This Gothic horror picture was something of a risk for American International Pictures when they made it in 1960. The company had previously been known for cheap shorter films, usually put together as double-bills at the cinema. They were shot in black and white with low production values. But The Fall of the House of Usher was an attempt to go bigger and raise their game. It looked more expensive, had an attractive cast (including Vincent Price and Mark Damon) and was filmed in colour and cinemascope widescreen. It was also helmed by Roger Corman, the man who had made his name directing cheap exploitation movies.
Edgar Allen Poe’s short story is brought to life by Corman with imagination and enthusiasm and the result is enjoyable if not always wholly successful. Perhaps the biggest failure of the feature is its disregard of Poe’s style, a criticism put forward by reviewers of the time. Watching the film now though, in 2013, it works very well as a deliciously dark bit of fun; a movie that can’t be taken too seriously but still has enough creepiness and narrative bite to it to be entertaining.
Though fairly faithful to the plot of Poe’s original, some narrative tweaks have been made here and there (some characters are set against each other to provide a greater stage for conflict and to push the plot along). Here the central character, who at the start we see traveling towards the big Gothic castle/mansion/creepy home, is at odds with Mr Roderick Usher and wants to marry his sister. A lot of ghostly stuff occurs after this, building to a weird and suitably surreal final act which does admittedly become a bit hysterical, but in a good kind of way.
One of the great joys of this release is seeing Corman’s film restored to its full glory in high definition. Distributor Arrow Films don’t just package up their carefully curated range of horror movies, they nurture them, they give them the best possible transfers they can, and here they have surpassed even their high standards. This is a glorious release with a collection of fascinating extras (including a video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns), and comes packaged in either the standard Arrow casing (which is remarkably well illustrated) or a beautiful steelbook edition. It’s great when companies know what their market really like, and Arrow has done a wonderful job of giving fans of this macabre piece of horror a truly excellent release.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), directed by Roger Corman, is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 26 August, Certificate 15.