• Ruby

    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: September 12th, 2017.
    Director: Curtis Harrington
    Cast: Piper Laurie, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis, Janit Baldwin, Fred Kohler Jr.
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    Made a year after the success of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie and four years after William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Curtis Harrington’s 1977 film Ruby mixes up elements from both of those movies and turns them into… something.

    The film begins with a prologue wherein sultry albeit pregnant chanteuse Ruby Claire witnesses the mob land execution of her man, Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio) in the swamps of Dade County, Florida. Years later, Ruby, no longer a singer, runs a drive-in with the help of her pal Vince Kemper (the ever reliable Stuart Whitman). In the years that have passed since the murder, Ruby has given birth to the baby she was carrying at the time, Leslie (Janit Baldwin), who is about to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. For reasons never explained to any sort of logical point, Ruby has given jobs to each of the hitmen who killed her beloved Nicky, so her drive-in is basically staffed by hoods.

    As the movie plays out, some of those same hoods start turning up dead, the victims of some strange and gruesome murders… the best of which is the drunken projectionist getting strangled and hanged by a reel of 35mm film in the projection booth! Clearly something is amiss, but Ruby isn’t sure what. Leslie, who is mute, starts acting strange as more hoods turn up dead, leading Vince to bring in a parapsychologist named Doctor Paul Keller (Roger Davis) to try and sort all of this out. Meanwhile, Ruby keeps trying to relive past glories by singing in what’s left of the bar that she used to run with a wheelchair bound man named Jake (Fred Kohler Jr.) who doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with the central plot of the movie.

    Ruby has plot holes the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and it doesn’t always make sense but you know what? It’s watchable and entertaining in its own sort of goofy way. Harrington is savvy enough behind the camera to make sure that we get a murder or two every so often to hold our attention, and in the stretches where we don’t? We get Piper Laurie being weird and Janit Baldwin being weirder. Laurie struts about her house, her old bar and her drive-in dressed to the nines, a red boa around her neck, her ample bosom about to pop out of her dress, ordering people around and swilling cocktails like they’re going out of style. She’s a blast to watch, chewing the scenery a little bit here and there but doing her thing and doing it well. Janit Baldwin’s performance is, for ninety-five percent of the film at least, completely silent but she’s interesting to watch, her eyes seemingly ready to pop out of their sockets at a moment’s notice. Fred Kohler Jr. doesn’t do anything except sit silently in a wheelchair and move his fingers now and then but Roger Davis is okay is unremarkable as the doctor. Stuart Whitman more or less plays himself here, which is a good thing, because Stuart Whitman is awesome.

    Despite the fact that it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense, the movie is fun. It does take a little while to really hit its stride but the last half hour of the picture, where Harrington seems to not only allow the film to go off its rails so much as he does completely shove it off, is bonkers enough to make this one worth checking out for fans of seventies era possession and supernatural horror pictures.


    VCI present Ruby on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in a transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative framed in its proper 1.85.1 aspect ratio. That’s the good news. The bad news? Pretty much everything else. First off, there’s that strange vertical combing effect that makes otherwise smooth lines look jagged (this same issue plagued their recent One Million B.C. disc reviewed here). This is apparent in most of the screen caps below. And then there’s the compression. The feature takes up 26GBs of space on the disc, there shouldn’t be obvious macroblocking and compression artifacts, but there are. Colors are murky more often than not, there’s black crush all over the place and the whole thing looks soft and muddy. There’s also some fairly aggressive noise reduction on display throughout, essentially removing the film’s grain structure and giving an already soft, problematic image a waxy sheen. On top of that, at the 21:30 mark, there’s a stretch of about seven seconds where the picture just goes completely black (though the audio continues over top of it). VCI has acknowledged that there are problems here and are working on a solution. Once that happens, we’ll be glad to update – but until then, yuck! This does not look good at all.

    The film gets an LPCM 2.0 Mono mix that is thankfully free of any major problems. There are a few spots that sound a bit flat and the occasional line of dialogue sounds a bit muffled but by and large things sound fine. The optional English subtitles are a nice touch as well.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary featuring film historian David Del Valle and Curtis Harrington expert Nathaniel Bell. Lots of insight here into the production, comments on Harrington’s career up to and including this feature, thoughts on the performances, influences that clearly worked their way into the film and more. Also here is an archival commentary from the old DVD release featuring actress Piper Laurie and Harrington himself. They reminisce about working together on the film, share some stories from the set, discuss Laurie’s co-stars like Whitman and Baldwin and more.

    From there, we get two episodes of Del Valle’s television series The Sinister Image in which Harrington is interviewed fairly extensively. The first part runs twenty eight minutes and the second twenty nine. Originally recorded in 1988, these episodes suffer from some obvious audio synch problems but if you can get past that they’re pretty interesting. This doesn’t focus on Ruby so much as it is a career overview with Del Valle talking to Harrington about his younger years, how he got into filmmaking and then some of the specific projects that he’s worked on over the years. It’s pretty interesting and a nice addition to the disc. Del Valle pops up again in a separate sixty-minute interview with Harrington. Again, it goes quite in depth into the director’s career and lets him talk at length about his career making horror pictures (and again, it has some audio synch problems).

    Aside from that we get the film’s original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release there’s also a DVD version of the movie include and on the reverse side of the cover sleeve there is an essay on the film written by Bell.

    The Final Word:

    Ruby has its problems but so too does it have its own set of quirky, screwy charms. VCI’s Blu-ray release sounds fine and has a pretty solid array of extras, but that transfer… here’s hoping they can get replacement discs out sooner rather than later.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      I wonder why there is audio sync problems on the Sinister Image material? Will VCI ever releases a problem free Blu? ( that's a rhetorical question, obviously ).
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Jesus Christ. Yet another title for me to avoid...
    1. Maureen Champ's Avatar
      Maureen Champ -
      I thought Ruby is sweet sixteen which was christened in blood and raised in sin but hell no! Also this transfer sucks monkey's balls, Scream Factory or Arrow Video should fix it.