Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
House of Usher, The

At least five movies have been based on "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe. All have appeared titled both The House of Usher and The Fall of the House of Usher. They have been The House of Usher (1928), The House of Usher (1949), The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The House of Usher (1982 tvm) and The House of Usher (1989). Two are interesting.

1. The Fall of the House of Usher US movie (1960). American-International. Pr Roger Corman. Exec pr James H Nicholson. Dir Corman. Spfx Pat Dinga. Screenplay Richard Matheson. Starring Mark Damon (Philip Winthrop), Harry Ellerbe (Bristol), Myrna Fahey (Madeline Usher), Vincent Price (Roderick Usher). 85 mins. Colour.

The first of Corman's Poe movies sees Philip come to the Usher home – rocked by tremors as it subsides into the swamp – to claim his fiancée Madeline. Her brother Roderick is cursed by hyperacute senses and lurching towards insanity. Madeline, obsessed by death, seemingly dies at the height of an argument with her brother, and, though Roderick knows she is merely in a cataleptic fit, is put in the crypt alongside her mad and dangerous ancestors. Now totally insane, she escapes her coffin, tries to kill Philip and does kill Roderick. All ends in flames as Philip flees the accursed house.

Shot in almost comic-book colours, this is the default version of the Poe tale, its gloomy power being perhaps partly born from its equivocation over Good and Evil and from the slow growth of our awareness that Roderick's doomed love for his sister is nigh incestuous. A Dream sequence in which Philip battles the shades of past Ushers in pursuit of Madeline is an impressive highpoint. Much of this, notably the Premature Burial, was to be thematically reprised in Corman's next Poe movie, The Pit and the Pendulum. [JG]

2. The House of Usher UK movie (1989). 21st Century/Breton Film. Pr Harry Alan Towers. Exec pr Avi Lerner. Dir Alan Birkinshaw. Spfx Scott Wheeler. Screenplay Michael J Murray. Starring Norman Coombes (Clive Derrick), Carole Farquhar (Gwendolyn), Philip Godewa (Dr Bailey), Donald Pleasence (Walter Usher), Oliver Reed (Roderick Usher), Anne Stradi (Mrs Derrick), Rufus Swart (Ryan Usher), Romy Windsor (Molly McNulty). 87 mins. Colour.

Molly comes with fiancé Ryan Usher to the dismal Usher mansion at the behest of his Uncle Roderick. Before they can reach the house, two spectral Children appear in the road ahead of their car, causing a crash in which Ryan apparently dies. What follows is a mishmash of Ghosts, Premature Burial (of Ryan), Curses, Hallucination, secret passages, psychopathy and more: the script leaves no cliché of Horror unexploited, and the cast give performances to match. Much proves to have been a plot engineered by Roderick, who wishes to sire on Molly an heir to the Usher line. At last she escapes the blazing house ... and we are back with her and Ryan in the car before the crash: it has all been a Dream. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.