THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
Directed by Roger Corman
Handsome young man Philip Winthrope travels from Boston to visit his bride-to-be, Madeline Usher. When he arrives at the dilapidated mansion, Madeline’s brother Roderick (Vincent Price) refuses Philip from seeing her and also forbids him from marrying her. Explaining that the Usher family are cursed by an evil that exists from his ancestors and the family home, and are forever meant to suffer debilitating diseases, such as his own hyper-sensitiveness, Roderick hopes to persuade Philip from leaving his sister for good. However, Philip is more convinced than ever to rescue Madeline from the clutches of her brother, but neither of them could predict what lengths Roderick will go to in order to end the Usher dynasty.
The Fall of the House of Usher is based upon a tale by Edgar Allan Poe and despite not being familiar with the story, I can certainly see why it was a draw to Roger Corman. The Fall of the House of Usher is absolutely glorious to watch. Attention to detail, particularly in clothing and the set, is extraordinary and gives the film its gothic feel that those horror movies made during the 60’s have. Whilst the film is not horrific in your usual blood and guts way, it’s the storytelling of a an obsessed sibling in a creaky, ramshackled house that will get under your skin. Like Philip, we live life normal and think no different of it, but for Roderick, each passing minute is torture, convinced that the only thing destined for he and his sister is the grave. Philip becomes a threat to his family and threatens to take his beloved sister away from him, so Roderick deals with it in the only way he see’s fit.
Mark Damon plays the young hearthrob Philip opposite Vincent Price’s tall and slender, blonde-haired Roderick, and despite Philip’s courageous efforts throughout the film, we still root for the ‘villain’ of the piece, in Roderick. I find Vincent Price quite alluring and charming, even as a villain he is quite an attractive personality and you naturally want to find out more about him. With just a raise of the eyebrow, Price can speak a thousand words and that is what I love about him as an actor. He’s one of the true greats and does a terrific job as Roderick, an enigma who we can’t help but like. Roderick is mysterious. He genuinely seems ill yet we question whether he is conjuring up the illness and ”evil’ in his mind as some kind of power trip over his sister, Madeline, played by Myrna Fahey. He may even believe the illness so much he’s tricked himself into thinking it’s real. Pretty Madeline is torn between her brother and her lover, not to mention the thought of dying should she set foot outside the mansion.
One of the most disturbing things in this movie is the artwork created by Roderick of his ancestors. These surreal and grotesque pieces hang on the walls, painting a picture of the lives of the Usher family. There’s a particular scene where Roderick explains his situation to Philip and we are given insight into who these people were. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there’s certainly a touch of menace about it.
Arrow Video have created a magnificent transfer in their Blu-Ray release, which is jam-packed full of extras including a fantastic interview with the legend that is Vincent Price. Other delightful extras include a commentary by Roger Corman, an interview with Corman’s former apprentice, Joe Dante, and an essay on the film by critic and filmmaker David Cairns. As with most of Arrow’s releases, The Fall of the House of Usher comes complete with reversible sleeve artwork featuring the original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, and a collectors booklet.
A classic horror story.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is also available as part of the Six Gothic Tales box set from Arrow Films, which contains six Edgar Allan Poe movies starring Vincent Price. The Six Gothic Tales boxset includes a 200 pages Collector’s book containing new writing on the films, an interview with Roger Corman, extracts from Vincent Price’s autobiography and full reproductions of tie-in comic books for Tales of Terror, The Raven and The Tomb of Ligeia