Updating an Edgar Allan Poe story to slightly futuristic, bioengineering terms may seem like a passably entertaining conceit, but it drowns in “Morella’s” ocean of talk. Low-budget attempt at arty supernatural drama winds up more pretentious than sophisticated, and the very tame horror/sci-fi aspects won’t provide much lure in more commercial markets.
The script’s rather sloppy, flashback-laden structure begins with fire-scarred Dr. Lynden (Nicholas Guest) screaming “I killed her!” in his prison hospital bed. Pic then leaps back to the doc’s kinky extra-marital affair with beautiful Dr. Patricia Morella (Angela Jones), who dominates their secret genetic research experiments as well.
She soon dies from a rare form of multiple sclerosis, but the obsessed Lynden has inseminated his oblivious wife with an embryo cloned from Morella’s DNA.
The resulting offspring, Sarah, soon grows into a ruthless, scheming science prodigy just like her “real” mom — though Sarah has supernormal powers, which she uses to eliminate any and all inconvenient bystanders. Thus Lynden’s first and second wives, an infant son and others meet with “accidental” deaths. Once Sarah reaches adulthood (Jones again), it’s clear she’s the “cloned soul” of Morella reborn.
The “Omen”-like horror potential of a child destroying perceived enemies is wasted in rote, offscreen murders. Long, dull dialogue scenes are taken up by two investigators (Khrystyne Haje, David Kirkwood) trying to figure out if a lab fire was set by Lynden, and whether “Sarah” lies dead in its wreckage.
Helmer James Dudelson aims for an obsessive, morbid atmosphere via hothouse colors and gimmicky editing. But “near future” design details are limited by the budget, and often silly — the laboratory looks like a trendy club, with costumes apt for visiting same.
Jones’ raised eyebrows only go so far in limning a death-defying, ruthless seductress. Guest is saddled with ornate v.o. narration (“And still I couldn’t yet see the full horror of my sin!”) that offers a nod to Poe but clashes with the pic’s contempo-urban-upscale mannerisms.
Erotic-neurotic tension between the two figures rings hollow; other perfs are variable. Snips of B&W, 16mm and computer-graphic footage try to spice up the package, but lack of real atmosphere or action (mostly limited to a few sets) induces torpor well before the evil-triumphs close.