VCI Entertainment has tabbed Sept. 12 for the release of a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack — featuring a new 2K film restoration from the original 35mm negative — of director Curtis Harrington’s summer of 1977 horror cult film, Ruby. This is the restored director’s cut of the film.
This also marks the launch of a new promotional line from VCI Entertainment that is title VCI Retro Elite, which will cover re-mastered genre classics that contain loads of special features.
Ruby and this new Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack is great news, but the backstory of the original theatrical release of the film is actually more interesting than the film itself, and that’s not to slight Ruby as a horror entry one little bit.
Curtis Harrington was the director, but Steve Krantz was the producer, and he was riding high at the time from the success of the adult-themed animation collaborations he had done with Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat) and decided to tinker with Harrington’s final product (and the subsequent TV airing).
Of course theatre-goers at the time had no idea about such internecine warfare related to the final cut of the film, they simply went to the movies and enjoyed it. It wasn’t until later, when David Del Valle did his two-part “Sinister Image” interview with filmmaker Curtis Harrington in 1988, that the details of the intrigue about the final cut of the film — and the film’s star, Piper Laurie’s refusal to participate in any reshoots — came to light.
As for the film itself, we have mobster’s lover, Ruby Claire (Piper Laurie), witnessing the murder of her paramour, Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio) by members of his own Dade County Gang. Later the same evening she gives birth to Leslie. This prologue all takes place in 1935.
We then jump ahead to 1951 and Ruby lives in a large house — a converted roadhouse, complete with a stage — with her mute daughter, who is played by Janit Baldwin, who just happened to play Violet, one of the “girls” in director Michael Ritchie’s 1972 film release of Prime Cut.
For fans of that film, you know immediately that Sissy Spacek was Poppy, another one of the “girls” in the illicit sex trade scheme that Mary Ann (Gene Hackman) was running out his Kansas City area meatpacking plant. Spacek would go on to star in Carrie (1976), with Piper Laurie as her demented mother. Baldwin gets that honor in Ruby, only the twist is she is the demented one, not her mother (although mom has a few loose screws herself).
Anyway, with that six degrees of Kevin Bacon connection aside, Ruby and her daughter live in this big house next door to Ruby’s drive-in theatre, which she owns. She employs the former members of the Dade County Gang, who are “down on their luck” after serving long stretches in prison. These are Vince (Stuart Whitman), Jess (Eddy Donno), Louie (Paul Kent) and Barney (Len Lesser), who pretty much run everything from the box office to the concession stand to the projection of the films.
They are soon to be dead former members of the Dade Country Gang as Leslie becomes possessed by the spirit of her father, Nicky, who has come to avenge his own murder. The projectionist (Jess) gets strangled by film (a nice touch) and the lecherous Louie is impaled on a tree branch while trying to have his way with one of the customers (played by Crystin Sinclaire). Vince and Ruby have to dispose of the bodies in the nearby swamp and Vince, the rational one, decides it is time to call in his old prison psychologist (Roger Davis) to help sort things out.
Ruby is great fun, the horror touches are nice — especially in the setting of the drive-in theatre — and you get elements of Carrie and The Exorcist, in addition to a good-old mob hit, as the major plot elements.
Bonus goodies include the vintage commentary track with Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie and a newly-prepared commentary track teaming David Del Valle and Adjunct Professor Nathaniel Bell, whose master’s thesis (Editor’s Note: from my alma mater, Chapman University) was on the filmmaking career of none other than Curtis Harrington (Bell also does the liner notes).
There are the two Sinister Image interviews with Harrington conducted by David Del Valle in 1988 and a 2001 video session with Harrington and Del Valle.