HOUSE OF USHER (director: Roger Corman; screenwriters: Richard Matheson/based on the Short Story “The Fall of The House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe; cinematographer: Floyd Crosby; editor: Anthony Carras; music: Les Baxter; cast: Vincent Price (Roderick Usher), Mark Damon (Philip Winthrop), Myrna Fahey (Madeleine Usher), Harry Ellerbe (Bristol); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roger Corman; MGM; 1960)
“It’s one of the better Poe versions made by Corman, if not his best.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Legendary B movie director Roger Corman (“The Masque of the Red Death”) directs and produces a film financed by cheapie studio AIP (American International Pictures). It was filmed in just 15 days on a budget of $200,000. It’s the first of eight films the 37-year-old Corman made using stories by Edgar Allen Poe. Though a faithful adaptation to Poe (it fully captures the Gothic mood Poe intended), the film comes with the story’s many pitfalls (it’s all doom and gloom). It’s a creepy incestuously inclined horror story, where the house is the ‘living’ evil monster. Cinematographer Floyd Crosby makes good use of ‘Scope photography panning his camera to take in the bloody crimson color theme for the house. Richard Matheson provides a lucid and tight script.
The suitor of the lovely Madeleine Usher (Myrna Fahey), the earnest and rational Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon), treks from Boston to the isolated decaying country New England mansion of the Ushers to ask for her hand in marriage. Her protective brother Roderick Usher (Vincent Price) tells him that’s not possible since Madeline is too sick to leave the house and is suffering from a mysterious hereditary sickness which causes a morbid-acuteness of all the senses to which there is no cure. Even the sound of footsteps are an agony to the siblings, who share the same fate; the rooms are curtained to keep out the sunlight and only bland foods such as gruel can be eaten without causing pain. Roderick goes on to tell Philip that Madeleine cannot marry and bear children because she suffers from a family curse that brings on madness and their family has inflicted enough harm on the world so that their line must come to an end with the two remaining heirs.
Philip can’t accept this rejection and makes plans to leave with Madeleine the next day. But during the night Madeleine is buried alive by her brother and later Philip learns she’s subject to catalepsy. It leads to a spectacular conclusion, as the house shows its true colors as it goes up in flames and a crazed Madeleine climbs out of her death tomb to seek vengeance.
The acting is superb; Price, as the spineless aristocrat who truly believes he’s doing what’s best, is adorned with white hair and a smoking jacket. He’s in top form as the tortured soul who evokes sympathy even as he does the most horrible crime imaginable and blames it all on the character played by Mark Damon.
It’s one of the better Poe versions made by Corman, if not his best.
REVIEWED ON 1/19/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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