I stumbled upon a reference to this film while reading Sex and Rockets, a biography of rocket scientist and magician Jack Parsons. Parson’s “elemental,” the woman he claims to have conjured into his life via a magical rite, Marjorie Cameron, appears in the movie, thus earning its mention in Parson’s biography. Half-curious to know what an elemental looks like, I added it to the old watchlist when it became free on Prime. So after viewing it, I can attest that an elemental looks pretty much like any other 40 year-old white woman in California. Mystery solved.
Night Tide features a very young Dennis Hopper as Johnny, a Navy recruit on furlough along the seedy amusement pier and boardwalk of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. There, he meets a Mora, a young woman who makes a living as a “mermaid” in one of the amusement pier’s sideshows. The two begin a relationship, but before too long, thanks to the mysterious presence of both Marjorie Cameron’s character (credited as “Water Witch”) and Mora’s guardian and employer, Captain Murdock, Johnny begins to suspect Mora may actually be a mermaid–a siren, actually, one of the sea people who lure sailors to their deaths.
The film is more thriller than horror, something you might see on an episode of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Shot in black-and-white and with a modest budget, Night Tide holds no true scares and only the occasional menace. It’s more a curiosity than a must-see, if only for Cameron’s presence and a very pre-Easy Rider Hopper. I’d normally give it a lower grade, but the movie has the only “Bongos by” credit I’ve ever seen in a motion picture (give it up for Chaino, ladies and gentlemen!). It would also make a pretty good Cthulhu Confidential investigation featuring a Deep One hybrid struggling to make sense of her condition and heritage along the beach of Los Angeles. Those two factors bump it up to an even two skulls out of four.