If you’ll forgive the indulgence, it’s time for another brief talk about the numbering of the Zombi movies. The series we’ve been following as the “originals” finished at 5 (Joe D’Amato’s thoroughly rotten “Killing Birds”); but there was another, similar but longer series, released by T-Z Video, which shows an even more blatant disregard for series having any sort of central theme at all. That has included one classic, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, and their entry for “Zombi 5” is another from that movie’s director, Jess Franco. After this, there’s a 6 and 7, which (in what must surely be a joke of some sort) are the first and second “Anthropophagous” movies from Joe D’Amato, but released in reverse order – 6 is part 2, 7 is part 1.
All I can tell you of this experiment is don’t watch dozens of terrible zombie movies back to back. I do the hard work so you don’t have to, dear reader – of this series, all you need is the first two of the proper “Zombi” series, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, “Burial Ground” / “Nights Of Terror”, and maybe “The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue” if you’re in a good mood. If you’re reading this and would like me to embark on another series, or themed reviews, please let me know in the comments. Or just drive past my house and shout, if you know me.
As you may have noticed from the title, this isn’t a typical zombie movie entry. “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” is not only a famous story, but was also filmed the year before this, an American TV production with Robert Hays and Martin Landau. Then there’s the legendary 1960 version from Roger Corman, one of three magnificent Poe adaptations done by him in the 1960s, so the question “why bother?” might reasonably be asked, although it certainly won’t be answered. As is almost traditional with 70s and 80s Euro-horror, there’s a chequered production history – three versions were made, apparently, after an extremely poor reception at a film festival, with different plots. Although I slightly doubt the amount of difference, with the version I saw appearing to have two of the three resolutions listed on IMDB, it’s become a cause celebre in recent years, with a re-edited version getting great reviews earlier this year as close to Franco’s original vision. Who knows, eh?
The other thing you might remember if you’ve read the original story is that it features no zombies, a plot this movie follows. Now, there are literally hundreds of un-loved zombie movies from the 70s and 80s that could be picked up by an enterprising video company for little to no money, so why they yet again picked a poorly regarded movie with no zombies in it is a conundrum I cannot solve.
The plot bears a vague resemblance to the famous story. Dr Harker (Robert Foster) receives a letter from his old teacher, Dr Usher (Howard Vernon, the Uncle from “Virgin Among The Living Dead”) and goes to visit him in his castle, which is supposed to be a bit ruinous but is actually beautifully maintained – they filmed in a real working tourist castle, so every now and again you get a glimpse of something far too modern for the story. Before he turns up, we see Usher’s assistant Morpho, blind in one eye (and mostly blind in the other, which is halfway down his face) and a butler drain all the blood from one woman and put it into another, who briefly shows signs of life before lapsing back into a coma.
So, Usher and his people are trying to keep Usher’s daughter alive, who suffered from an unspecified illness, or they said it when I was yawning and I didn’t catch it. He’s also discovered the secret of eternal life…I feel like I’m just going to grudgingly recap this entire movie, and I can’t be bothered (much as I doubt you’d be bothered about reading it). Harker discovers the secret of the house very quickly, then falls over and hits his head to the extent he’s knocked unconscious; when he wakes up the next morning, they try and pass it off as “mountain fever” and he buys it…for about 2 minutes, before Usher sits him down and just explains all the murders he’s been doing anyway. Huh? I guess that was one of the edits they made after it went down badly?
One of the crucial rules of poor-quality low-budget movie-making, is never remind anyone of a great movie, because they’ll just want to watch that instead. Franco uses a large chunk of one of his old movies in the middle of this, repurposing key scenes from 1966’s “The Awful Dr Orloff” (also starring Howard Vernon) and changing the dubbing to fit his narrative. Only problem is, “Orloff” is a great film, the one that put Franco on the map, and “Usher” isn’t. The switch between the beautiful black-and-white footage to the cheap-looking modern colour stuff is a jarring one, every time it happens.
The rest of the movie is just people running around the old castle, a completely typical, if hopelessly confused, ghost story. As Usher descends further into illness and madness, his victims come back to haunt him, and as we’ve seen the castle start to crack when Usher is close to death, we know what’s going to happen (I’m not going to be accused of spoiling a story that’s nearly 200 years old). The excellently named “Fata Morgana”, in what appears to be her only role, is the spirit of Usher’s first wife, and is excellent, leading me to believe it’s someone else under a pseudonym.
I feel this review has been a little disjointed – if so, I’m merely mirroring the movie. It’s poorly made, with the great location doing most of the heavy lifting, with some terrible camp performances from most of the cast. Because he used so much of his old movie, he had to change some of the plot points, and while the original story isn’t a great classic of literature or anything like that, I trust Edgar Allan Poe with a narrative more than I trust 1982-era Jess Franco. And Harker, as well as the local doctor Seward, feel like lifts from “Dracula” (Harker’s character is unnamed in the original Poe story). There’s no gore, on top of there not really being any zombies.
I look forward to reviewing many more Jess Franco films for you, because he’s clearly made some great bits of Euro-horror. But not this one, oh no. Poorly edited, poorly shot, poorly acted and, honestly, pretty boring. Watch “Orloff” instead, or range a little further back and check out “Eyes Without A Face”, which has more of an influence on this than Poe does.
Rating: thumbs down