House of Usher (1960)
I haven't read any Poe for a good long while, perhaps even since ninth grade English. The handful of short stories I have read I've enjoyed for its rich gothic nature. As such, I thought it would be fun to read the Poe originals alongside watching the Corman/Price films for this marathon. I had never read The Fall of the House of Usher and I have to say, the thickness of the prose caught me by surprise as I don't remember struggling so much with Poe before, and yet it kind of makes sense. I can't say I loved Usher as a short story (I do absolutely adore the part of The Martian Chronicles that is based on Usher and other Poe stories) and have an even more difficult time picturing a feature film adaptation of what is an extremely slight story, but then I'm gonna watch The Raven for this marathon, which I can picture as filling a third of a Simpsons' episode but not a feature-length film. But that's why we watch the films.
And indeed, what a film. It takes a couple of major details from Poe's story but really embellishes it in order to get more from the story. In the story, the visitor is a childhood friend of Roderick Usher, in the film he is fiancee of Madeline Usher, a character in the story almost in spirit only. Rather than being a mere observer of the House, Philip is an active participant in a romance with Roderick standing sternly in the way, with dare I say incestuous underpinning. You also get a richer exploration of the Usher curse…is it the house or is it the genes, or is it both? That mystery is the shroud that hangs over the plot.
Price is fantastic here. I'm not sure how much I've seen of him but it strikes me that he reminds me of a sinister version of Paul Newman, complete with bright blue eyes. Combined with his distinctive voice he is just an immediately captivating screen presence. The four person cast here works quite well as a whole.
Anyway, I had a great time with this film. On the whole I appreciate the adaptation, though the ending in the original story seemed cooler and neater. The film had a few soft moments in the last act where it felt like it could have lost ten minutes, even out of the 70-something minute runtime. Still, with these films being a little less classic than the Romero zombie films, getting off to such a great start and seeing both the high technical level of Corman and strong presence of Price has me very excited about this part of Shocktober too.