House of Usher (1960)
house of usher | roger corman | richard matheson | vincent price | mark damon | myrna fahey | remake | based on | short story | edgar allan poe | drama | united states | harry ellerbe | the fall of the house of usher
Film: House of Usher
Director: Roger Corman
Writer: Richard Matheson
Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey
This was a movie that I randomly sought out right after college. I’m not sure what pushed me to seeing it. I think it might have been that this was a Roger Corman adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe so I got it off Netflix to check it out. I remember not being that impressed by it. I decided to give it a rewatch due to my Journey through the Aughts for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. The synopsis here is upon entering his fiancée’s family mansion; a man discovers a savage family curse and fears that his future brother-in-law has entombed his bride-to-be prematurely.
What is interesting here for this movie is that we have a very small cast. It begins with Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) riding his horse across a rough landscape. The land seems to be dead and there is mist all around him. He then comes to a mansion that is old, decrepit and also covered in a fog. He knocks to which the butler of Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) answers the door. Philip asks for Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey), but he informs him that she cannot receive guests at this time. Philip won’t take no for an answer and decides to see Roderick (Vincent Price), her brother instead.
Philip soon learns there is something off about the Ushers. He is required to take his boots off before moving into the house. The reason he learns from Roderick is that he has an affliction where he cannot take large amount of stimuli to his senses. His food has to be bland, loud noises hurt him, the bright light affects his sight and even touching him brings pain. Philip is engaged to be married to his sister and she comes into the room. Roderick forbids her from going with him though, stating there is a curse on the Usher family and she must remain here.
Regardless of what he’s told, Philip decides to stay to convince Madeline to come with him. She wants to, but she is weak. Philip believes that everything is in Roderick’s head. The house is falling apart and the brother believes it is the curse of their ancestors being revisited on the children. It all culminates with Madeline appearing to be dead. We get things to realize this might not be the case, but Roderick’s madness blinds him to the truth. Can it be prevented and can she be saved before it is too late?
Now this recap is a good portion of the movie, but to be honest, there isn’t a lot to the short story. The movie has a good running time and I really like what Richard Matheson did with the adaptation to the screen to deepen some aspects of the story for sure.
If you’ve listened or read my review of another take on this movie that I did, then there is the allegory of the house reflecting this line of people. I still stand by there must be in-breeding that is part causing the afflictions that we’re seeing. This really sticks out to me as there was the bloodline of the Russian aristocratic family that developed a blood disorder. The only way to stop that was to stop the bloodline completely. I feel that is what we’re getting a bit of here. Roderick and Madeline are sickly. I think there’s some truth to it and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is due to their family back down the line being related. I also think that some of it is the madness caused by their isolation. The house is in disrepair, so I think there is part of that as well. Drafts, material that is getting into their food or things to this effect could also be a factor. I love that they’re the last two of their line. The house is falling apart and if they don’t procreate, it will all end here so the house is of course a metaphor for that.
I don’t necessarily think that the story is all that deep though aside from this. It is a nice thing to play with that Madeline did get away for a bit and that is how she met Philip. Before she left Boston, they became engaged. Roderick and him have never met, so it appears he has stayed in their ancestral home. It never is fleshed out why she went, I’m assuming for school. It just isn’t officially established.
What I want to shift over to would be that when I first learned of who Corman was, I knew he was known for making lower budget films that looked good, but would tend to be sleazy. The more I dove into his work, the more I realize that he had a period of making Poe adaptations that were good. I’ve only see this one and The Masque of the Red Death. This really does feel like his take on the Hammer horror film where it is a period piece. The sets look authentic as do the clothing that is worn and the way the characters portray their roles.
Speaking of the characters, I think the acting is good. Price is just a legend and does a really good job here as Roderick. It is an interesting role though, as he’s a madman who is also sickly. He believes what he’s doing is right, even though it is horrible. Damon is solid as the counterpart to him. He is a bit overshadowed though for good reason. I thought that Fahey and Ellerbe were both good as well.
So now with that said, this is an interesting adaptation of Poe classic short story. There is an allegory and metaphor here for this family of Usher and their home which intrigued me. I like what Matheson brings to the characters and the acting really helps to bring that to life. I would have liked a bit more to the story, but it doesn’t ruin it in lacking either. The soundtrack fit for the time and I think that the settings of this old mansion along with costumes are also good in that as well. I’d definitely come up on my rating from the last time I’ve seen it. I’m now sitting at an above average movie and just lacking a bit to fully push me over to the good level.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10