The Fall of the House of Usher
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Vincent Price brings a theatrical flourish to the role of Roderick Usher, a brooding nobleman haunted by the dry rot of madness in his family tree. This being Poe, there's a history of family madness and melancholia, a premature burial, and a sense of doom hanging over this gloomy, crumbling mansion. Roger Corman sold stingy AIP pictures on the concept by claiming "The house is the monster," or so goes the oft-told story. True or not, Corman (with the help of his brilliant art director Daniel Haller and legendary cinematographer Floyd Crosby) creates an exaggerated sense of isolation and claustrophobia with the sunless forest and funereal fog that holds the house and its inhabitants prisoner in a land of the dead. It doesn't quite look real (some of the effects are downright phony, notably the apocalyptic climax), and none of the costars can hold a candle to Price's elegant, haunted performance (often speaking in no more than a stage whisper), but it's a triumph of expressionism on a budget. Shot in rich, vivid color and CinemaScope, from a literate script by genre master Richard Matheson, this is stylish gothic horror in a melancholy key. It was such a success that Corman reunited his core group of collaborators for the follow-up The Pit and the Pendulum the very next year. Corman's "Poe Cycle" was born. MGM's widescreen disc also features commentary by director-producer Corman, his first-ever such contribution. --Sean Axmaker
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As a writer Poe's stories were dark and brooding and the atmosphere Corman would set for this movie were no less the same. All the basic elements you would expect in a Poe story is in this flick. An individual descending into madness. Dark, gloomy forest. Premature burial. Fog shrouded castles. It's all here in this movie version.
What you don't get in this movie is the typical blood and gore associated with today's horror movies. Nothing is left to the imagination as the blood and guts are splattering everywhere in today's cinema. No this version of "The House Of Usher" is old school. Minimal blood, no guts and lots of use of lighting and camera angles and the spoken word to get the viewer to conjure up in their own mind the horrors that is unfolding.
Then of course there is Vincent Price himself. One of the greatest actors to ever appear on the silver screen. No matter how good or bad the script nor how big or small the roll Price could make the worst film made still an enjoyable event to watch.
Even with the small budget Corman had to work with however this was a very well made work of art made all that much better with Price's performance. I could at this point proceed to tell you the plot and what it is about but there is really no need to. First of all there are plenty of reviews already written for this movie that has described what it is about. Secondly its a Roger Corman and Vincent Price film! What more reason do you need to watch it. Whether you are a Vincent Price fan or a fan of old school horror movies or a Roger Corman fan or simply a movie fan this is a classic to add to any video library.
For some contemporary viewers, it may seem slow, even muted ... but for those raised on raw gore as entertainment, something as literate & moody as this will probably be boring in comparison. A shame, because they'll be missing a small masterpiece of psychological expressionism, a film that looks astonishingly rich for its minuscule budget, making superb use of widescreen. The script by Richard Matheson further develops the source material while remaining true to its tone & spirit; the 3 supporting actors are solid, providing just the right counterweight to Price's Roderick Usher, haunted by his fate, consumed by the very madness he fears, radiating pathos & despair with every eloquent line from his lips. Frankly, it's easy to see the influence of Bergman on Corman, transmuted through a rather different but still sympathetic sensibility -- highly recommended!
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