Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Franco foul-up almost saved by unintentional comedy

Neurosis: The Fall of the House of Usher (aka "Revenge in the House of Usher" and "Zombie 5") (1982)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Robert Foster, Lina Romay, Jean Tolzac, Olivier Mathot, and Fran├žoise Blanchard
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Dr. Alan Hacker (Foster) travels to the castle of his old professor, Dr. Usher (Vernon) where he quickly learns that his old teacher has gone mad. Aside from claiming that he is 200 years old, Usher is obsessed with resurrecting his dead daughter by giving her blood transfusions from girls he’s kidnapped.



With "Neurosis" (as the film was called in the on-screen titles even though the DVD case told me I was going to see "Revenge in the House of Usher"), Jess Franco manages to make himself look worse than usual. Not only does he do a half-assed job of adapting the classic Poe story "Fall of the House of Usher" but he uses 15-20 minutes of footage from one of the few good movies he's made--"Awful Dr. Orlof"--as a flashback sequence so the viewer can compare what he did in 1964 with what he did in 1981. 1981 Jess Franco does NOT look good when compared with 1964 Jess Franco.

The fault in using the old footage is embodied first in the character of "Morpho", Dr. Usher's blind (one-eyed?) assistant who is more in love with Usher's semi-undead daughter than even Usher. Morpho's make-up in the 1981 footage is pathetic when compared with the 1962 footage... when it should have been the other way around, given the improvement in the art in the two decades that passed between the production of the two films. Secondly, the old footage is simply better over all cinematography-wise. The shots are better composed and framed, more interestingly lit, and just more dramatic over-all.

As for the film overall, there is no logic to the story and the scenes appear to be strung together almost as random, with characters dropping in and out--like the horny stable boy; or important characters being introduced out of the blue in the third act--like Usher's wife, who may or may not be a ghost. We never do find out what she is or how she managed to creep around the castle without Usher's loyal housekeeper and would-be lover Helen seeing her (if she wasn't a ghost).

Speaking of Helen... if someone can explain her character arc to me, I will bow down to you as the superior reviewer. She becomes a completely different character all of a sudden. I could chalk it up to delusions on the part of Usher, but Dr. Hacker was the one who was primarily involved with her inexplicable transformation.

While watching the film, I actually did wonder on more than one occasion whether it was a satire of gothic horror films that misfired rather than a serious attempt at making a horror movie. If viewed as such, it suddenly becomes a mediocre movie instead of a terrible one. Certainly, the bad acting on the part of the men dubbing Robert Foster (as Dr. Hacker) and Howard Vernon (as Dr. Usher) gives rise to much hilarity... and the people responsible for voicing Lina Romay and the rest of the cast are almost as effective with their comedic stylings.

But I doubt this was intended as a comedy, so the film ends up here, with the rest of the cinematic trash. There are actually a few well-done scenes of horror sprinkled here and there throughout the film, but overall it's another cheap-jack Jess Franco Failure, with another of his trademark botched endings. (Free advice to filmmakers: If you're going to adapt "The Fall of the House of Usher" and you're going to have a building collapse... for God's sake, budget some miniature shots or buy some stock footage, because the way Franco does it here is a textbook example of what NOT to do.)

That said, the bad voice, the incoherent storyline, and the outrageously random behavior on the part of the characters also make this movie the exact right kind of trash for those who enjoy riffing as bad movies unfold. With the right group of friends, this movie can be a lot of fun.