A dimwitted sailor named Johnny (Dennis Hopper), who appears to be on eternal shore leave from the United States Navy, wanders a seaside town and encounters a beautiful woman dressed like Wonder Woman before she received her magic lasso named Mora (Linda Lawson). Annoying her until she acquiesces to his demands for a date, Johnny and Mora quickly fall in love, but then things go terribly wrong when the slack-jawed seaman discovers his new doll may in fact be an evil sea creature who preys upon the innocent when the moon is full. Boy, when things go bad! Part Wolf Man, part anticipation of Ron Howard’s Splash!, Night Tide is a bland horror film about dumb people doing uninteresting things.
You wouldn’t guess from his performance here that Hopper grew into one of the key actors and directors of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He certainly doesn’t rise above the general mediocrity of the material or his fellow castmates; in fact, he looks quite at home amongst this lot. Perhaps it’s the script. Or, perhaps, the drugs he became so famous for consuming in almost impossible quantities had already begun to impair his abilities. Maybe somebody was lacing the prop coffee since his character consumes about a dozen pots of it over the course of the film, mostly drawn from the kettle of a girl who runs a merry-go-round concession and seems incapable of resisting the urge to offer every person she meets a cup of joe. In Night Tide’s final scene, this woman meets Johnny in the police station and still manages to have a fresh cup ready for him when he’s done being interrogated! And it’s in a porcelain cup too! Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes didn’t have this much java in it.
The movie aspires to a Cat People-like atmosphere of off-screen horror and on-screen dread and curiosity -is Mora really a monster or is it all in her mind? But director Curtis Harrington isn’t up to the task of such a complex manipulation of tone and pacing, and his visuals are rarely offer up anything beyond the below average low-budget horror fare. Night Tide is 1960s horror at its lowest ebb.