Ruby Blu-ray Review

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Piper Laurie Is Haunted By Her Dead Lover

Ruby was once the highest grossing independent horror movie ever released before Halloween came around. Released in 1977 (as a supernatural thriller loosely inspired by The Exorcist’s possession themes), a deaf-mute daughter summons the spirit of her murdered father for revenge on his killers.

Director Curtis Harrington’s film has had a checkered history over the years, as he pulled his name off the movie when producer Steve Krantz decided to add some additional scenes of his own and butcher it for television. VCI discovered film elements replicating the original R-rated theatrical cut, which is mostly Harrington’s preferred cut with the exception of a small scene added to the final shots.

The movie stars Piper Laurie, the actress who played the mother in Carrie. Stuart Whitman and Roger Davis co-star in this surprising b-movie that introduces creepy elements such as a deaf-mute daughter who becomes possessed, brilliantly handled by Janit Baldwin. Her glassy-eyed look has an otherworldly vibe for low-budget horror.

Sixteen years after Ruby Claire’s (Piper Laurie) gangster boyfriend is killed by her four associates (while pregnant with their child), a series of gruesome murders takes place at the drive-in movie theater she now operates. The behavior of her mute teenage daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin) has been increasingly strange, pushing Ruby to consider committing Leslie to a mental asylum. A visiting medium claims that forces from beyond the grave are out for revenge against Ruby’s life.

Curtis Harrington was no stranger to genre fare with such titles to his credit as Night Tide, Queen of Blood, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, What’s the Matter with Helen?, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and Games. His steady veteran hand crafts an intriguing ghost story set in the 1950s. The drive-in movie theater setting offers a wonderfully nostalgic aesthetic that works in juxtaposition with Ruby’s array of deadlier moments. One early death by a projection reel run amok is viscerally bloody.

Harrington isn’t above moving into more earthy terrain, showcasing several gruesome kills

When the movie’s atmosphere works, a palpable sense of terror builds as Ruby waits for her dead boyfriend’s spirit to return, thinking it was her that got him killed. Harrington isn’t above moving into more earthy terrain, showcasing several gruesome kills and scenes practically ripped off from The Exorcist. The possession riffs in Ruby lose some of their power as Harrington strips them of any religious meaning, though it does anticipate the fearsome “spider walk” scene that was filmed for Exorcist but didn’t make it out until years later on home video.

By the standards of independent horror in the 1970s, the cast is wonderful and offers many recognizable faces. Piper Laurie plays Ruby, always dressed in red, as a weary woman who never fully recovered from seeing her boyfriend killed. She’s not a young protagonist by any stretch, unusual for the time in any cult movie, much less a horror film. Stuart Whitman plays Ruby’s companion and subordinate, a father figure to Ruby’s mute daughter Leslie. It’s an interesting relationship that hints at a different dynamic than normal.

Ruby has some interesting elements in it as an underground cult movie and definitely provides enough thrills for genre lovers. It’s easy to see why it was once a minor hit, with its strong cast and unusual mash-up of ghost themes with possession.

Video

Oh boy, what a mess. VCI claimed this HD presentation of Ruby came from a 2K film transfer from the original 35mm camera negative. Information has come to light that verbiage in the marketing materials is entirely wrong, as VCI’s transfer was sourced from a lesser film print found in HBO’s film vaults. The errors and mistakes don’t end there with this transfer. It’s an uneven presentation with questionable gradients and murky contrast problems. Black crush is rampant in several scenes.

VCI has never been a cutting-edge video label when it comes to picture quality and there are problems with the transfer itself. There are unnatural ringing and/or interlacing artifacts in several scenes, especially in the first act. What VCI has acknowledged is wrong in the transfer is one scene randomly cutting to black early in the film for no reason. A replacement program is supposed fix that issue, though I doubt it will fix all the issues with this transfer.

Parts of the movie appear passable, including most of the final two acts. The film elements aren’t in terrible shape but this isn’t a pristine scan of impeccable detail. It’s a soft transfer that wavers in definition and clarity. I’m not sure what has gone wrong but a label more experienced in salvaging older cult films like Arrow Video would have approached this restoration differently.

What VCI has provided is the 84-minute R-rated theatrical version that largely preserves Harrington’s intended cut, aside from a final shot that was added by the producer. It is shown in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution.

Audio

Ruby’s monaural audio is heard in a satisfactory 2.0 PCM soundtrack. Its reasonable fidelity provides adequate dialogue coverage and enough dynamics for the score by Don Ellis.

Optional English SDH subtitles run in a white font.

Extras

VCI Entertainment is distributing Ruby through MVDvisual. VCI has already acknowledged a problem in the presentation that will likely require a re-pressing from them, so I would wait on news of that before making a purchase. This Blu-ray and DVD combo set adds several new special features to VCI’s older set of extras found on Ruby’s original DVD version from them, including a brand-new commentary. VCI says they will provide replacement discs free of charge for the error.

Ruby Original Trailer (02:26 in HD) – Let it be known I love vintage horror trailers. They have an energy to them completely lost on today’s manufactured trailers which remove all the allure and mystery so vital to horror films.

2001 David Del Valle Video Interview With Director Curtis Harrington (59:04 in SD) – Film critic David Del Valle, a friend of Curtis Harrington, interviews the director in this engaging discussion of his films and career. It was included on VCI’s original DVD. Harrington explains the changes made to his original theatrical cut by the producer and why he disowned the film for a time. Marlene Dietrich was supposed to play the role of the medium at one point.

‘Sinister Image’ Episode 1 (28:06 in SD) – Sinister Image was a public access show centered on genre movies, hosted by David Del Valle. He interviews Curtis Harrington in an episode that aired sometime in 1988, covering Harrington’s early career in detail.

‘Sinister Image’ Episode 2 (29:00 in SD) – This second episode of the public access show originally aired 3/15/1988. David Del Valle once again interviews Curtis Harrington, focusing on his work on the film Games.

Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie Audio Commentary – This light commentary from the director and lead actress has been ported over from the 2001 VCI DVD. It’s an interesting discussion that goes off into wild tangents at times. Piper Laurie doesn’t take herself seriously and her memory of certain scenes is hazy. Harrington discusses the film’s influences, though he refutes any connection to De Palma’s Carrie.

David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell 2017 Audio Commentary – This new commentary provides the history and analysis often lacking in the director’s commentary. David Del Valle was Harrington’s friend and admires his work. Bell is a self-described Harrington expert. Discussed is the role played behind the scenes of producer Steve Krantz, who added footage to Harrington’s version.

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