HOUSE OF USHER aka THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) Reviews and overview

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[Total: 60   Average: 4.2/5]

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House of Usher is a 1960 American horror feature film directed by Roger Corman from a screenplay written by Richard Matheson. It is loosely based on the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe. The movie stars Vincent Price, Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey. Aka The Fall of the House of Usher

The film was the first of eight Corman/Poe feature films. It is important in the history of American International Pictures (AIP) which up until then had specialised in making low-budget black and white films to go out on double bills. In 2005, the film was listed with the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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Plot:

Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) travels to the House of Usher, a desolate mansion surrounded by a murky swamp, to meet his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). Madeline’s brother Roderick (Vincent Price) opposes Philip’s intentions, telling the young man that the Usher family is afflicted by a cursed bloodline which has driven all their ancestors to madness. Roderick foresees the family evils being propagated into future generations with marriage to Madeline and vehemently discourages the union. Philip becomes increasingly desperate to take Madeline away; she agrees to leave with him, desperate to get away from her brother.

During a heated argument with her brother, Madeline suddenly dies and is laid to rest in the family crypt beneath the house. As Philip is preparing to leave following the entombment, the butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe), admits that Madeline suffered from catalepsy, a condition which can make its sufferers appear dead. Philip rips open Madeline’s coffin and finds it empty…

Arrow Video Blu-ray Disc Special Features:

Limited Edition SteelBookTM packaging
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary with director and producer Roger Corman
Interview with director and former Corman apprentice Joe Dante
Through the Pale Door: A Specially-commissioned video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns examining Corman s film in relation to Poe’s story
Archival interview with Vincent Price
Original Trailer
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Tim Lucas and an extract from Vincent Price s long out of print autobiography, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

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Reviews [click links to read more]:

“While the film is not a masterpiece, Corman’s enthusiasm, matched by Price, the surreal cinematography by Floyd Crosby (High Noon), Lex Baxter’s score, and screenplay by cult genre favorite Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man), makes it possibly the best of the Corman Poe cycle. This assessment is shared by most critics and by Price himself.” 366 Weird Movies

“Vincent Price again shows why he’s an icon of the horror genre, turning in a performance that consistently hits the right note.  Price’s Roderick Usher is a deeply concerned brother who dotes after his beloved, yet sickly, sibling, though he himself is suffering from a similar illness. The actor effectively broods throughout the entire film, as if trapped in a permanent state of impending doom.” 2,500 Movies Challenge

“A minor masterpiece, surprisingly faithful to Poe […] Price, in a magnificent performance, gives the film its tone, grand in manner and gesture yet secretly sickening from some inner corruption: an incestuous desire (as Crosby’s probing, hesitating, incessantly agitated camera subtly suggests) that has communicated itself to the house that has locked them within a familial passion and which is itself crumbling under the same deadweight of decadence. A magnificently coherent film that is often dismissed as pure decoration, it shows remarkable care for detail.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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“Visually the film is a flurry of rich colour and lighting, with velvet reds and purples being juxtaposed to the grey, crumbling walls and windows. Corman often puts dream sequences into his films and House of Usher is no different with possibly his scariest sequence involving paintings of the family that come to life and have a horribly eerie sound to them.” Celluloid Wicker Man

“ …Makes excellent use of color to convey a sense of foreboding horror. Vincent Price essays Roderick Usher, a demented aristocrat who unwittingly entombed his sister alive. He spits out the scenery while the rest of the cast creeps along passageways, stares at degenerate Usher paintings and breathes Victorian decay.” John Stanley, Creature Features

… a masterwork of gothic horror, one of the best such films ever made in America. As mentioned, most of this is due to Price’s masterful performance and Corman’s ability to squeeze the most from a small budget. While not flashy or innovative, his direction is sure-handed in establishing mood and creating atmosphere, letting Price and Matheson’s fine, intelligent script do the rest.” Eccentric Cinema

Though cheaply made and (apart from the inimitable Vincent Price) stickily acted, was redeemed by its comparative restraint, its welcome period accuracy, its essential fidelity – despite elaboration – to the story, and Floyd Crosby’s first-rate camerawork. The impression given was of a resourceful use of somewhat inadequate material. There was also a refreshing sense of humour which was not indulged in to the detriment of the horror.” Ivan Butler, The Horror Film, 1967

“…may take liberties with the original but it emerges as a powerfully atmospheric piece, dominated by Price’s tortured performance. The juvenile leads are as wooden as they would be in later Corman horror movies but the film hardly betrays its low – $200,000 – production budget and 15–day shooting schedule. A minor masterpiece.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, 1982

“Price is excellent in one of his most restrained and quiet roles. Coleman and writer Richard Matheson present the story as a product of Roderick’s imagination and it certainly works that way.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide: The Ultimate Frightfest of Movies, 2013

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“Corman was a great admirer of Bergman and you can see Bergman’s influence on his work, particularly in The Masque of the Red Death. It resulted in a form that achieved a level of moodily gloom-laden and thunderously overwrought melodrama. Corman accomplishes some nicely subtle effects at times but mostly House of Usher succeeds on its own level of torturous angst…” Moria

“While it is arguable that Corman never made a great film, Usher, along with The Masque of the Red Death is certainly one of his greatest, and the finest of his Poe cycle. Corman’s interest with Freudian psychology is apparent, not only in Price’s incestuous desire for Madeline, but in the transference of these corrupting desires into the house itself.” Mark Whitehead, The Pocket Essential: Roger Corman

“This established the full-on, Gothic outrageousness of the finale, a sequence so effective that Corman did his best to live up to it in many a movie thereafter, especially in the Poe cycle; if nothing else, it proved to the trendsetters that he genuinely did have talent and was not simply capable of churning out the smartass chillers and thrillers he had made his name with. House of Usher still impresses.” The Spinning Image

Six Gothic Tales Vincet Price Roger Corman

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“Beautiful cinematography and gorgeous color photography highlight this AIP entry based in Poe. There’s a nice, hypnotic sequence with Madeline taking inventory in the Usher crypt, and the fiery finale is legitimately creepy.” The Terror Trap

“The sickly decadence and claustrophobia of the Usher household – which is both disturbed and temporarily cleansed by the fresh air that accompanies Damon’s arrival as suitor to Madeline Usher – is admirably evoked by Floyd Crosby’s ‘Scope photography and Daniel Haller’s art direction, the latter’s sets dominated by a putrid, bloody crimson. But Richard Matheson’s script is also exemplary: lucid, imaginatively detailed and subtle.” Time Out

“It’s not precisely the Edgar Allan Poe short story that emerges in House of Usher, but it’s a reasonably diverting and handsomely mounted variation. In patronizingly romanticizing Poe’s venerable prose, scenarist Richard Matheson has managed to preserve enough of the original’s haunting flavor and spirit. The elaborations change the personalities of the three central characters, but not recklessly so.” Variety, December 31st 1959

Choice dialogue:

Bristol: “She’s obsessed by thoughts of death… poor child.”

Philip Winthrop: “Is there no end your horrors!?”

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Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses Roger Corman King of the B Movie

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Cast and characters:

Vincent Price … Roderick Usher
Mark Damon … Philip Winthrop
Myrna Fahey … Madeline Usher
Harry Ellerbe … Bristol

Filming locations:

Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California (fire-charred land)
Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Technical details:

79 minutes
Audio: Mono (Ryder Sound Services)
Eastmancolor
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1 Cinemascope

Budget:

$200,000 (estimated)

Trivia:

The paintings of the family Usher were created by Burt Shoenberg.

  

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