Horror Movie A Day: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960)
I suggest you leave. No? Then perish with us.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Today’s our first Edgar Allan Poe movie of the horror AMAD run. It’s fitting we got to this one, actually, since we kicked off October with an HP Lovecraft movie (THE DUNWICH HORROR).
This 1960 movie was produced and directed by Roger Corman, but is about as far from his schlocky cheeseball pictures as you can get. There’s a whole lot of class to this flick, thanks to two main sources.
The first is its script, penned by one Richard Matheson, author of I AM LEGEND and scripter of some of the best TWILIGHT ZONE episodes ever (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet anyone?). Matheson strikes a perfect balance, keeping Poe’s poetic sense without making it ridiculous. The characters don’t speak in rhyme, of course, but there’s an elegance to the dialogue and character work.
That leads me to the second biggest strength: Vincent Price. Here he is sans mustache and with bright blond hair, playing the mysteriously menacing, yet somehow sweet and fragile Roderick Usher.
The poor Ushers are a doomed bloodline. Roderick and his sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey) are the last and he means to keep it that way. They live in their creepy, crumbling mansion in the middle of a burnt land, resting atop a tar pit that will eventually swallow the house. Their only company, besides each other, is the family butler, a kind man named Bristol (Harry Ellerbe).
Apparently, Madeline spent some time out of the house, in Boston, where she met and got engaged to a handsome man, Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon, no stranger to the AMAD column, having put in appearances in both BLACK SABBATH and NAKED YOU DIE!). He shows up at her door, trying to make her stay true to her word and elope with him.
Here’s where it starts getting really weird. The house is kind of haunted by the imprint of the evils done by the previous Ushers. Stephen King might have borrowed that idea from Poe for THE SHINING.
Not only that, but Madeline is supposed to be very ill and we find that Price is a very sensitive person. No, not emotionally, but all of his senses are heightened. Any noise above a whisper is agonizing to him, the touch of anything but the softest fabrics is grating, any light brighter than candlelight is blinding.
So, he’s vulnerable. And in his own world he is the hero of the story, which I love. He stands between Madeline and Philip because he wants to save them and their potential children the agony of being an Usher, inheriting the curse and spreading it beyond the walls of this gothic home.
But the real question is how much of this is real, how much is the supernatural exerting influence on the living world and how much of it is all being orchestrated by Roderick… a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy? Is there a real curse or is Roderick just insane and trying to kill his sister for no reason other than he has it in his mind that he’s doing her a favor, putting her out of her misery?
Mark Damon once again stands out as a good looking guy that has some substance to him, not just a pretty face. He goes through hell in this film, trying to get his love out of the house, take her away from the nightmare. His acting is very realistic, not at all stagy, which isn’t common in this era. He’s kind of the perfect foil for Vincent Price’s trim and proper quiet menace.
The final act gets crazy. There’s a fucked up nightmare sequence where Mark meets the entire line of Ushers and that’s followed up by a real world stalking through the house as a crazy person is loose. And how they pull off the insane person, hands bloody, eyes crazed… really fuckin’ creepy.
Actually, you know what this reminded of the most? Another AMAD, a Val Lewton movie starring Boris Karloff called ISLE OF THE DEAD. Especially in this last act. I don’t know what it is about the execution of insanity in both of those films that gets under my skin, but it does.
This is a smart little movie and one that really takes itself seriously. Not in a bad way, in all the right ways. Atmosphere, production design, real creepiness and beautiful Technicolor… Corman went all out on this one, not throwing out another cheapie.
Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. Everybody is working at the top of their game, but even if the rest of the movie failed Vincent Price’s awesome performance alone is worth watching this film. The mix of charm, danger and sympathetic vulnerability is outstanding, complex. Price awed me a little with his performance here. Also keep an eye out for some truly creepy family portraits on the walls of the castle, painted by Burt Schoenberg, which are abstract and very stylized. They kinda reminded me of the kind of stuff Dave McKean does.
Here are the titles in the drawing pool for the rest of October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Now’s the the time to pull the next HMAD!
Next up is:
Oh, nice. Robert Wise directed this one, starring Anthony Hopkins. See you folks tomorrow for AUDREY ROSE!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Oct. 21, 2008, 2:12 a.m. CST
See, that's what I like about these...I will keep a look out for this in the bargain bins.<p> Roger Corman had the potential to make good, solid movies...but somewhere along the line he became goofy. Either he was all about making it cheap, so he'd make his money or that he learned that his audience just like being entertained by silliness. <p> If only he decided to put more of his moeny into his productions-he could have made some great stuff.
Oct. 21, 2008, 2:12 a.m. CST
is a fucking great film, my favorite of the Poe/Price flicks.
Oct. 21, 2008, 2:30 a.m. CST
I'm adding it to my queue right now.
Oct. 21, 2008, 2:47 a.m. CST
Harry , but my affections lie with Masque of the Red Death. But hey , you can't miss either way !
Oct. 21, 2008, 3:27 a.m. CST
is the 1928 silent by Epstein, comes closest to the written atmosphere.
Oct. 21, 2008, 3:46 a.m. CST
by Lost Jarv
Have you seen Vincent Price in Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder General, Quint? That one is well worth a look as well. It's even got a tragic backstory.
Oct. 21, 2008, 5:03 a.m. CST
The Pit and the Pendulum is my favorite. The Tomb of Ligeia (screenplay by Robert Towne!) is also a must-see.
Oct. 21, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST
by The Nihilist
...really hope Quint draws it before the end of the month. But yeah, this is a good one too. The more I see of Price's work and the more I learn about him, the more I respect him. Sounds like he was a helluva guy. Go over to his Wiki entry and read the story of the egg fight on the "Batman" TV show if you've never heard about it.
Oct. 21, 2008, 6:07 a.m. CST
The Peter Lorre segment is my favorite.
Oct. 21, 2008, 6:24 a.m. CST
I mean, when he writhes and winces in agony at the slightest sound or touch, you really feel it...
Oct. 21, 2008, 6:27 a.m. CST
...in all the Jedi Master duels in the Prequel films, as they all seem directly inspired, to me, by the master wizard duel between Vincent Price and Boris Karloff at the end of "Raven."
Oct. 21, 2008, 9:10 a.m. CST
the "curse" is actually the result of generations of inbreeding. Oh, and a heads up on Audrey Rose.....it's kinda lame, sadly.
Oct. 21, 2008, 10:33 a.m. CST
Picked this up at the Big Lots on Parmer, by Fry's, for only three bucks!
Oct. 21, 2008, 10:56 a.m. CST
by Monkey Butler
Earth is 6000 years old!
Oct. 21, 2008, 11:46 a.m. CST
Yeah. I kinda remember watching it on TV once years ago and it creeping the hell out of me..."Marcia, no!!!"
Oct. 21, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST
...turns up in Scorcese's "MEAN STREETS" as his way of saying thanks to his mentor Corman for all his help on the way up. Coincidently, Corman also offered to finance Mean Streets if Scorcese would make it as a blaxploitation flick (MS turned him down and cast DeNiro and Keitel - good call Marty!). Can you imagine how that would have turned out? Me neither. That is all.
Oct. 21, 2008, 2:19 p.m. CST
I agree with Lost Jarv, its the"The Conquoror Worm", also called "Witchfinder General". Price is evil and sinister in it, without being the least bit hammy or winking at the audience. Put it on your list Quint, "The Power of Christ Compels You!"
Oct. 21, 2008, 5:26 p.m. CST
by Han Cholo
There was a movie I was watching recently that had Peter Cushing (Governor Tarkin) in it where there was this soul brother, fro sporting, pimp-looking, rich black dude who called a bunch of people together and said that one of them is a werewolf and that he would kill whoever it was. The movie asks the viewer to figure out the mystery as well. Soul brotha's wife in the film (who also appeared in Enter The Dragon) asked what he would do if she was the werewolf, he replied something like "bang". I stopped watching because I had to go to bed and it seemed silly that Cushing would appear in a quasi-blaxploitation film. Anyone know what this movie is?
Oct. 21, 2008, 5:55 p.m. CST
Oct. 21, 2008, 6:40 p.m. CST
I watch this one a couple of times a year, for the production design, the beautiful cinematography, and the fab Vincent Price performance. A great flick from a bygone era.
Oct. 21, 2008, 6:43 p.m. CST
That's your movie, Pissed Off and Bitter.
Oct. 21, 2008, 11:16 p.m. CST
by The Crystal Skull
Glad to see you're a fan, Quint! McKean is fantastic!
Oct. 22, 2008, 2 a.m. CST
The Jean Epstein silent version. Its a great creepy ass silent movie, that doesn't make much sense but is full of mood and atmosphere. Highly recommended.
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