It’s All Connected: House Of Usher (1960)

In a delightful bit of It’s All Connected kismet, I got my copy of the Scream Factory re-issue of the original Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray right after finishing the second Phibes movie! I missed the original version of this set when it came out a few years back and always regretted it. I would go on to get the second and third installments, but this one always stuck in my craw. Then, just a few months ago, I saw that they were re-releasing it with a few changes. I was ecstatic, but still managed to get the best deal I could find over on DeepDiscount.com.

This set includes House Of Usher, Pit And The Pendulum, Haunted PalaceWitchfinder General, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and two versions of Masque Of The Read Death. Aside from Phibes, I’ve never seen any of these films and set out to remedy that for at least a few of them! To start off, I went to the one made first, Usher, which also stands as the initial entry in the Vincent Price-Roger Corman-Edgar Allen Poe cycle for American International Pictures. Adding to the pedigree, it also features a script by Richard Matheson and a score by Les Baxter, whose work in the field of space age bachelor pop I’ve become a huge fan as I continue to go mad during quarantine.

In Matheson’s version of Poe’s tale (which I haven’t read in years, but plan to do so soon), Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) pays a visit to the title house — which is presented in a gorgeous matte painting early on — to see his betrothed, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). He’s understandably taken aback when he meets her incredibly sensitive brother Roderick (Price) and becomes even more so when the Usher siblings both seem absolutely certain they will die in their crumbling ancestral home soon.

It’s hard not to come down on Winthrop’s side as he becomes further and further gobsmacked by the Ushers’ — and their servant Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) — utter insistence that they actually deserve to die as a kind of punishment for the evil inflicted on the world by their ancestors. At the same time, I could also see where Roderick was coming from because, whether supernatural or not, the end of his family line would definitely end the scourge of Usher.

I’ll just get this out of the way now and say I fell in love with this film. I mostly know Corman as the producer of quick horror and sci-fi flicks, so it’s pretty wild seeing him as this absolute master of suspenseful , but also economical storytelling. I loved the creeping dread when it felt like a classic haunting film for a while and then you have this fantastic ending that I don’t want to spoil, but both of those aspects had me on the edge of my seat and totally absorbed.

But, the guy who would go on to give so many great visual artists’ their starts also used plenty of interesting tricks himself! I read that he filmed in a forest that had recently been on fire to get those opening shots. From there, you’re pretty much only in the house and a few rooms therein with limited, but gorgeous period costumes (which goes back to the whole economy thing). I also loved what he did to convey the nightmare sequence. These tricks are probably relatively simple by today’s standards, but still had this way of putting me ill at ease. The same goes for the shots the showed how badly the manor was breaking down.

And you know what else is crazy? Aside from the one nightmare scene where Winthrop meets the murderous Ushers of eras past, this film only has four people in it! That also goes back to the incredible economy Corman used in crafting this claustrophobic tale of lunacy that reminded me of Elizabeth Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us because it’s all about what it takes to turn someone into a monster.

I won’t try to be all coy and whatnot. I’m sticking with Price for a while now, but there will definitely be more connections as we go through his films!

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