Dir: Roger Corman
Starring: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe
Arrow Video – Blu Ray
Arrow video’s crusade to bring horror and exploitation fans top drawer editions and presentations continues with ‘The Fall of The House of Usher’. Here we have yet another spectacular package seemingly made by fans, for fans. Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name this would be the first of many Poe tales that the legendary Roger Corman would make and still ranks as one of the best.
The original poster art gleefully informs us that were in for ‘an overwhelming tale of EVIL and TORMENT’ as we are invited into the malevolent House of Usher. Philip Winthrope(Mark Damon) arrives at the house in search of his fiancé, Madeline Usher(Myrna Fahey) and with every intention of taking her away with him. In doing so he rattles the cage of the creepily mysterious Roderick Usher(Vincent Price) who views his presence as a dangerous intrusion. Despite warnings to the contrary Winthrope decides he is staying and he bears witness to the sickness and the madness of the Usher family, particularly that of the damaged Roderick.
Like most of Poe’s stories the focus here is on human madness rather than supernatural monsters. It’s a slow burning movie that gradually reveals the layers of insanity, building to an emotional, fiery climax. The house itself is presented as the film’s ‘monster’ and is used to represent the darkness and the decay within the Usher family. A huge crack in the house is referred back to frequently; a metaphor for the crack in Roderick’s mind. This connection between him and the house is the hook on which everything hangs, and is an excellent method of framing the story cinematically without losing some of the literary impact. It is at times a genuinely unsettling film, despite the fact that very little seems to happen. There is a palpable sense of dread throughout the film; an undercurrent of impending doom and creeping tension that gets right under the skin.
It isn’t perfect; there are plot elements that require some discretion on the viewers part and may niggle. Mark Damon is also a rather bland hero. He seems to be half asleep some of the time and delivers his lines with a deadpan, dreariness that threatens to derail the film. But he is in the company of the wonderful Vincent Price, and his presence alone is enough to fill the screen. Price is brilliant here, capturing both the loss of sanity, and the emotional torment of Roderick. He gives the character layers and is never the pantomime villain that he is sometimes known for.
A always with Arrow the package here is excellent. Presented in a ‘steel book’ edition the blu-ray looks fantastic. It can’t quite eliminate all the trappings of age, but this is still a fabulous 1080p transfer. There is a commentary by Corman himself, and several interviews about the film and its legacy. The best of these is director Joe Dante, who seems to have an almost encyclopeadiac knowledge of Corman and his films. It is lively, informative and infectious. Also worth a look is an interview with Price himself from 1986. A good humoured and humble man, he is an example of what real greatness is.
I have to confess that I have been a little late in catching the Arrow train. Having most of their early releases already on DVD I foolishly brushed passed them on the shelves in search of titles I hadn’t seen or didn’t already have. This all changed when I picked up Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters on blu-ray. I was astonished at how much effort had gone into cleaning it up and filling the disc with extras to make the purchase worthwhile.
A recent article by Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara suggested the major studios seem to be trying to kill blu-ray off. It made some interesting points regarding the big players ill treatment of the format, but it failed to mention distributors like Arrow that seem to be excitedly embracing the format and giving the paying public massive value for their money. With The Fall of The House of Usher, they have yet again gone out of the way to present something rather special.