Night Tide walks the tightrope between B-movie and arthouse sensibilities with varying degrees of success. The atmosphere drips off of the film. It’s vision of spooky seaside loneliness certainly registers and the black and white photography feels very much of the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur tradition. On one level it’s a horror of psychosis, on the other a story of strange love. Dennis Hopper plays a seaman who becomes fascinated by a woman called Mora who appears to have a very skewed perception of reality. She works as a sideshow mermaid at the local carnival and takes the job quite literally, believing herself to be a creature from the sea created to lure sailors to their deaths. So Mora is either psychologically damaged or a genuine siren. She’s a mystery and Hopper likes that.
The plot never stacks things too heavily allowing director Curtis Harrington’s dreamy aroma to overwhelm the film. Night Tide therefore becomes more about feeling and the subconscious; a collection of imagery and mood more than a concrete character study or storyline. There’s not a lot to grasp onto and it becomes a bit of liquid haze. I’m finding it difficult to recall the story without the aid of wikipedia as it’s been a few weeks since I saw it but I can easily remember the feel of the film. It goes without saying that seeing a young Dennis Hopper indulge in a leading role is fun. Again nothing memorable but it adds to the shelf life.
This is a cool little film to be aware of, a film that seems to be getting more attention now than it ever did in 1961. The film has terrific mood and ideas even if it never comes together to feel like a misunderstood masterpiece or neglected classic. It’s a B-movie at heart but it’s ideas are more subversive and unusual. A strange one, but intentionally so.