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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31- House of Usher (1960)

In the 1960's, director Roger Corman decided to make eight movies based on the works of the legendary Edgar Allen Poe. The first of these films was House of Usher, based on the Poe short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher." This movie was made by MGM Studios, shot in just 15 short days, and had a budget of $300,000. For comparison, take the Frankenstein budget of $250,000 almost 30 years sooner, which was in the middle of the Great Depression for a major movie production, and it's clear that the budget for this film was incredibly small. Yet, what would come from that would be one of, if not the greatest, adaptation of a Poe work ever made on film.

That house just looks like crazy stuff goes on inside

Winthrop, Roderick, and Madeline.
The film begins with Philip Winthrop (played by Mark Damon) arriving at the House of Usher to visit his fiance, Madeline Usher (played by Myrna Fahey). The butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) explains to Winthrop that Madeline is very sick isn't receiving any visitors. Nonetheless, Winthrop demands an audience with Madeline's brother, Roderick (Vincent Price), who urges Winthrop to leave, but Winthrop refuses. In an attempt to get Winthrop to rethink his idea of marrying Madeline by explaining that there is a family curse, in which 75% of the entire family ends up going mad. Roderick explains that he, himself, has extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and taste; adding that Madeline supposedly does, as well. Winthrop is insistent on staying at the house, which is when a number of strange things start occurring around the house. It's difficult to tell if these things are really happening because the house is really cursed, or if it's a fabrication of Winthrop, who is going mad, himself.

Mourning the death of Madeline
Seeing that Roderick is a bit unhinged, Winthrop intends on taking Madeline away from him, and she is glad to be leaving. Before that could happen, however, an argument breaks out and Madeline dies suddenly. In a conversation shortly after burying Madeline, Bristol reveals to Winthrop that Madeline suffers from occasional bouts of catalepsy, where she slips into a comatose state and appears to have  
died. Winthrop searches for and eventually finds Madeline, who, angry that Roderick would bury her alive, seeks revenge on her brother. During the ensuing fight, the house catches fire and both Ushers perish. Winthrop escapes and sees the house sink into the swamp.

Madeline strikes back
This movie was simply incredible and would stand out against anything else as a quality film, but the fact that the budget was so small and the shooting time so short is a true testament to just how incredible this film is. Vincent Price is brilliant as the crazy Roderick Usher. The way he flips from sane to completely unhinged is just incredible. Also, the way that Price portrays Roderick's illnesses is also genius, and it had me watching the movie, waiting to see what crazy stunt he'd pull next.

In terms of special effects, this movie proves that less is more. For the most part, the only special effects are the use of different colored filters, doors closing by themselves, fog, and a little fire. Nonetheless, this movie was really psychadelic and trippy in spots. The dreamlike sequences made me feel like I was going a little crazy myself while watching this film. My favorite part of the movie, though, was the atmosphere that every scene had. The creepy Usher house, along with the soundtrack, really set the stage for a Grade A chiller that had me wanting to turn the lights on. All in all, this is an incredible film, and a true classic. So good, in fact, that in 2005, the film was listed with the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." If you ever have a chance to watch this movie, I highly recommend it.

The always incredible Vincent Price as Roderick Usher

House of Usher receives a 5 out of 5.

Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone.

1 comment:

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