House of Usher (1960) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

House of Usher (1960) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on November 18th, 2021 | Movie Review | Vincent Price, Slow Burn, Madness, Haunted House - Cursed, Pregnancy, Classic Haunted House

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It’s about a family curse – and a clueless potential new in-law from Boston.

House of Usher (also known as The Fall of the House of Usher and based on the story of that name by Poe with a screenplay by Richard Matheson (The Legend of Hell House and Duel) was directed by Roger Corman (The Raven, The Terror, The Wasp Woman). It stars Vincent Price (the original The Fly, the original House on Haunted Hill, and the original Madhouse), Myrna Fahey (I Died a Thousand Times), and Mark Damon (Byleth and Crypt of the Living Dead).

What affliction weakens the Usher mansion and its two offbeat siblings?

House of Usher (1960)

Philip is recently engaged to Madeline. He calls upon her at her isolated country estate, the House of Usher, situated in a grove of dead trees. The Usher home is also inhabited by Madeline’s overwrought sibling, Roderick. Like most older brothers, he’s over-protective. Philip receives a cool welcome from him.

The same morbidity of the trees infects the Ushers, Roderick insists. The house, too. If Philip and Madeline wed, the defect will be passed to their children. Philip scoffs at the idea.

House of Usher might be termed a slow burn, 1960s style. It not Vincent Price in the role of Roderick Usher, the film might lose its grip. Instead, it tightens with each scene. Gradually, Roderick convinces Philip that the sickness in the grove has taken root in the family tree; in Madeline. There is a decay in the mists – a rot persisting in the Ushers; in their house.

The distorted family portraits attest to a deformity of features worsening with each generation. Roderick assures Philip that his ancestor’s morals were equally misshapen.

Roderick’s dread of what might be born from his sister’s womb anticipates Veronica Quaife’s anxiety about her potential fly-fetus in Cronenberg’s The Fly remake. Veroncia Quaife feared distorted flesh. Roderick Usher frets over the replication of madness.

The difference is, Veronica Quaife was perfectly sane. Roderick Usher, a little less so.

Yet, there is equal horror in the respective cures proposed – an attempted abortion for Quaife’s fetus; euthanasia for Usher’s sister.

Roderick implicitly acknowledges that he – as an Usher – is mad. Can he reliably prophecize if his faculties are overloaded? And what are we to make of the way that the house literally trembles? Chandeliers drop from the ceiling; skeletons leap from the crypt. The permeability of danger expands as the film unfolds.

Worth Watching?

Yes; House of Usher may be a slow burn, but it is capped with an impressive conflagration.   

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