The story begins in Florida in 1935. Lounge singer Ruby Claire (Piper Laurie, fresh from her role in Carrie) is having a romantic encounter near a swamp with her gangster boyfriend Nicky (Sal Vecchio). They’re about to get on a boat when the rest of Nicky’s gang shows up and blows him away.
A gang member named Jake (Fred Kohler) is jealous of Nick and wants him out of the picture.
Ruby – pregnant with Nicky’s baby – goes into shock during the shooting and gives birth that same night.
When next we see Ruby, it’s 1951, and she lives with her 16-year-old daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin) – who is mute and lives in a world of her own – and her loyal and faithful companion Vince Kemper (Stuart Whitman). They also care for Jake, who is now blind and in a wheelchair.
The rest of the gang – who have all done time in prison- now work for Ruby at the drive-in cinema that she owns.
This week, Ruby’s Drive-In is screening Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (which wasn’t released until 1958 but let’s not nit-pick), but not all the excitement is on the screen.
Nicky – having decided that 16 years lying at the bottom of a swamp is long enough – is back and sets out to use the speechless body of their speechless daughter as a vessel to exact revenge from beyond the grave on the people who killed him.
The special effects and gore are cheaply done – and some of the possession scenes are heavily influenced by The Exorcist – but the acting is superb, and William Mendell’s crisp cinematography makes excellent use of vibrant colour and makes the most out of the misty swampland location.
Made for $600,000, Ruby went on to make $16 million. Director Curtis Harrington had nothing to do with the weak and cheesy ending, which was re-shot by the producers. Both Harrington and Piper Laurie refused to be involved in the re-shoot.
Dr Paul Keller
Mary Margaret Robinson