Review: The Fall of the House of Usher / Cert: 15 / Director: Roger Corman / Screenplay: Richard Matheson / Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myma Fahey, Harry Ellerbe / Release Date: August 26th
Corman's first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is re-issued in a sumptuous HD edition, hopefully opening up the film to new audiences, and renewing the interest of old fans.
Young Philip Winthrop (Damon) arrives at his fiancée Madeline's (Fahey) family home, only for her brother Roderick (Price) to tell him she is gravely ill, while the mansion appears to be falling apart around her very ears. Winthrop learns of the Usher family legacy; in that they have long been cursed by madness, and that the very house is just as diseased. However, even Madeline's apparent sudden death will not keep the young man from attempting to take her away.
After several years churning out cheap black-and-white exploitation films, Roger Corman talked AIP into letting him make The Fall of the House of Usher in both colour and Cinemascope. Made in under three weeks, it was a gamble that paid off, and its success led to seven more Poe adaptations. It is certainly the best of the American-made AIP films (the best, The Masque of the Red Death was made in the UK). Lacking the gimmick casting of some of the later efforts, it displays Price's true talent. His performance as the defeatist Roderick must rank among his best, his sinister delivery chilling to the bone. It is a film steeped in rich atmosphere and foreboding, with only a few minor 'shocks', along with a bizarre, psychedelic dream sequence, which build to a bombastic climax. Screen adapter Matheson takes a few liberties with the classic Gothic tale, but for the most part stays true to the story's themes. The glorious cinematography by Floyd Crosby, complemented by Daniel Haller's grand art direction, make this a joy to watch; the Blu-ray transfer brings out the luscious colours without showing up too many imperfections. Although, as is pointed out in one of the magnificent bonus features, the make-up used to turn Ellerbe into the aged servant Bristol leaves a lot to be desired.
As usual, Arrow Video have packed in plenty of supplementary features, including an informative (previously available) Corman commentary, and two talking head featurettes, both of which are brilliant, even if some of the anecdotes overlap. It's also a joy to see a rare archive interview with Price himself, who is in good spirits and very entertaining. Despite the quality drop (it is archive footage), it is certainly worthy of inclusion.
Extras: Audio commentary with director and producer Roger Corman / Legend to Legend – An interview with director and former Corman apprentice Joe Dante / Interview with author and Gothic horror expert Jonathan Rigby/ Fragments of the House of Usher – A Specially-commissioned video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns examining Corman’s film in relation to Poe’s story / Archival interview with Vincent Price / Original Trailer / Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tim Lucas and an extract from Vincent Price’s long out of print autobiography