Monday, February 02, 2009

Revenge in the House of Usher – review

dvdDirector: Jess Franco

Release date: 1982

Contains spoilers

I have always thought that there was something vampiric about Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Not in content, you understand, but in feel. The corrupt house, inhabited by the hyper-sensory Roderick Usher and his cataleptic sister Madeline who ends up being buried alive – a possible source of the vampiric legend in itself.

I guess it was inevitable that someone would tie the two concepts together although, to be candid, the vampiric elements in this film are such that I wondered whether to just write an honourable mention. The film does tie a vampire aspect – almost two vampire aspects – into the story though, in many respects, the film is less Usher and more Orloff – indeed the film has footage from The Awful Dr. Orloff within it as flashbacks. Further, the same actor – Howard Vernon – plays Dr Eric Vladamir Usher (not Roderick in the English dub, at least, despite what imdb say) as played Orloff.

Harker the travellerThe film starts with a most jerky pan of the mountain scenery. I mean it is poor. Let us be frank, Franco can pull together some astounding shots, despite budget and general idiosyncrasies but at other times his visions suck – this was one. A man, we later discover to be Dr Alan Harker (Antonio Mayans) – though the dub sounded more like Hacker – rides through the countryside. Why have I accepted that Harker’s name is as imdb lists it but not Usher? Mainly because Harker is, of course, associated with Dracula and later we get another name refugee from that novel in the form of Dr Seward (Daniel White).

Oliver Mathot as MorphoIn a castle a man, bug eyed and blind, named Morpho (Oliver Mathot) carries a woman downstairs, followed by another man named Matthias (Jean Tolzac). Morpho was a character in Orloff and was played in that (and thus in the flashbacks in this) by Ricardo Valle. As Morpho carries the woman downstairs, it becomes clear that he is blind. He places the woman near the cataleptic body of Melissa Usher (Françoise Blanchard). Despite being blind, Usher expects him to hook a transfusion, neck to neck, from woman to woman. The transfusion causes Melissa to awaken, cry and babble incoherently.

Usher, Harker and Seward togetherHarker arrives at the castle and is met by Helen (Lina Romay), the housekeeper. She was not expecting him but Harker said that Dr Usher had written to him and asked him to come. When Usher appears he states he does not know Harker. Harker, in turn, maintains that he was Usher’s student in Prague and that he wrote to him. Suddenly Usher remembers and, if that wasn’t enough to convince you the old coot was mad, starts raving at invisible detractors. He collapses and Harker is sent to get Dr Seward.

female captivesSeward does not wish to come but Harker convinces him. After he leaves Harker goes to bed and has bad dreams, waking he hears wailing. He follows it downstairs and finds three women chained up; they say Usher takes their blood. As he continues a mysterious woman grabs at him. He sees a beaten Mathias locked in a cell because he displeased Usher and finally sees Usher with Melissa. He passes out and is carried to his room.

the maidWhen he awakens there is a girl in his room, who along with Alan the stable lad, had carried Harker to his room. She is laying out breakfast for him and suggests he has had nightmares. She blames Mountain Fever – a convenient ailment that afflicts those not used to the mountains. She tells him that Usher awaits him downstairs.

flashback to a previous filmUsher is downstairs and it seems his point in summoning Harker is to use the young man a a scribe whilst he dictates his life story, or perhaps that should read confession. It is within these scenes that we flash back to the scenes from the Awful Dr Orloff. It seems that the (struck off) Doctor has been killing for some time, so exactly what is going on?

transfusions are the name of the gameOn the surface Melissa is suffering from an ailment that has caused her to fall into a cataleptic coma and caused Usher to start large scale blood transfusions to keep her alive and, hopefully, one day revive her. This has been ongoing for quite some time (he claims to be 100) but it isn’t blood that keeps her young but, he claims, the inclusion of embryonic cells (quite how that occurs in a person to person transfusion was ignored). The use of the cells has kept him, relatively, young.

is the woman representative of the house?However, the house does appear to be generally empty and this could all be the ravings of a mad mind or a guilty mind. We just do not know. There is another character in this, however, who is the mysterious woman. She claims to be Usher’s wife but might be the embodiment of the house (he says at one point that he and the house are wedded, hence it will collapse when he dies).

She, at one point, approaches Mathias and says she needs him – she needs to drink blood and his is her favourite. He agrees to draw some rather, I assume, than be bitten. Off screen we hear him scream. She appears and disappears, almost ghost like and, like the film, seems to be a hodgepodge and amalgam of concepts, half explored and not explained.

The film is deathly slow pace wise, and the vampiric nature of some of this is visible but only just. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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