Directed and Produced by Curtis Harrington, USA, 2000
As Sapphic Poetess.
Zeena appears as a Sapphic Poetess in Curtis Harrington’s final film.
Curtis Harrington’s casting of Zeena in his updated version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ”Fall of the House of Usher” is in keeping with the magical thread that runs through the film-maker’s career.
One of Harrington’s mentors was avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren, an initiated voodoo priestess. Harrington appeared in his erstwhile colleague Kenneth Anger’s occult opus Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome which also featured Cameron Parsons, ”Scarlet Woman” of rocket engineer and magician John Whiteside Parsons.
Cameron’s magical art was the subject of Harrington’s documentary The Wormwood Star. He also cast Cameron in his first feature film Night Tide. This tale of a jealous carny who exploits a girl he raised like a daughter to be a freak show attraction influenced Zeena heavily in her formative years. The karmic threads intersecting Harrington and Zeena's histories long before they knew each other made the close bond they eventually had with one another inevitable.
Harrington's depiction of Zeena's Dietrich-like character in Usher hearkened back to their first meeting many years earlier at a retrospective of Marlene Dietrich's silent films. In casting the contemporary artist/sorceress Zeena in Usher, Harrington also continued his already established tradition of working with real-life women of mystery such as Cameron and Florence Marly.
Harrington introduced Zeena's godfather Kenneth Anger to the work of Aleister Crowley, an event described in Nikolas Schreck’s book The Satanic Screen. Inauguration was filmed at the home of Nikolas and Zeena’s mutual friend, the self-described ”male witch” Samson De Brier.
The making of Usher was an entirely self-financed labor of love production on Harrington's part. He viewed it as a return to his roots.
Part of the financing came via the Schrecks’ brokering of the sale of Harrington’s signed copy of Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, which Harrington acquired from Crowley’s disciple Jane Wolfe.
Filming in the Angeles Rosedale Cemetery was arranged by Zeena through her work as a bereavement counselor at Los Angeles mortuaries. To complete the on-location filming legalities Harrington needed the necessary insurance graciously provided by his long-time colleague and former patron Roger Corman, who directed the most well-known version of The Fall of the House of Usher. Zeena recommended Rosedale Cemetery to Harrington because it's one of the oldest and most atmospheric cemeteries in Los Angeles.
An additional occult connection was that Maria Rasputin, daughter of the notorious "Mad Monk" Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, is interred at that cemetery. These were the sorts of details Harrington loved to work into the background of his films. The coffin seen in the funeral procession and antique Victrola case in the party scene were also provided by Zeena. She had recently acquired them as part of her inheritance from the notorious Black House in San Francisco immediately after the clearing out of her deceased father's residence. Harrington requested to "cameo" those artifacts in the scenes.
Usher premiered in the U.S. at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater The Schrecks appeared at the film’s European premiere at the Munich Film Festival.