Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: Night Tide (1961)

Night Tide is a 1961 thriller film, written and directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Dennis Hopper as Seaman Johnny Drake. Whilst on shore leave, Drake meets Mora (Linda Lawson) in a jazz club. She makes her living appearing as a mermaid in a sideshow attraction at the marina, operated by Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir). Mora, who lives in an apartment above the marina merry-go-round, and Johnny fall for each other. Everyone around them is wary of the romance, as her previous two lovers have died mysteriously.

Mora believes she is a descendant of the Sirens, mythic sea creatures who lure sailors to their deaths. From time to time a mysterious and seemingly sinister woman (Marjorie Cameron) appears and frightens Mora. She believes the woman is the leader of the mermaids, calling Mora to fulfill her destiny. Mora’s origins seem to be driving her to commit murder by the full moon. Johnny is unable to believe his lover is capable of murder, but Mora herself seems more certain. During a diving trip on the day of the full moon, Mora cuts Johnny’s breathing tube and he is forced to surface, leaving her below, where she swims away into the shadows to die herself in order to save Johnny from future harm.

When Johnny returns to the marina the next night, he sees that the lifeless body of Mora is now on display in the mermaid tank. Murdock appears, brandishing a gun. It was he who committed the murders and convinced Mora that she was an actual mermaid. Murdock himself was in love with Mora and his jealousy drove him to kill the men Mora was interested in. Mora had discarded her oxygen tank in the sea, and had drowned. In the ensuing struggle between Johnny and Murdock, the glass tank is shattered, and the water and debris pin Murdock down.

At the police station, Murdock confesses to the crimes and Johnny returns to his ship accompanied by the shore patrol. The one loose end to Murdock’s story is that he denies any knowledge of the mysterious woman who had been frightening Mora. The police dismiss it as the man protecting her, but this is left open to other possibilities as well. It’s also left open how Murdock retrieved Mora’s body from the ocean where she herself committed suicide.

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