Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Madness goeth before fall in the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher (aka "House of Usher") (1960)
Starring: Mark Damon, Vincent Price, Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerby
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When Philip Winthrop (Damon) travels to an remote estate with the intent of bringing his fiancee Madeleine Usher (Fahey) back with him to Boston so they can be married, he learns from her brother Roderick (Price) that she and he both suffer from a degenerative disease that will eventually kill them. But things are not quite what they seem, and Withrop will come face to face with many horrors as he witnesses the fall of the House of Usher.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" was the first in a string of Edgar Allan Poe adaption from producer/director Roger Corman, many of which captured the spirit of Poe's tales but few of which were faithful to their source material. This one is not only fairly close to the original story, but it is quite possibly the best film that Roger Corman ever helmed.

Almost every director produces a masterpiece. This film may well have been Roger Corman's.

Not only is Corman at his best, but I don't think Vincent Price has ever been more successful at portraying a vile, quietly insane character as he does with Roderick Usher. Mark Damon provides a great foil as the handsome, heroic suitor, and, although her role is mostly that of a gorgeous damsel in distress--at least until the film's terrifying conclusion, Myrna Fahey's performance is of a caliber that makes it clear that her death from cancer at the age of 40 was a real loss to the art of movie making.

Featuring excellent pacing with a mounting tension that results in the final 30 minutes of the film being some of the most intense and scary horror footage ever recorded, great acting with just enough melodramatic touches to add a touch of gothic romance to the film's horror- and madness-soaked atmosphere.

If you're looking for a movie that will scare the heck out of you without resorting to gore and graphic violence, then you need look no further than this movie. The nearly fifty years that has passed since it was made has done nothing to dull its impact. It may be a little slow-building to be suitable Halloween party viewing, but it's a film that should be seen by anyone who appreciates well-done horror movies... and it's a must-see if you're a fan of the sort of gothic horror that was embodied in the Hammer films from the 1950s and 1960s, or in the Ravenloft dark fantasy world.

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