The Fall of the House of Usher (aka House of Usher)
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey
Review by Jordan
Recently I reviewed another of Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptions, Pit and the Pendulum (1960). I referred to it as not only the best film of the Poe/Matherson/Corman American International pictures, but Corman’s greatest directorial effort in general. This is true, but the rich in despair The Fall of the House of Usher is not far behind.
When Phillip Winthrop (Damon) arrives at the Usher Mansion after journeying from Boston to meet with his fiancé Madeleine (Fahey), he is greeted with initial distain from the family servant Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) and after confronting Madeleine’s brother Roderick (the always formidable Price) is told that the two are suffering from a heightened awareness of the senses brought about by a long lasting family curse:
“Madeline and I are like figures of fine glass. The slightest touch and we may shatter. Both of us suffer from a morbid acuteness of the senses. Mine is the worst for having existed the longer, but both of us are afflicted with it. Any sort of food more exotic then the most pallid mash is unendurable to my taste buds. Any sort of garment other than the softest, is agony to my flesh. My eyes are tormented by all but the faintest illumination. Odours assail me constantly, and as I’ve said, sounds of any degree whatsoever inspire me with terror.”
Even as the mansion trembles about him and he is met with many near-death experiences, Phillip refuses to believe any tales of curses or mysterious ailments, and sets about rescuing his love from the grip of the domineering Roderick so that they may return to Boston and be married. This is not a good idea. Madeleine’s destiny as a sibling of the Usher family is to be driven mad with rage and as a result become endowed with a supernatural strength and reap devastation upon those close to her… will the curse be lifted before this happens? You, the lucky viewer, must watch to find out.
The mind of Edgar Allen Poe must’ve been a terribly troubled place; occupied with a fascination for premature burials, fractured psyches and broken hearts. He recorded a copious amount of his dark thoughts on paper with only a minority having made their way to the screen, unfortunately most recently in James McTeigue’s forgettable The Raven (2012) – for a stylised, fictional insight into the man I would recommend Stuart Gordon’s brilliant Masters of Horror Season 2 entry, The Black Cat (2007). The methods Corman and Matherson applied in their translations did require forfeiting of a number of plot (I use the term loosely) elements from Poe’s works, but they never surrendered the dense, dripping horror.
The Fall of the House of Usher is an important chapter in the annals of horror as it paved the way for many gothic works to come throughout the 60’s and early 70’s, with a finale that stands as an obvious inspiration for that in Suspiria (1977), one of the greatest genre films of all time, and a spooky nightmare sequence reminiscent of those in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Rough editing and some less-than impressive exteriors do taint it slightly, but 53 years later it still stands as a haunting and addictive viewing experience.
4.5 crumbling staircases out of 5