Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide is considered to be a fantasy as well as a horror movie. However, it’s completely different from the traditional trappings of both genres. The dreamy or scary elements do not charge headlong at the audience in a rush to fill them with empty and ephemeral awe. In fact, for the most part, you don’t even think that you are watching something related to either fantasy or horror. We follow Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper), a sailor, walking around and talking with a young woman named Mora (Linda Lawson) in Santa Monica. He finds her alone at a jazz club and falls for her.
Mora lives above a merry-go-round apartment. Johnny visits her for breakfast and finds her room decorated with sea objects (a starfish hangs from the ceiling). It’s all cute and cuddly until people begin to warn Johnny to stay away from Mora. According to the locals, two of her boyfriends were found dead on the shore. Mora’s guardian and employer, Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir), advises Johnny to break up with Mora. Then there is the deal about her nature. Mora is employed in a sideshow attraction as a mermaid. She tells Johnny how attracted she feels towards the sea and the full moon.
The questions that surface on both sides of the screen are: Is Mora really a mermaid? Did she kill her boyfriends? Is Johnny in danger? Who is that mysterious woman from the jazz club? Night Tide takes its sweet time to give you answers. Even when everything is revealed, the film leaves you with an itch regarding the true identity of Mora (the answer can be found in the trivia section of the IMDb). But if you solely concentrate on the answers, you would miss out on an enthralling experience. The beauty of Night Tide lies in its mind games, where it constantly hoodwinks the viewers. The bizarre nightmares and your rising suspicion point in one direction. Johnny says something like people start believing a thing if it’s told by everyone. The same is true for you when you watch Night Tide, as your interpretations – whether right or wrong – come from the (maybe unreliable) words of the characters. Any concrete proof is hidden until the final moment, so we have to do our own investigations.
Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Annabel Lee, Night Tide premiered in 1961 but didn’t make it to general release until 1963. It was Dennis Hopper’s first starring role. His innocent face purely registers the surrounding confusion. You might not entirely care for him, but you can clearly see what troubles he is going through. Night Tide should be seen to learn how a large chunk of mystery can be effectively generated through dialogues. You can watch the movie on MUBI for free.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.