida, which she runs with help from now 16-year old daughter Leslie.

In addition to not being able to speak or hear, the wide-eyed Leslie appears to be possessed, thrashing about on a levitating bed, all of which reminds kindhearted mom Ruby of her sinful past.

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In an interesting turn of events, Ruby — who uses a telescope in her mansion next door to the drive-in to keep watch over her business — has taken in and given jobs to Nicky’s killers.

They’ve all been released from prison after serving time for their crimes, including the blind and wheelchair-bound former gang leader “Jake Miller” (Fred Kohler).

Ruby — clearly haunted by her past, wondering whether she might have had a singing career had Nicky not died — is now romantically-involved with the drive-in’s ticket salesman, “Vince Kemper” (Stuart Whitman).

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When the former gang members all start showing up dead at the drive-in, killed by some unseen force, Kemper decides to bring in a paranormal-hip psychologist Dr. Paul Keller” (Roger Davis).

The former prison shrink determines that the ghostly spirit of the murdered Nicky is being summoned up by his deaf-mute daughter to exact revenge against those who killed the dad she never knew.

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Read more about Ruby below.

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Curtis Harrington

Prior to the release of John Carpenter‘s Halloween, Curtis Harrington’s Ruby was the top-grossing independent  horror film.

With just a handful of locations (the nightclub sequences were lensed at the historic Hollywood Studio Club), Harrington reveals he has an excellent eye for skillfully creating creepy, claustrophobic atmospheric scenarios without much in the way of production budget.

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In one of Ruby‘s best scenes we see they’re projecting Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman — which most critics love to point out was released in 1958, seven years after Ruby‘s main action takes place — while the projectionist is strangled by the unspooling celluloid.

In another gruesome death scene, a concessionaire is found dead, stuffed inside a Coke machine.

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Harrington (b. September 17, 1926, in Los Angeles) was an early protégé of Maya Deren and a close friend of director Kenneth Anger.

He even appeared in Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) dressed as Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Harrington had, by the mid-Seventies, already established himself as someone adept at lensing what IMDB calls “marvelously offbeat and atmospheric low-budget independent horror pictures,” as well as directing a few episodic TV drama shows like “Baretta.”

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Shelley Winters, Debbie Reynolds and director Curtis Harrington on the set of What’s the Matter with Helen? (Harrington’s personal favorite)

Among the more memorable titles he’d previously directed before Ruby was 1963’s Roger Corman-distributed Night Tide (starring Dennis Hopper and featuring Marjorie Cameron as the “Water Witch”), and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What’s the Matter With Helen? (both were released in 1971 and starred Shelley Winters).

Harrington also directed a few classic made-for-TV horror films, including 1974’s cult fave Killer Bees and, after Ruby, one of Night Flight’s favorite TV horror flicks, Devil Dog: Hound of Hell.

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During the rest of his career, Harrington worked mainly in television, directing episodes of primetime shows like “Dynasty,” “The Colbys,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Wonder Woman” and loads more.

Harrington’s memoir, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business, was published by Drag City. He died in 2007.

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The husky-voiced Piper Laurie had not played a leading role since 1961’s The Hustler, for which she had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Afterwards, she left the movie business after to be a housewife and mother. She’d only returned to the silver screen a year earlier for her unforgettable role as Sissy Spacek’s abusive and fanatically-religious mother in Brian De Palma’s fantastic 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic Carrie, a movie which clearly inspired the screenplay to Ruby too, with its scenes of body levitation and telekinesis.

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Watch Ruby on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.