Release Date: June 18th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe
American International Pictures, 79 Minutes
Roger Corman and Vincent Price teamed up for several films in the 1960s based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. House of Usher is the first of these films.
It is hard to say which of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures is the best. They are all very good for their own reasons. House of Usher could be the best though. It all takes place in one house and it only has four actors in the entire picture, except for some ghosts in a dream sequence, yet it is still captivating from the first frame to the last.
Vincent Price’s acting in House of Usher is some of his best, ever. He is a tragic figure that feels the need to do some truly evil stuff, in an effort to bring an end to his family’s curse and his sister’s suffering. Despite him seeming quite mad, the film shows you how he got that way and you can’t do anything but sympathize with him.
His sister, played by Myrna Fahey, is even more tragic than Price’s Roderick, as she must battle for her sanity while trying to find balance between her awful condition and embracing true love. Mark Damon plays the only sane character in the movie, as he arrives at the house in an effort to bring Fahey’s Madeline back to Boston with him. Harry Ellerbe plays the family butler and is more or less an accomplice to Roderick, even if he has reservations.
Vincent Price was just on point in this role. Damon was also really good and their scenes together were intense but fantastic. This almost plays like something more Shakespearean than the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Both actors were very capable and their ability to play off of each other was the main strength of the film.
The atmosphere of the picture was dark and dreary but even then, the sinister mansion of the Ushers felt oddly welcoming. It felt like a place that wanted to give you warmth and comfort and then slowly swallow you into its underlying darkness. Corman pulled off magic with next to nothing but this was his modus operandi throughout his entire career.
House of Usher, considering that it had no budget, one set, four actors and a very short shooting schedule, somehow turned out to be one of the best films based off of the works of Poe. It still holds up well today and is my favorite version of the Usher story.