House of Usher (film)

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House of Usher
House of Usher (1960) - Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Roger Corman
Produced byRoger Corman
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Based on"The Fall of the House of Usher"
by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography Floyd Crosby
Edited byAnthony Carras
Alta Vista Productions
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date
  • June 18, 1960 (1960-06-18)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$300,000 [1]
Box office$1,450,000 (US/Canada)(rentals) [2]
213,785 admissions (France) [3]

House of Usher (also known as The Fall of the House of Usher and The Mysterious House of Usher) is a 1960 American horror film directed by Roger Corman and written by Richard Matheson from the 1839 short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. The film was the first of eight Corman/Poe feature films and stars Vincent Price, Myrna Fahey, Mark Damon and Harry Ellerbe.


In 2005, the film was listed with the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." [4] [5] Versions exist on DVD with running times between 76 and 80 minutes.


Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) travels to the House of Usher, a desolate mansion surrounded by a murky swamp, to see his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). Madeline's brother Roderick (Vincent Price) opposes Philip's intentions, telling the young man that the Usher family is afflicted by a cursed bloodline which has driven all their ancestors to madness and even affected the mansion itself, causing the surrounding countryside to become desolate. Roderick foresees the family evils being propagated into future generations with a marriage to Madeline and vehemently discourages the union. Philip becomes increasingly desperate to take Madeline away; desperate to get away from her brother, she agrees to leave with him.

During a heated argument with her brother, Madeline suddenly falls into catalepsy, a condition in which its sufferers appear dead; her brother (who knows that she is still alive) convinces Winthrop that she is dead and rushes to have her entombed in the family crypt beneath the house. As Philip is preparing to leave following the entombment, the butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe), lets slip that Madeline suffered from catalepsy.

Philip rips open Madeline's coffin and finds it empty. He desperately searches for her in the winding passages of the crypt, but eventually collapses. Madeline revives inside her sealed coffin, goes insane from being buried alive and breaks free. She confronts her brother and attacks him, throttling him to death. Suddenly the house, already aflame due to fallen coals from the fire, begins to collapse, and the two Ushers and Bristol are consumed by the falling house, ending the Usher bloodline. Philip alone escapes and watches the burning house sink into the swampy land surrounding it. The film ends with the final words of Poe's story: "... and the deep and dank tarn closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the 'House of Usher'".



The film was important in the history of American International Pictures which up until then had specialized in making low budget black and white films to go out on double bills. [1] The market for this kind of movie was in decline so AIP decided to gamble on making a larger budgeted film in color.[ citation needed ]

The film was announced in February 1959 and was dubbed the company's "most ambitious film to date". [6]

A number of other companies announced Poe projects around this time: Alex Gordon had a version of Masque of the Red Death, Fox had Murders in the Rue Morgue, Ben Bogeus The Gold Bug, and Universal The Raven. [7]

It was shot in fifteen days.[ citation needed ]


In February 2011 Intrada made the world premiere release of the Les Baxter score from music-only elements in mono. [8] [9]

2."Main Title"2:00
3."Roderick Usher"4:02
4."Madeline Usher"2:50
6."Lute Song"1:00
8."The Sleepwalker"4:12
9."The Vault"2:36
10."The Ancestors"2:58
11."House of Evil"4:53
14."Buried Alive"8:14
15."Fall of The House of Usher"13:50
Total length:1:02:16


Eugene Archer, in the September 15, 1960 edition of The New York Times wrote, "American-International, with good intentions of presenting a faithful adaption of Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale of the macabre...blithely ignored the author's style. Poe's prose style, as notable for ellipsis as imagery, compressed or eliminated the expository passages habitual to nineteenth-century fiction and invited the readers' imaginations to participate. By studiously avoiding explanations not provided by the text, and stultifying the audiences' imaginations by turning Poe's murky mansion into a cardboard castle encircled by literal green mist, the film producers have made a horror film that provides a fair degree of literacy at the cost of a patron's patience." He further opined, "Under the low-budget circumstances, Vincent Price and Myrna Fahey should not be blamed for portraying the decadent Ushers with arch affectation, nor Mark Damon held to account for the traces of Brooklynese that creep into his stiffly costumed impersonation of the mystified interloper." [10]

Other reviewers have been kinder, however; a positive assessment in Variety declared, "It's not precisely the Edgar Allan Poe short story known to high school English that emerges in 'House of Usher,' but it's a reasonably diverting and handsomely mounted variation ... The film has been mounted with care, skill and flair by producer-director Roger Corman and his staff." [11] Harrison's Reports called it "fairly good entertainment. Although a bit too wordy, the abundant gore, photo gimmicks, special effects and unusual theme, help keep the viewer on his seat's edge." [12] The Monthly Film Bulletin praised the film's "unusually resourceful" camerawork as well as "an excellent central performance" from Vincent Price, finding that although Corman's direction "does not suggest a great stylist in the making, he brings off the big scenes with some invention, as well as making the most of what was probably only a medium-sized budget." [13] Betty Martin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a better than average horror film—if that's saying much", adding that Price "does a masterful job" in his role. [14]

House of Usher is now regarded as a high point in Corman's filmography, with a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews and a critics consensus: "Scary, strange, and maybe a little silly, House of Usher represents an early high mark for Vincent Price and a career triumph for director Roger Corman." [15]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p179
  2. "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  3. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  4. "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  5. "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  6. Scheuer, Philip K. (Feb 13, 1959). "Chase Still Critical Element in Comedy: Tempo and Crescendo Applied by Veteran Norman McLeod". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.
  7. MURRAY SCHUMACH (Aug 21, 1959). "POE SCENARISTS TELL A SAD TALE: Couple Working on 1 of 6 Films Being Adapted From Writer Encounter Pitfalls". New York Times. p. 12.
  8. CD-page on Intrada's site
  9. Official announcement
  10. House of Usher review New York Times Retrieved 23 September 2008.
  11. "House of Usher". Variety : 8. June 29, 1960.
  12. "'House of Usher' with Vincent Price, Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey". Harrison's Reports : 106. July 2, 1960.
  13. "The House of Usher". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 27 (322): 151. November 1960.
  14. Martin, Betty (July 21, 1960). "Horror and Hoke Keys to 'Usher.'" Los Angeles Times . Part III, p. 10.
  15. "The Fall of the House of Usher". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved September 8, 2018.