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House of Usher: 1960 Movie

"This house is cursed, Mister Winthrop."

With An Honest Fangirl covering the new show, and me just re-watching this gem again recently, and of course Halloween being only a week away, I felt it was a perfect match for my first review ever on this site!

Main cast:

Vincent Price as Roderick Usher
Myrna Fahey as Madeline Usher
Mark Damon as Philip Winthrop
Harry Ellerbe as Bristol

For those unfamiliar with Poe’s work, it is one of my personal favorites from the macabre writer, and while Roger Corman always takes liberties with his Poe movies, Usher is closer than most to the original work. The cast is mostly just the four people listed above, with a few short appearances by others for a short dream sequence, and the movie is largely contained in the Usher estate with only a few scenes outside it. And yet, for the low budget used, and for a setting that those more used to modern horror may find a bit slow-paced and more eerie than horrific, I find this film to be a personal favorite. It’s a slow build, and almost claustrophobic in its setting and presentation, where barring only a few short scenes, the entire movie takes place within the house. Even the fact that the shots of the house’s exterior are obviously paintings doesn’t take away from the dark, brooding setting of this film.

The protagonist of this film is Philip Winthrop, a man Madeline Usher met in her trip to Boston and who she is betrothed to. His determination to see them get married and find a better life than her older brother Roderick plans for her is a large part of what drives the narrative in this picture. He’s not the most effective protagonist I’ve seen in horror, but he’s a sympathetic lead which does help the audience get invested in his perspective during the events that follow his arrival at the manor, across the desolate and dreary Usher-held lands. Madeline is an above average heroine in movies of the day as while she isn’t as independent as we may like, she does stand up for herself at a critical point, although still a bit too passive at times.

Similar to those dark and eerie lands that surround the estate, the house and the very Usher family and their manservant Bristol seem set with a sensation of decay. Even Madeline, who is attractive and young, upsets Philip with her morbid musings about her own demise. From Roderick’s complaints of his over-sensitive hearing and other senses, which is why Bristol had Philip remove his boots when he arrived, to the quakes the house suffers from, to even Roderick’s and Bristol’s appearance, that sense of entropy is ever present.

Philip pushes for Madeline to leave with him, and she eventually agrees, but tragedy interferes with their attempt to do so, and the reason why it’s so tragic is what makes this film work so well for me. It spends so much time building and leading us on, giving us little hints here and there, before Roderick himself explains why things are as they are, and why he is so determined to stop Madeline leaving, that the only fault I have with the gruesome and destructive climax is how sudden it rises to a crescendo and then ends the film, it’s too abrupt. But this does not prevent this movie from being an excellent classic horror film, one I highly recommend!

-The entire cast is good here, even with Mark Damon’s performance being a little flat at times, but as usual, Vincent Price is the best of them all. Price plays Roderick brilliantly and the dyed white hair fits the role so very well. I’m a huge Price fan, and he makes even the worst movie better (something he shares with the sublime Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), but here he’s just so good that it may be my favorite performance he’s ever done. We immediately see that he’s eccentric; a rather creepy antagonist to Philip’s more hopeful lead, but as Price always does, he gives his character avenues to empathize with him, even if we find him difficult to like. I always prefer my villains to be more sympathetic, and Price manages that here, even if we don’t agree with the acts of horror he commits, acts he claims are necessary.

-I’m not sure exactly the circumstances of Madeline’s trip to Boston here, as Roderick is so very much convinced of their family curse and wishes to keep her a prisoner in her own home. They skip that detail in the movie, which one can argue is a continuity issue, but I don’t feel it damages the overall premise in any way. Perhaps she was more able to exert her own will before we see them as they are in the film, or perhaps he wasn’t as sure of the situation before the events we see before us here. In any case, it gives us a very pertinent reason for Philip to come to the desolate Usher estate and for us to partake in the horror that unfolds.

-One complaint I’ve seen is when Roderick lights candles and waxes poetically about their presence in the mostly dark house, is that it’s not actually all that dark, which is true, but it hardly takes away from the symbolism of this act.

-Four decaying mansions out of four.

Morella is a Gen Xer who likes strange things a bit too much.


  1. Welcome to the site, Morella!

    I'll admit I've never seen this movie, despite an interest in Edgar Allan Poe and a love of old movies, but I've always liked Vincent Price.

    1. Thanks! It's been a great time here as a commentor, and now as a guest reviewer.

      I really enjoy this one, as I feel it suits Price so well, and it's my favorite Corman Poe cycle movie, although I enjoy them all.


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