HOUSE OF USHER (1960 United States)

b70-3498Written by Richard Matheson, it does a great work at mixing elements of Poe’s short stories in order to create a morbidly tense tale. Since the plot revolves around the characters, enough time is spent developing each one of them, setting the stage for the terrific finale where they’ll face each other in a superb climax.

Although the story takes its time to unfold, the slow pace is rightfully justified by its very rewarding ending. Director Roger Corman shows that he knew more about the craft than just how to save costs, creating a series of set-pieces that are both haunting and attractive at the same time. “House of Usher” perfectly captures the melancholy, the fears and the madness of the short story. This is Gothic indeed.

After a long career starring in low-budget films or relegated to supporting roles, Vincent Price appears at his finest portraying Roderick Usher with a tremendous power and personal charm. His overtly dramatic performance fits perfectly into the film and it made him a horror icon forever. I really enjoy Vincent Price in pain. He suffered so much during his film career. There was always someone doing him wrong.

While nowhere as great as Price, Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey make very effective co-stars that add a lot to proceedings. Damon is passable as the lead character, while Fahey’s melodrama is a little over the top (even more than Price), but she definitely conveys the awful suffering of Madeleine. It would be an understatement to describe the Usher family as dysfunctional. The dialogue is crisp and I find some of it to be unintentionally hilarious.

the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-1960It’s obvious that Roderick has a massive hard-on for his sister. Although he is deeply unhappy and wants to die, his main goal is to frustrate Mr Winthrop’s attempts at getting *cough*  intimate with Madeleine. As for the prospect of his sister “putting out” – he is determined that is never going to happen. Even if he has to bury the brazen hussy alive! This menage a trois is so kinky Freud would have had a field day trying to make sense of the mess.

Even Madeleine seems conflicted about whether she should leave her death-wishing brother for her young suitor. Most women wouldn’t be able to get out of there fast enough. Trivia note – the Usher parents must have waited 20+ years after their son was born before having another. Roderick looks old enough to be her father, not her brother. The facial expressions of jealous rage that Price conjures up for the horny young couple are intense.

The excuse Roderick gives for behaving like an over protective mother, is that Madeleine has “evil” genes like the rest of her family. He claims that by preventing her from coupling with anyone, he is saving more evil people from being born. Or he could be just a creepy pervert. His POV is open to interpretation. The way he utters his lines with such coldness and doom is tremendous. The viewer feels that Roderick is mortally offended by Mr Winthrop’s very existence, and this is the icing on the tombstone as far as domestic harmony is concerned.

The film looks very good; beautiful and lavish sets looking wonderful thanks to imaginative cinematography. Still, this might be considered “too slow” by modern standards. It takes its time to present the story and it is definitely not scary or action-packed. “House of Usher” is a remarkable Gothic film that relies more on character, as well as atmosphere and suspense. If you like self-pity, tragedy and  world-weariness, give this one a watch.

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Comments

  1. It makes me so sad that movies today have to be so speedy. If the movie lasts more than 90 minutes, studios are worried about the audience losing interest.

    Liked by 1 person

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