Roger Corman‘s version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher is a bore that left me with several questions. For instance, do the characters really stand around for the first forty minutes whining about some family destiny that dooms them all to death? Are there really only four actors in this movie not counting the extras in the dream sequence that Corman must have felt compelled to put in so that something remotely interesting could be highlighted in the movie’s trailer? Did Vincent Price really dye his hair blonde for the role of Roderick Usher?
The sad answer to all of these (especially that bad dye job) is an emphatic “yes.” In an apparent effort to build suspense, the bulk of the film is spent with Roderick constantly complaining about how cruddy his family is and that as a result of the Usher’s cruddiness, he just can’t allow his sister Madeline to leave with her hunky fiancee, Philip.
You might be wondering exactly what Roderick is talking about and I too was curious as to the deep dark secret that Roderick was protecting by forcing his sister into lots of bed rest. Other than the fact that house is structurally unsound, I didn’t really ever get exactly what Roderick had a hair up his ass about.
Philip arrives at the House of Usher from Boston determined to see his fiancee. The old caretaker, Bristol, is adamant that he cannot see her and is reluctant to even let him in to see Roderick. Philip, as you would expect from a hunky boyfriend with a busty lass in an old creepy house, demands entrance and gets it.
He does have to take his boots off though. It turns out that among Roderick’s laundry list of complaints is that he has super sensitive hearing and that hunky guys walking around his house sniffing after his sister is just too dang noisy!
Roderick informs Philip that in addition to his super powered hearing, he also is hypersensitive about several other things. He also is really touchy about what touches his skin. His taste buds are so acute that he needs special food. He also is really sensitive about too much light.
He didn’t bring it up, but I would also hazard a guess that he’s super sensitive about his bad dye job, too. Philip had the good breeding not to mention it, but even as Roderick jabbered on about his plight, you knew that was all Phil was thinking.
Roderick is pretty vague as to how this all translates into his sister not being allowed out of the house but he eventually assures Phil that it’s in her best interests because she’s going to die shortly.
Phil finds Madeline sleeping later that night in the chapel. Bristol says she walks in her sleep and carries her off to her room. Phil is determined to take her with him in the morning back to Boston, but before that can happen tragedy strikes!
No, I don’t mean that Vincent’s roots started showing. I mean that Madeline is arguing with Roderick in her bedroom and then she’s screaming and the Phil busts in and then she’s dead on the bed, while Roderick is staring out the window, as bored as the rest of us.
After a confrontation with Roderick that gets him nowhere, Phil is getting ready to leave the next morning when Bristol makes a comment that causes Phil to think that Madeline might not be so dead after all. This leads Phil to make a mad dash to the crypt where he discovers that Madeline’s casket is empty!
Eventually, Madeline turns up, but while she’s not quite dead, she is pretty crazy and ends up attacking Roddy. Their brawl starts a fire and the next thing you know, Roger Corman has convinced someone into selling their building for him to burn!
There were a couple of other things in the movie to try and trick you into thinking that something was actually happening such as the tour of the crypt that Madeline gave Phil that showed she and Roddy already had caskets with their names engraved on them. So what’s wrong with a little planning ahead?
Most embarrassingly of all (next to Vincent’s hair of course) was the lecture that Roddy gave Phil about how crappy the Usher family was, listing off his ancestors and their various transgressions all illustrated by a bunch of amateurish paintings he probably did himself.
The four people in the movie did a decent job with what they had. Price was sufficiently creepy and mysterious about what was going on, while the gal playing his sister looked pale when necessary and crazed when it was called for.
I just never understood what any of this was supposed to be about. Was the family cursed or was it their house? After all, Phil met Madeline in Boston and she didn’t seem to have any problems then.
And what sort of curse is it? Is it that they all go insane? If so, that would explain what was going on with Madeline, but why doesn’t Roddy just come out and say that to Phil in the first place? Or better yet, maybe his fiancee should be telling him this. And if that isn’t the curse at all, then what’s the point again?
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