The Fall of the House of Usher

Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerbe
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
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Donald Winthrop travels from Boston to the Usher household to visit his fiancee Madeline. Upon arrival, her brother Roderick, who suffers from an an acute heightening of the senses, tells him she is confined to her bed. She is weak and sensitive, and Roderick refuses to allow her to leave the house. He fears for her because most of the Usher ancestry fell into madness. In the crypt empty places await Medeline and Roderick, the last in the family line. A plague has blighted the once fertile lands and fresh waters around the house, caused by the evil of degradation of generations of killers, smugglers, assassins, harlots and other unsavoury Ushers from the past. It soon materialises that Roderick's motive for keeping his sister in the house is his fear of her having children and continuing the line of evil. Madeline's much weakened heart finally gives out. Donald Winthrop is obliged to help Roderick carry her casket down to the crypt. He is ready to return to Boston, but learns via the old retainer that Madeline was subject to periodic cataleptic states, when she appeared to be dead. Roderick has knowingly buried his own sister alive. By the time Winthrop learns the truth she has escaped and fallen into madness...

All the way back to 1960 for this film adaptation of the classic Edgar Allan Poe horror tale. Having seen Vincent Price in literally dozens of horror flicks, I have to say that his convincing portrayal of Roderick Usher here is excellent, and offers an added strength to the steadily building plot. There is a certain ambiguity regarding certain events, so that we never quite know whether they are only in the mind of Roderick or represent a real and present evil from the past which permeates the house, bringing the building into degradation. The widening crack which extends the height of the house, the periodic vibration and sounds of movement, and the number of dangerous near-misses inside create a tension not often found in films from this period. A cast of only four would in most circumstances fail to carry a feature length movie, but here it creates a suitably more claustrophobic atmosphere.

I have only three minor quibbles. At a couple of poignant moments ghostly howls are heard on the soundtrack; this is somewhat hammy and totally unnecessary. Secondly, the picture has not been cleaned-up for its transference to DVD; scratches and sound-marks appear in various places, but they are not severe. Lastly, I may be accused of splitting hairs here, but the film title is The House of Usher, whereas the DVD cover gives Poe's full story title of The Fall of the House of Usher.

This is one of Roger Coreman's better productions, suitably aided once again by the master wordsmith Richard Matheson (Duel, Hell House, The Shrinking Man, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, etc.) who wrote the screenplay. His influence exudes class into this project, which never tries to achieve too much.

"And the deep and dank tarn closed silently over the fragments of the House of Usher" - Poe.

Ty Power

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