The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

January 17th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Roger Corman | Edgar Allan Poe (novel) Richard Matheson (screenplay) | Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe | 79min  Horror  US

Roger Corman turned his hand to eight screen adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s American Gothic horror novel and this was possibly the most faithful to the page and most masterful in its inventiveness.

Vincent Price (as Roderick Usher) strikes a fay yet commanding dramatic pose that hovers between reality and the realms of fantasy in suffering certain “peculiarities of temperament” brought on by a family curse that make him indisposed to a normal life beyond the walls of the House of Usher. In other words, he is a vampire.

Sporting a yellowing coiffure, his steely gaze and fleshy lips make him a captivating antagonist in Corman’s impressively-crafted horror outing. Corman eschews well-worn horror tropes to create a highly romantic feel for the core love affair between Madeleine Usher and her betrothed Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon makes for a saturnine matinee idol who could easily sprout fangs at any moment) as he arrives at the mist-wreathed mansion to claim his bride. Their moments together are made more sensual by Les Baxter’s original score which morphs into ghostly strings when Price is in the frame.

Price is clearly incestuously involved with his sister Madeleine and has buried her while still alive. The dour claustrophobia of the Usher household (clearly a case for ‘sick building syndrome’) is magnificently evoked by Daniel Haller’s art direction and Floyd Crosby’s cinematography and almost give the impression of 3D in this gleaming blu-ray re-mastering. The household is briefly brightened by the arrival of Madeline’s suitor. Richard Matheson’s imaginative script creates a world of evil imagery and trembling fear. The final dream sequence is particularly enjoyable. MT




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