Vincent Price - Roderick Usher
Mark Damon - Philip Winthrop
Myrna Fahey - Madeline Usher
Harry Ellerbe - Bristol
Mike Jordan - Ghost
Eleanor LeFaber - Ghost
Roger Corman - Director
Samuel Z. Arkoff - Producer
Richard Matheson - Screenplay
Floyd Crosby - Cinematography
Daniel Haller - Production Design
Edgar Allan Poe - Original Story
With American horror stagnating in an endless round of men in monster suits towards the end of the fifties, Hammer took the lead by going back to the classic figures of Frankenstein and Dracula, additionally upping the budgets and employing color. Whereupon Roger Corman went even further back to Edgar Allan Poe, throwing in CenemaScope, and adding the bonus of color used expressively rather than (primarily) decoratively.
The result was a minor masterpiece, surprisingly faithful to Poe as it tells the story of Roderick Usher (Vincent Price), his fears for the sanity of his sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey), her burial alive while in a cataleptic trance, and the fall of the house of Usher as she returns to exact revenge on her brother. Price, in a magnificent performance, gives the film its tone, grand in manner and gesture yet secretly sickening from some inner corruption: an incestuous desire (as Floyd Crosby's probing, hesitating, incessantly agitated camera subtly suggests) which has communicated itself to the house that has locked them within a familial passion and which is itself crumbling under the same deadweight of decadence.
A magnificently coherent film that is often dismissed as pure decoration, it shows a remarkable care for detail. When Fahey's suitor (Mark Damon) first enters the room in which Price has virtually imprisoned himself, for instance, he is wearing blue, a spash of vivid life that jars against the crimson worn by Price and echoed throughout the furnishings: the color of blood (and perhaps the guilt that already stains Price's mind) when Fahey returns from the grave to claim him in her bloodstained funeral shroud.
The style established here--a fusion of Corman's direction, Richard Matheson's script, Crosby's camerawork and Daniel Haller's sets--was to be carried over, virtually unchanged but with varying success, in a series of Poe films: The Pit and the Pendulum, Premature Burial and Tales of Terror (all 1961), The Raven, The Terror, and The Haunted Palace (all 1963), The Masque of the Red Death, and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
A selection of House of Usher films.
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A History of Horror
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