The House Of Usher


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Vincent Price in The House Of Usher
"With its claustrophobic themes of madness, suffocation and despair, The House Of Usher is a classic of Gothic horror."

The first of the series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations for which director Roger Corman would become famous, The House Of Usher was also his first collaboration with iconic horror star Vincent Price, and it was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It's the story of a young man (Mark Damon) who has become engaged to a beautiful woman (Myrna Fahey) whom he met in Boston, and who travels to an isolated New England house to claim her as his bride. When he arrives, he is confronted by her brother Roderick (Price) who insists that she is ill and unable to leave, so, despite Roderick's dissuasion, he decides to wait for her to recover her strength. But soon he comes to feel that something is amiss in the house, and that Roderick's motives are not what they seem. Just what is the nature of the relationship between this secretive brother and sister? What is the dark family legacy Roderick hints at, and can our hero save the woman he loves?

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With its claustrophobic themes of madness, suffocation and despair, The House Of Usher is a classic of Gothic horror. The original story had been adapted three times before, in the 1920s and Forties, with Jean Epstein's version particularly noteworthy, but Corman's melodramatic style is all his own and complements the bleak totality of Poe's vision perfectly. True, it's a lot less subtle, but in its own way it very effectively conveys the distorted passion of the original, as well as creating a setting truly worthy of the title. Again, Corman ratchets everything up a notch, but the house itself remains a distinctive and formidable character, its own fate obliquely connected to that of the tormented siblings.

Corman's adaptation was shot on a very low budget which shows in the overall quality of the production, but it benefits from strong cinematography and a tremendous, scene-stealing performance from the redoubtable Price. Even at this early stage in his career, the director had a singular vision and the confidence to see it through. An atmospheric score from Les Baxter helps to create a mood which, though verging on camp, still thrills and chills in equal measure today.

Uneven as it is, The House Of Usher is perhaps not the best introduction to Corman's work, but it's a must for fans of Price, and it's a dark, delicious treat for anyone who loves old fashioned horror.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2009
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The House Of Usher packshot
A brother fiercely refuses to let his sister marry her fiance - but are his motives rooted in something darker than mere jealousy?
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Director: Roger Corman

Writer: Richard Matheson, based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

Year: 1960

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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