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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/11/01

The Fall of the House of Usher
1960 (2001) - American International (MGM)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Fall of the House of Usher

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+

Specs and Features

79 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Roger Corman, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

If you're a fan of Edgar Allan Poe's writings, you know that his work, much like Stephen King's work, is really hit or miss when it comes to big screen adaptation. You really have to sift through some awful bombs to find the good ones. The same can be said of Roger Corman. His films are a genre unto themselves, and he's produced (Francis Ford Coppola's Dementia 13) and directed (The Wild Angels) his fair share of klunkers. Corman has directed several of Poe's stories and The Fall of the House of Usher (originally released as The House of Usher) is a very good adaptation of the Poe work. It's a lot like taking a tour through a haunted house on Halloween, and it's a fun piece of entertainment. It's also one of Corman's best films, and is certainly his best Poe adaptation.

Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) leaves Boston in search of his fiancee, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). She's returned home to the family estate and her oddly mysterious and possessive brother, Roderick (Vincent Price, in a surprisingly restrained performance). Roderick insists that Madeline stay to die in the house in which she was born. There's a curse on their family, one that festers inside of the home and makes them all into depraved, corrupt people, and he wants to end it before it's inflicted upon anyone else. As the house slowly takes on a personality of its own, and closes in on its inhabitants, Winthrop must find his bride-to-be and save her from the spirit of the house. Corman's adaptation is a creepy masterpiece of Gothic mood. Price's performance is terrific and shares a lot of onscreen time with the film's other big star - the house. It creaks, moans and shivers, and produces a handful of good-natured, creepy chills.

The Fall of the House of Usher is more than forty years old, and (all things considered) looks darn tootin' on DVD. The image is occasionally soft looking and the print exhibits some age marks, but there's not a lot to complain about outside of that. The color palette and flesh tones are accurate, and black levels (important in a film of this nature) and shadow detailing are good. It's also presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is a nice surprise.

The audio track is the film's original mono, and it too gets the job done. It's nothing special, but dialogue is clear and the hissing and popping that is inherent to older mono tracks is kept at a minimum. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear a fairly active bass response from the subwoofer as the house creaked and moaned. My only criticism is that the audio was mixed a little low, so I had a bit of troubling hearing sometimes and had to crank up the volume to compensate. You can expect the same level of quality from the French mono track should you choose to listen to that one instead.

There are only a couple of extras on board, but they're good ones. For starters, there's the film's original theatrical trailer. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen (in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio), but it is in pretty good shape. Best of all is Corman's audio commentary. There's a lot to listen to in this commentary, and it's amazing when you realize how good a job Corman was able to do with a budget of $200,000 and a fifteen day shooting schedule. He shares a lot about the work that went into creating the mood of the film and his hands-off manner of directing star Price, who was a long-established star by that time. At 75 years old, Corman still sounds like an enthusiastic film fan. The track is definitely worth a listen.

If you've not seen The Fall of the House of Usher, give it a try. It's a classic of the genre and has just enough of a psychological tinge to make it work as more than just a scare fest. As an entry in MGM's Midnite Movies series, it's also a good disc. It's not terribly heavy on features, but its $15 price tag reflects that, making it well worth a look.

Dan Kelly
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