House of Usher (1960)

Article #1189 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2004
Posting Date: 11-13-2004
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey

Philip Winthrop arrives at the home of Roderick Usher to talk with Usher’s sister to whom he is engaged. He discovers that Roderick wishes to keep his sister from leaving the home as they live under a curse of hereditary madness.

After having watched one movie about necrophilia and another about cannibalism, it’s a bit of a relief to watch something a little less controversial (though it does have a subtext of incest in it). I’ve been a little bit hard on Corman’s Poe movies up to this point, but that’s because they largely came across to me as attempts to recycle this movie. As this was the movie that set the mold, however, it feels much more of an organic whole. It’s somewhat faithful to the source story; its primary change is to make the visitor a fiance of Madeline Usher rather than an old friend of Roderick’s. This was a wise move, in that it gives rise to a number of new conflicts that help to keep the movie interesting until the big finish; as written, the story doesn’t really lend itself to expansion to a full-length movie. Vincent Price is somewhat restrained here, and this is due to the role itself; as Roderick Usher’s supersensitive hearing requires him to keep his voice in a somewhat hushed tone throughout. Price is wonderful here, but the rest of the cast also performs well. The use of sound is very effective; the creaking, crumbling house makes its presence known consistently, and hearing these noises is more unnerving than the more obvious horrors that pop up on occasion (coffins falling over and skeletons falling out). It was a gamble for Roger Corman, but it paid off beautifully, and remains one of Corman’s best Poe movies, even if the 1928 French version of the story remains my favorite adaptation of this work.

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