The Fall of the House of Usher (1966)

The Fall of the House of Usher (1966)
Article 5819 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2020
Directed by Kim Mills
Featuring David Buck, Susannah York, Denholm Elliott
Country: UK
What it is: British TV Poe adaptation

When a friend’s sister mysteriously appears and then disappears from his home, a student makes a visit to his friend to find out what is going on. But will he find madness and death?

This is an episode of a British TV series known as “Mystery and Imagination”, and since I’ve covered several individual episodes of this series before, I see no reason to skip this one. I’ve already seen several versions of this Poe story; it seems particularly attractive to directors on the arty side of the street, with the 1928 Epstein version the most striking. The story usually needs to be expanded somewhat to fill a feature-length running time, and to some extent, I do have to credit the writer of this adaptation in the way he manages to make it a much more conventional horror story; in fact, the first third of this adaptation all takes place before the events in the original tale, and sets up a romantic triangle situation that drives the rest of the story. However, there is a cost, and it’s not one I particularly like to see; in making it more conventional, it jettisons the hypersensitivity of Roderick Usher, the story element that usually adds the touch of hushed dread that imbues the story. Not that the story element is missing; it’s in the dialogue. It’s just that Denholm Elliott’s performance negates the quality; it’s hard to take his claims of hypersensitivity seriously when he’s declaiming to the rafters. Still, one thing that really does impress here is the set design; the interiors of Usher’s house are memorably grotesque, and they may be the best thing about this adaptation. Nevertheless, I can’t quite warm up to this adaptation; without that sense of hushed dread, it just doesn’t feel right to me.

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