Saturday, February 05, 2011


Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) is a moody young sailor at liberty staying at the Santa Monica boardwalk who goes to a moody beatnik bar called The Blue Lagoon and meets Mora (Linda Lawson), a moody young woman who works as a mermaid at a boardwalk attraction and lives above the carousel. They both seem like lonely, vulnerable people and begin to bond. Then Johnny finds out about her background: her boss and guardian, Captain Murdock, says that she is descended from a race of siren-type sea people; Mora's two previous boyfriends disappeared and were later found drowned; a mysterious woman pops up now and then who seems to have a strange power over Mora; and, oh yeah, Mora thinks she's actually a mermaid and occasionally goes walking in a trance out to the ocean because she's being called from the depths. Of course, their relationship is doomed, but is it doomed because these people are neurotics, or because Mora really is an unearthly creature?

This moody (sorry, but that's the best word) fantasy/melodrama is often compared to the 40s movies of Val Lewton, I'm guessing because of the gloomy look and the brooding characters (I found a couple of synonyms for "moody"). Make no mistake, the director, Curtis Harrington (whose career peaked a few years later with the tricky thriller GAMES), is no Val Lewton; if anything, this movie, perhaps because of its watery setting and feeling of doomed predestination, reminded me more of CARNIVAL OF SOULS than of CAT PEOPLE. If you only know Hopper from Easy Rider or Blue Velvet, you'll be surprised how handsome and almost delicate he is here; he's very good as the nice-guy sailor with just a touch of loner-oddness about him--he is Dennis Hopper, after all. Lawson is weaker, but her role is so strange that her performance almost fits. Cult star Luana Anders has a relatively small part. The score jarringly breaks the mood at times. There is a nice dream sequence involving mermaids and octopuses, and indeed the best sections of the film are the ones that feel dreamy--the more rational parts bring the film down a bit. Worth seeing, especially widescreen. [DVD]

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