Every director has his or her crowning achievement. Alfred Hitchcock has Vertigo, Steven Spielberg has his Schindler’s List, and James Cameron has his Titanic. Well…The Haunting of Morella is Jim Wynorski’s Titanic. Of course, instead of Kate and Leo we get Nicole Eggert and Maria Ford…but, po-TAY-to/po-TAH-to. Compared the startling disaster that is 976-Evil 2: The Astral Factor, this movie is a timeless masterpiece; it doesn’t appear to have been shot on a camcorder, it features period costumes, and Julie Strain is nowhere in sight. These factors alone put it on a plain much higher than Jim’s usual fare. And, of course, we the granny panties. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
So, first of all, this is another one of those movies that has a supposed connection to Edgar Allan Poe. For some reason, a lot of straight-to-video early-90s horror fare was credited to Poe or H.P. Lovecraft…as if these two names could give the resulting mess some semblance of class. As is generally the case, The Haunting of Morella has nothing to do with Poe, except that the name “Morella” popped up somewhere in one of his writings. And, as is also often the case, this movie nothing to do with class. Personally, I’m glad that this movie doesn't really come from old Edgar…his poems/short stories weren't always that exciting, while Morella is full of big boobs, lesbianism, blind men who are CLEARLY not blind, and granny panties. Damn…why do I keep bringing that up? We’ll get there, I promise.
I’m not too clear on the plot here; however, I can tell you that Nicole Eggert plays the daughter of Morella, who was a witch burned at the stake. Nicole’s performance is a marvel of miscasting; when Maria Ford out-acts you, you know you’re in trouble. Though the movie is taking place in the 1700s (I think…or maybe the 1600s…possibly the 1800s...) Nicole projects the forced, wide-eyed innocence of a 1950s American sitcom. I'm sorry if you're a "Baywatch" fan, but seriously, we’re not even in community theatre territory here; this is elementary school play. I’m also not convinced that women in the 1700s had fringed bangs that have been fluffed out with Aquanet. Still, Nicole is a lot of fun to watch and the movie wouldn't be the same without her. In fact, the movie would probably have never been made without her. So -- thanks, Nicole!
Anyway, Nicole lives with her blind father (who wears very modern sunglasses and doesn’t actually appear to be blind), the lesbian maid, and her lesbian governess. Of course, when I say “lesbian,” I mean big-breasted women who make out with each other…not real lesbians who would probably laugh these two right out of a gay bar. Anyway, the maid is played by Maria Ford, who dons a thick red wig and speaks with a (sort of) British accent. JM and I first fell in love with Maria when we spotted her in an episode of “Erotic Confessions” playing a doctor who cures a man’s loneliness by humping him non-stop at a ski lodge...of course, we've been fans ever since.
The governess, meanwhile, is played by cult actress Lana Clarkson, who is the real star here. Clarkson – who seems to tower over every other performer by at least two feet – ferociously latches on to her part and performs it with gusto: think Sybil Danning with less-greasy hair and a larger forehead. First of all, you can't take your eyes off her; the costumes are so perilously low-cut that Lana looks like she's going to explode out at us at any moment, which provides the only real suspense the movie has to offer. But she also has real presence; by the end of this movie, you will be completely in love with her. Unfortunately Clarkson, as do so many of our favorites, became much more famous after she died; she’s the woman found dead at record producer Phil Spector’s house. She had a short career and life, which is really sad…but at least she left us movies like Morella, which we'll be enjoying for a very long time.
So…we’re asked to believe that Lana the governess was in love with dead witch Morella, and now plans to bring Morella back from the grave using Nicole Eggert. Nicole gets a love interest, a character named Guy (the perfect name when you can’t think of a man’s name that sounds like it came from the 1700s), and in a failed attempt at doing away with her goody-two-shoes "Charles in Charge" image, Nicole gets a sex scene; unfortunately, this movie makes the most clumsy use of a body double since Julie Roberts’ head grew out of someone else's neck on the Pretty Woman poster. Really…watch as a thin, tan, “Baywatch”-ready Nicole becomes a pasty, doughy woman writhing in ecstasy. If you’re renting this movie in hopes of getting some Eggert chest…you’re screwed. However, if you’re renting this movie to see a ridiculous sex scene in the rain – with Nicole’s hair clumping up like a mop of seaweed…you hit the jackpot!
Now, even though Morella starts possessing her daughter, the governess decides to start killing women so that she can resurrect Morella’s remains. This, of course, is a Texas-sized plot hole…I mean, if you can possess your hot daughter, why not just stay in her body? But…this affords us some great death scenes. First off is a barmaid named Ilsa, who gets bonked in the head and a knifed across the throat. Sadly, this is not the last of the indignities against Ilsa…later, during her autopsy, the doctor utters the line, “All indications are this is Ilsa.” WHAT? That’s all you came up with after cutting open her body? I could have told you that!
Next up, it’s Maria’s turn to go. Now, if this movie is Jim’s Titanic, then Maria’s death scene is the part where Leo stands on the boat screaming that he’s king of the world. In short, this is Morella’s crowning achievement. Maria ends up on some kind of cheap waterfall set – imagine one of those He-Man action figure dioramas blown up to human size. She’s a sight to behold: all tight lips on top and “authentic period” bikini g-string on bottom. Suddenly, from behind the waterfall, we see Lana Clarkson, gloriously topless and sporting what can only be called…you guessed it…the granny panties! Seriously, these things are gargantuan, stretching from just under her boobs down to her knees. Imagine if you stripped down right now and decided to put on Marlon Brando’s drawers – it kind of looks like that. Are they meant to be sexy? Hard to say. If so, this is movie’s most colossal failure (and remember, we’re talking about a period movie starring Nicole Eggert here, so that’s saying a lot). The granny panties are so distracting that they are likely the only things you’ll be able to focus on…which means when Maria Ford’s body turns up several scenes later, you won’t even remember that she was stabbed by Lana under the waterfall.
So…from here we hurtle to a confounding climactic scene, in which it’s revealed that Morella has only wanted to get to her blind ex-husband all along. Keep in mind – she has several times possessed her daughter, and had ample opportunity to already kill her husband…in fact, they even have a scene ALONE together. This would be like finding out that Kate Winslet had spent four hours using Leonardo DiCaprio just to get close to Billy Zane...it makes no sense. For some reason (time padding?), we needed to kill several buxom women and show off the granny panties just so that Morella (who is also played by Nicole, but with a dubbed-in voice) could come face to face with her ex in a graveyard. So there’s death and destruction, and finally it’s all over.
Except…as we fade to black…we get the words “I STILL LIVE!” across the screen. This, if course, sets up a sequel that never happened. Instead…it only exists in my heart. The heart of the ocean, some might say. So, until Nicole agrees to reprise her role as a special-ed teenager in pre-Revolutionary War America (or England…maybe?) well, my heart will go on.