House Of Usher (1960)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: The Fall Of The House Of Usher
Review Date: 8/12/19
Directed And Produced By: Roger Corman
Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

Roger Corman's first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is a definite step up for the director, as it was shot in color with twice the budget he was accustomed to. A young man named Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) decides to visit his fiancée in the country, only to find her bedridden with an unexplained illness and bullied by her eccentric and overbearing brother, Roderick Usher (Vincent Price). Roderick pleads with Philip to have him leave at once, explaining that the house is evil and the Usher bloodline is cursed. The hot-blooded Philip naturally refuses and attempts to take Madeline (Myrna Fahey) away with him when she unexpectedly dies. Or does she? Only the increasingly insane Roderick knows, and he's not telling.

Apart from a dreadfully awful matte painting of the Usher mansion that gets used way too many times, the film looks good and the interior sets are rich and colorful. Les Baxter's music score is delightfully eerie and sets an appropriate dramatic tone. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the film is that it only has four characters and no extras at all. Vincent Price gives a wonderful performance as Roderick Usher, who is both a sympathetic villain and a complete madman. His soft voice is both calming and menacing. Harry Ellerbe is excellent as the Usher's butler and Myrna Fahey does an adequate job as Madeline Usher. Unfortunately, Mark Damon's performance is dull and lifeless, and he seems woefully out of place in a period horror piece. This seems to be a common problem with Corman's period films, as both John Kerr ("Pit And The Pendulum") and Jack Nicholson ("The Terror") suffer from the same. The pacing is horribly slow, which can make the first hour nearly unbearable to watch, but it picks up speed in the final act and becomes quite engaging. The film takes some liberties with the source material, but is overall a faithful retelling. It's good spooky fun that relies more on psychological horror than blood and monsters.