Hopper's Horror: Night Tide

I know I'm a bit late here due to technical difficulties, but I wanted to do this post ever since I first heard about Dennis Hopper's passing last May. To say that Hopper's five-decade long career was diverse and unusual is an understatement: He had done both television and film, he's been in a lion's share of classic and cult classic films, and he also dabbled in writing and directing films. He even provided his vocal talents to video games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the Wii's creepy-crawly Deadly Creatures. All of that aside, I wanted to take the time to review one of Hopper's early, overlooked films: Night Tide (1961). Read on …

Hopper was no stranger to horror--after all, he was in such notable horror franchise entries as Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005). Yet Night Tide is a film of its own, an underrated gem that's evocative of Val Lewton's work, particularly Cat People (1942). Furthermore, its setting, cinematography, and morose, desolate atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls.(1962).

Night Tide is about a Johnny Drake (Hopper) a navy cadet who meets and falls in love with Mora (Linda Lawson), a girl he meets while on shore leave at Venice Beach, California. He soon learns that Mora believes that she is descended from a race of murderous sea people, and that her deadly heritage will eventually cause her to become a real mermaid and murder Drake. Is Mora really a killer monster in human guise, or is there something else afoot? Watch Night Tide to find out.

If you want a horror film that's filled with action and shocks, Night Tide is really not for you. It’s more of a mood piece that works at a slow burn, slowly revealing bizarre, tantalizing details to pull you in to the characters’ lives and their world. While most of the story involves ordinary people in a familiar place, there are just enough hints of the supernatural to keep the viewer off balance. (For another example of a low-budget horror mood piece that uses the supernatural in a limited yet very effective way, see Head Trauma (2006).)

That said, Night Tide is not without its faults. The film’s small budget didn’t allow for complicated special effects, so most of the creature scenes look very cheap. The soundtrack isn’t very complementary—it is often upbeat in areas of the narrative where it shouldn't be—and the ending feels rushed, with an expository conclusion that’s too neatly presented. Nevertheless, after the film reveals who and what the real monster is in this film and you consider what it means to the overall story and one of its main characters, Night Tide will stick with you for a while.

Hopper left behind many notable contributions to the film industry, and Night Tide is definitely one of them. If you’re a fan of offbeat, moody horror, do yourself a favor and track down a copy of this underappreciated gem.


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