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, in House of Usher (1960, also released as The Fall of the House of Usher), the first of what would become eight Gothic horrors adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe.
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. Corman sold the stingy studio American-International Picture on the concept by claiming “The house is the monster,” or so goes the oft-told story. True or not, Corman (with 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 co-stars 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 and Price’s theatrical flourish gives his brooding hero a sense of tragedy.
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.
Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, and Harry Ellerbe costar.
It was added to the National Film Registry in 2005.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Vincent Price Collection (The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Witchfinder General) [Blu-ray]
The Fall of the House of Usher [DVD]
The Fall of the House of Usher / The Pit and the Pendulum [DVD]
The DVD release from MGM features commentary by director/producer Roger Corman, the very first he ever recorded.