29 August, 2021

El Hundimiento de la Casa Usher (1983) Filipe M. Guerra version


I'm gradually putting together a series of blog posts on this unique version of Jess Franco's lost director's cut of his 1983 EL HUNDIMINETO DE LA CASA USHER.  The film was only projected publicly once at a Horror Festival in Spain, where is was roundly rejected by a disappointed audience.

It was then recut and several murder sequences involving Usher (Howard Vernon) were added while other footage was removed. Years later it was again re-edited by Eurocine, Paris, with other newly filmed sequences featuring Olivier Mathot, Francoise Blanchard as Usher's assistant and his daughter. A lengthy clip from Franco's 1962, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE was also included, as a flashback to Usher's past as he relates it to Jonathan Harker (Hacker!). Black and white footage in a color film. This version was given the English language export title, REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER, with a Wizard Video box graphic including an image of a menacing power drill (cf De Palma's 1984 BODY DOUBLE!). This version is also known as NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and ZOMBIE 5.

Part I will be an extensive interview I conducted with Felipe M. Guerra, who created the new composite which gives an impression of what Jess Franco's version might have been.

GRITOS EN LA NOCHE, the 1962 film which was Jess Franco's first horror film, makes a surprise appearance in NEUROSIS: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. 

(c) Robert Monell, 2021

25 August, 2021

EL COYOTE (Joaquin Romero Marchent, 1955)


EL COYOTE (1955): When the territory of California is made a state in the mid 1800s there is much violence and resistance by outlaws and the Mexican residents, which is violently put down by US military force. Massacres and uprisings result in many casualties. Eventually a stranger arrives who takes on the masked identity of a ruthless avenger. This is the first of two feature films featuring a Zorro type character who helps the citizens of California resist anarchy and corrupt US military officials in the newly founded state.
Above: Jess Franco (center), with Rafael Marchent (left) and his brother Joaquin Romero Marchent (right) onset. All three would go on to direct Spanish Westerns in the 1960s.

An atmospheric historical adventure shot in high contrast monochrome by Ricardo Torres with a impressive use of shadows and stylized camera angles. Both this and the sequel were shot in 29 days by the great Joaquin Romero Marchent, assisted by a very young Jess Franco (seen center in the below production still), who was scriptwriter, assistant director, co-composer and appears in a cameo. Marchent went on to become the most prolific maker of Spanish westerns. Franco also co-wrote the 1962 remake, also directed by Marchent, starring Frank Latimore as El Coyote and Howard Vernon as a corrupt US officer. These films tell the story of American expansion from the point of view of the people exploited by the local American politicians and military of that era. Based on characters created by Jose Mallorqui.
Above: Jess Franco, with a prosthetic nose and mustache, as a Union soldier in EL COYOTE (1954)? Or perhaps not.
Although it's very brief, there is a possible Jess Franco appearance as a Union soldier, seen from low angle during a dissolve, in the American flag raising sequence at the beginning of the film. There's a strong resemblance. Perhaps it's the very first Franco cameo. He would also appear as a more recognizable piano player in Leon Klimovsky's Spanish noir, MIEDO (1956), on which he also worked as a screenwriter and composer. It's very interesting to note the difference in style between this film and LA VENGANZA DEL ZORRO, the 1962 color remake. Not only is the monochrome format more effective in creating a period atmosphere, it develops an ambience of noirish deceptive appearances. Black and white is neither reality nor the way humans normally perceive reality. But we can dream in black and white, and black and white movies have been made since the birth of cinema. 
The one major problem with the first two Marchent COYOTE films is the casting of Mexican actor Abel Salazar in the lead role. He's believable as the foppish gentleman who first appears in town, less believable as the ghostly, masked midnight rider. Salazar went on to appear in and produce such key Mexican horror films as EL VAMPIRO (1957) and EL BARON DEL TERROR/THE BRAINIAC (1961). He doesn't appear to have the internal fortitude, athletic sophistication and elan needed for the role. Frank Latimore was somewhat more effective in the remake. 

                                            Above: Mexican producer-actor Abel Salazar

When El Coyote's looming shadow towers over the corrupt commandant in the final confrontation we are transported to the realm of illusion, dreams, 1940s Hollywood horror. Nothing in the remake equals it. The one advantage is that Howard Vernon is a better actor and gives a more layered performance in the remake. Next we'll consider the second film, which is basically an extension of the first with some interesting developments. Once again Franco was assistant/co-director/co-writer since the films were shot simultaneously and then constructed as two separate features. According to director Marchent, it turned out to be a very work intensive, confusing shoot. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2021