Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, this American International Pictures production concerns an eccentric who firmly believes – not without reason – that his family is tainted and determines that neither he nor his sister shall perpetuate the ill-fated breed.
The skilfully drawn characters, ably directed, move stealthily against dank, forbidding backgrounds, and the shaping of their dark destinies leads to intelligent and chilling horror. Brilliant camera work lifts the whole film into the top bracket.
Handsome young Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon), anxious about his fiancee, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey), visits her crumbling mansion home in mist-laden marshes but is frigidly received by her inhibited brother, Roderick (Vincent Price).
Philip finds Madeline a pale shadow of her former self, and Roderick warns Philip against marrying her by detailing his ancestors’ evil deeds, which have left their mark on the house.
Philip narrowly avoids many “accidents,” and later, Madeline is found “dead.” Although aware that she suffers cataleptic fits, Roderick buries Madeline because he has resolved to prevent the Ushers’ “black” blood from spreading to other generations.
Madeline escapes from her coffin, leaves a trail of gore and violently attacks Philip, but he survives. She tries to choke Roderick, but the fast-decaying House of Usher collapses, catches fire and slowly sinks into the marshes.
Bristol (Harry Ellerbe), the Ushers’ family butler, saves Philip but doubles back and dies with his employers.
Vincent Price gives a compelling portrayal as the tormented Roderick and Myrna Fahey convincingly switches from maidenly reserve to maniacal frenzy as Madeline. Mark Damon is more than adequate as Philip, and Harry Ellerbe brings a welcome draught of clean, warm air as Bristol, the faithful retainer.
Eeriness is cleverly created at the start, and the Ushers’ infamous family portrait gallery and creepy activity in the crypt presage greater evil to come without robbing subsequent thrills of spontaneity.
Shot in fifteen days – and released in some markets as simply The House of Usher – this was to be the first of eight movies based on Edgar Allan Poe stories that Roger Corman directed.