15 July 2024

Curtis Harrington was born in Los Angeles on September 17, 1928. As a child, he was always fascinated by filmmaking.

He first tried his hand at directing with 8mm and 16mm shorts, including The Fall of the House of Usher, Fragment of Seeking and Picnic. While trying to break into the business, he took jobs as a movie theater usher, a messenger at Paramount and a stagehand.

Harrington began working for Jerry Wald Productions at 20th Century Fox in 1957 and became a producer's assistant on several big budget pictures, including Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer.

He directed his first picture in 1961, the eerie Night Tide. Dennis Hopper played a sailor who meets a mysterious female whose line of work is performing as a mermaid at the Santa Monica Pier. They become lovers and he soon finds out that her previous boyfriends disappeared without a trace. Is the woman really a mermaid?

Harrington had been a big fan of Val Lewton - and Night Tide was clearly inspired by The Cat People. Although the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival in '61, it was not released in the States for another two years. Today, it is widely regarded as a classic mood piece.

Hopper would star again in the director's next genre film (as would genre fave John Saxon), the low-budget sci-fi Queen of Blood AKA Planet of Blood (1966). Not to be confused with Mario Bava's '65 Planet of the Vampires, Harrington's sci fi/horror tale chronicles a space expedition to Mars that leads to a bizarre encounter with a female vampire.

1967's Games was a thriller with a top-notch cast that included Simone Signoret, Katharine Ross and James Caan. The story recalled Signoret's earlier Diabolique from 1955.

The success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? started a subgenre of grand guignol films with twist endings, a trend that Harrington rode at the beginning of the '70s.

The Made-for-TV How Awful About Allan (1970) was the first of these. It starred Anthony Perkins and Julie Harris in a story about a blind man who begins to believe that a boarder living in his house is trying to kill him.

1971's What's the Matter With Helen? teamed Shelley Winters with Debbie Reynolds. Set in the '30s, the pair played parents of two convicted murderers who try to start a new life by opening a school for child actors...and whose past comes back to haunt them.

In Who Slew Auntie Roo? (also '71), Harrington again directed Winters, this time in a variation of Hansel and Gretel.

Harrington showed his admiration for Val Lewton once more with The Cat Creature, which aired on ABC in December of 1973. The homage to another era concerned a curse unleashed by an amulet stolen from a mummy. It starred Meredith Baxter and featured a comeback role for the great Gale Sondergaard.

The Killing Kind, a theatrical release from the same year, was one of his best works. A somber character study about a rather unhealthy relationship between a mother and her psychopathic son (Ann Southern and John Savage), it's a must-see.

Harrington worked mostly in television from then on, alternating between thrillers including The Dead Don't Die, Killer Bees and Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell...as well as popular series of the day, such as Wonder Woman and Charlie's Angels.

Ruby (1977) returned the director to the big screen in a picture that marked Piper Laurie's follow-up to Carrie. It was a haunted flick in which Laurie played a drive-in theater proprietor whose daughter is possessed by the spirit of her dead gangster boyfriend.

The experience for Harrington was marred by an ending that was filmed and added without his consent.

Although he continued to work, it was with less frequency. In 2002, Harrington directed, wrote and starred in Usher. He played an aging poet living in a creepy mansion, who inspires a young writer. Having filmed a short based on the Edgar Allan Poe story when he was just a teenager, he had come full circle.

Curtis Harrington passed away in May 2007 at age 80.

The Cat Creature 1973
The Dead Don't Die 1975
Devil Dog: Hound of Hell 1978
Games 1967
How Awful About Allan 1970
Killer Bees 1974
The Killing Kind 1973
Night Tide 1961
Planet of Blood 1966
Ruby 1977
What's the Matter with Helen? 1971
Who Slew Auntie Roo? 1971
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