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"House of Usher" is an excellent start for Roger Corman's cycle of films
based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. There have been many remakes, but the
Corman films remain the definitive statement. Corman was able to capture the
feel of Poe's work and that's something that the remakes couldn't even
touch. It also provides a tour de force for Vincent Price and establishes
him as a great actor.
The film was shot on a budget of $270,000 and it looks GREAT. "House of Usher" is a fabulous calling card for American International Pictures, the distributor. Mostly known for making grade Z schlock, Corman's films gave AIP real class. This is also Corman's first film in CinemaScope and he makes the most of the widescreen here. It earns him a distinction of mine as a "Master of the Widescreen", or filmmakers who create complex and worthwhile compositions in the widescreen frame. The only problem is that the Poe films die on TV, due to the horrific "pan-and-scan" process. Luckily for us, American Movie Classics show these Poe films often in letterbox and MGM is releasing the cycle on letterboxed DVDs.
For a film that runs 85 minutes, "House of Usher" packs a lot into its' narrative. It is the most faithful of the Poe adaptations, although screenwriter Richard Matheson does take some liberties with the source material, as any great adaptation should. Floyd Crosby's CinemaScope photography is excellent as usual and Daniel Haller's elaborate sets make this look more expensive than it really is. Vincent Price's performance as Usher sets the tone for his future appearances in other Poe films. It neatly combines calm and frenzy together and I can't think of anyone else who would have done a better job. He should have received an Oscar nomination and maybe even the Oscar itself.
Note: "House of Usher" introduces the infamous "Burning Rafters" sequence. If you watch these Poe films back-to-back, you'll see this same sequence repeat itself over and over in several of the films (Tomb of Ligeia and The Raven come to mind). It is a mild criticism, but it is such a great sequence and it is so effectively shot that I didn't mind seeing it again and again.
**** out of 4 stars
The first of Roger Corman's adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories
stars Vincent Price as the head of the Usher house; Roderick Usher.
Roderick Usher believes that there is an evil curse on his family, a
curse that is also the reason for his and his sister's affliction.
Because of this curse of evil, he doesn't want the Usher family line to
continue and so he has decided to do all in his power to stop it.
However, his sister, Madeline's fiancé has come to the Usher house to
take her back with him, but Roderick knows that this will mean that the
Usher family line will continue and he cannot allow the evil to spread
across the world....
Roger Corman is often seen as a 'cheap' director because of the vast amount of films that he has made. Although this is certainly somewhat true as a few of them aren't particularly good; if you take a look at his Poe films, this couldn't be further from then truth. Here, Corman creates a constantly morbid and foreboding atmosphere; not with shocks or other cheap methods, but by simple things such as smoke, an old house and it's creepy inhabitants that utter the most malevolent of lines, some of which are truly bone chilling. Of course, this movie benefits implicitly from the presence of a man that is maybe horror's purest actor; Vincent Price. Price was born to play roles like Roderick Usher, and anyone that sees this film wont find it hard to see why. Vincent Price delivers his lines with just the right tone in order to make him obviously evil, but yet pathetic at the same time; just how the character should be played. When it comes to the 'greatest actor of all time' awards, Vincent Price never gets mentioned, but this is a great injustice; as anyone who has seen a number of films will know.
Corman also succeeds in creating a constant sense of intrigue, and the audience is left hanging on every moment, as we can't wait to see what happens next. Of course, Edgar Allen Poe can take much of the credit for this as the great man did write the story that it was based on, but Corman comes off looking good as well as it is his direction that makes the story so consistently thrilling. The movie also benefits from some very lavish sets, which gives the movie it's upper class dinosaur feel. The house itself is a great piece of horror imagery; it is responsible for most of the atmosphere that is present in the movie.
Corman's first Poe film (out of eight) is one of the best adaptations
of the familiar story (rivaled only by French director Jean Epstein's
superb, yet completely different, 1928 version) and was a critical and
commercial success in its day on a meager $125,000 budget. Vincent
Price is superb as Roderick Usher, an eternally tortured soul who lives
in a crumbling castle with his sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey) and
faithful butler Bristol (nicely etched by Harry Ellerbe). When Philip
Winthrop (bland Mark Damon) shows up to take Madeline away, Roderick's
incestuous feelings come to surface and the terror begins. Highlights
include Damon's colorful nightmare sequence and Price's explanation of
the Usher family history.
HOUSE OF USHER is intelligent, subtle and effective, with good sets and costumes and excellent work from scripter Richard Matheson, composer Les Baxter, cameraman Floyd Crosby and art director Daniel Haller--all united by Corman's smart, stylish, fluent direction. Truly deserving of it's reputation as horror classic.
Roger Corman's brilliant adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's chilling tale is
one of the greatest achievements in cinematic horror. It's hard to pick one
of Corman's Poe adaptations as the best, but this, the first, might be
The movie is fairly faithful to the story, but extremely faithful to the tone of Poe's writing. No one but the team of Corman and writer Richard Matheson could pull it off like this. Poe's deranged sense of dread and sardonic humor are all here, in every shot.
Vincent Price turns in one of his finest performances as Roderick Usher, a man who is glad that he and his sister, Madeline (the wonderful Myrna Fahey) are the last of their bloodline, as he believes the family is doomed to all eventually go mad. He also suffers from hyper-sensitivity, and must have quiet, dim light, soft clothing and bland food, otherwise he suffers extreme pain. Whether this is a physical or psychological anomaly is never confirmed.
Madeline's fiance Philip (Mark Damon) comes to the house to claim Madeline as his wife. Roderick forbids it, believing he and his sister should die together, thus ending the Usher line of insanity. But it may be too late, as Madeline is already showing signs of flipping out, and Roderick has some pretty twisted ideas of how to stop that from happening.
The movie leads up to a spine-tingling finale that's as intense and scary a climax as anything I've seen. HOUSE OF USHER is a great horror movie, and perhaps the most faithful adaptation of Poe, both in content and style, ever filmed.
This is Roger Corman´s first Edgar Allan Poe-based movie and probably the
best of them all in terms of direction, acting and script. It´s certainly
the best adapted one, because it manages to build a larger story around
events of the tale without borrowing material from other tales and without
making it seem obvious, unlike the sequels. Anyway, probably my favorite
still "Masque of the red death" which is also my favorite Poe tale. The
deserves a look, of course, but it doesn´t get any better.
Vincent Price stars as Roderick Usher, a man obsessed with the tragic history of the Usher clan, filled with psychopats, murderers of all kinds and people who die of incurable illnesses. He forces his sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey) to stay in the house waiting for death to spare the world the horrors of the Usher family in years to come and even builds two separate coffins for them. Madeline´s fiancee (Mark Damon) goes looking for her to the house and is received by the obedient butler Bristol (Harry Ellerbe). From there on this four characters will go through a lot of arguing, running around the House (which, like in the Poe tale, is a character itself, one of a really menacing nature) and digging on ancient secrets. Any Corman or Poe afficionado can figure out the rest of the story by himself, but it´s a joy to watch it evolve here.
The star of the show is Vincent Price, of course. He puts in a black robe or a red silk suit and speaks in a low, soft, modulated voice, throwing his overwrought dialogue while the others just stare at him with surprise and fear. He has a special weakness of the hearing (I have the same problem, BTW, although not to this extent) and in one scene the fiancee screams at him hard enough to make him twitch in pain. In that scene you realize just what a genius he is. The set decoration is also to be noted (you won´t forget easily the paintings of the Usher family members by Burt Schonberg), as is the music and practically everything that sets the unbelievable mood this movie has.
In one of the many classic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales,
Vincent Price creepily shines yet again. When Philip Winthrop (Mark
Damon) goes to an estate to pick up his fiancée Madeleine Usher (Myrna
Fahey), he learns from her brother Roderick (Price) that she and he
both suffer from a degenerative disease that gives them both acute
senses. Sure enough, it turns out that all is not quite what it seems.
Probably the most noticeable thing about this movie is that Vincent Price lacks his famously eerie moustache. But in a way, that almost makes him more mysterious. Roger Corman scored another triumph here. You're sure to love it.
Title: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)
Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey
Vincent price is one of those actors everyone knows about, almost everyone is aware of his horror legacy, and if anything they know him as that creepy voice in Michael Jacksons "Thriller". And maybe some of us also recognized him as Edwards creator in Tim Burtons "Edward Scissorhands" or as the narrator in Burtons stop motion animated short film "Vincent". Recently I decided to venture into Vincent Prices horror legacy. I decided to start watching all of his films, after all the man has got a huuuge library of horror films all waiting to be slowly digested by yours truly...boy was I in for a treat!
The story is about Roderick and Madeline Usher. The last two remains of the Usher family. A family that according to Roderick is cursed forever, and he is very decided to end the family line with him and Madeline. So naturally when a young strapping man by the name of Phillip Winthrop comes in and has all the intentions of marrying Madeline Usher, well Mr. Roderick completely opposes and tries to stop the wedding from ever occurring at all costs.
This movie has many good things going for it. First off: The House of Usher is based on Edgar Allan Poes "The Fall of the House of Usher" so its no surprise that the story is poetic in nature and beautifully written. It also helps that the screenplay for this story was written by non other then another one of horrordoms greatest writers. I'm speaking of course of Richard Matheson. And on top of all those bonuses, the film has Vincent Price in the lead role as Roderick Usher, the man who lives a tormented life, thinking that his family is cursed. Combine Edgar Allan Poes story, with Richard Mathesons screenplay and Vincent Price acting, and my friends you have got yourselves a bonafide horror classic.
Having Roger Corman, the producer and director of hundreds of low budget b-movies had me worried for a second. I mean he has got some really bad films under his belt, but in between those there's some really good ones as well. But of course I am only familiar with some of the schlock that he has produced as of recently (like the Carnosour films for example) but I wasn't fully aware of the high quality directing that he had done in his past and I fully intend on continuing my exploration of his Vincent Price/Poe films.
Now let me put this to you straight. This is the type of film that you watch on a dark stormy night with all the lights out and nothing to disturb you. The films atmosphere can be cut with a knife, you get your spooky castle in the middle of nowhere, the fog rolling in like there's no tomorrow, the wind blowing the curtains, the fullmoon, ghosts...you get the whole enchilada my friends. I had Tim Burtons Sleepy Hollow as my all time spookiest movie ever made, but I have to say that this one takes its place, well if anything, its definitely a heavy contender. This movie had both the look and feel of a slightly more expensive Hammer film.
The films story is its great asset. The mystery of the Usher family curse pulls you in. You want to know if something is really up with this strange family or if its just Mr. Roderick Usher that has a boner for his own sister...is it all in their minds? Or is there really a curse? What will happen to the poor bastard who wants to marry Madeline? These questions pull you in and finally when you get all the answers, well, you will be nothing short of being blown away.
In short, if you want one of those old fashion spooky films where the winds always blowing, the full moon is always at its peek and the thunder and lightning is always rumbling...well go rent/buy this flick right now, you wont be disappointed.
Rating: 5 out of 5
House of Usher is the first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation in a series (seven, to be exact) directed by Roger Corman, and probably my number one recommendation if you're looking for a good old-fashioned spooky tale. Corman merely lays the stress on the comedy-factor in his later efforts, but House of Usher still has the ability to frighten the bejezus out of you through a complex plot, a nightmarish atmosphere and horrific decors. The screenplay is very loyal to Poe's tale of the Ushers Two remaining siblings, cursed and constantly punished for the evil of their criminal ancestors. Price is brilliant as usual in his role of the over-concerned Roderick Usher, convinced that his fade is sealed and his remaining days are doomed. Multiple memorable highlights in this film, like for example a ghoulish dream-sequence, a breath taking decent in the family vault and a truly petrifying act of vengeance! Classic and successful combination of mysterious Gothic and stylish horror, not to be missed if you're a fan!
Director Roger Corman does his thing with a classic piece from Edgar Allan
Poe. A visually fantastic production. A tense and moody horror tale of a
young Bostonian (Mark Damon)traveling to the Usher family mansion to
his beautiful bride-to-be(Myrna Fahey). The eager suitor is told by her
brother(Vincent Price)that the family's blood has been cursed and he should
rethink a marriage.
The mansion, surroundings and atmosphere bring a chill. The evasive Price is very convincing in his role as doting brother and master of the house. Great spooky movie to watch on a rainy night.
Overtime the horror genre has really grown on me, and Vincent Price, one of my favourite actors has been a big part of why. The Fall of the House of Usher was the film that spawned a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and is up there with the best of them like The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven. Whether it is completely faithful to Poe's writing I am not entirely sure, whatever way it makes little difference to me. All that matters for a film is how good it is on its own merits, and The Fall of The House of Usher in my mind is more than good, it's great. The settings, costumes and the way the film are shot is both Gothic and gorgeous to look at in their lavishness, and the music is suitably spooky. The script is very literate and quite intelligent, while the story is always compelling and delivers its spooky scares with not an ounce of predictability or hamminess. The ending really convinces in its creepiness and in its tragic undercurrent, making it moving as well. The acting is fine, Mark Damon gets better throughout the film and by the end he really comes to life but to start with I did find him a little too wooden for my tastes. Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerbe characterise splendidly, but the film belongs to Roger Corman's lively direction and especially to Vincent Price, who is always great but gives one of his best ever performances here, with his ever commanding presence, his distinctive voice, Skakespearean-like line delivery, droll sense of humour and a sense of melancholy, every single of those are here and make for one memorable performance indeed. In conclusion, a great film worth seeing for Price alone though the production values, the atmosphere and how intelligently it's written also are fine attributes. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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