Roger Corman is a name well known to film buffs. The producer of many low-budget, obviously cheaply filmed movies shot over a matter of days, his early career was prolific. Often working in genre films, he directed horror (among other projects), occasionally drawing on Edgar Allan Poe. The problem of adapting a short story to a length required for cinema release could be solved in a number of ways, but padding out the story was common. I had only a few minutes to watch a horror movie over the weekend, so I pulled out a Vincent Price collection I’d bought some time ago. A number of them are Corman films and I may have seen them when I was younger, but if so the path recall is completely eroded. I decided to watch The Fall of the House of Usher.
This story by Poe remains my favorite for its sheer moodiness and imagery. The premise is brief and the action little. I knew Corman would have had to have changed quite a bit. It turns out that he’d brought Richard Matheson in as the writer. Many films can be made or broken by the writer. While it doesn’t improve on Poe it is certainly a watchable effort that develops a mood in its own right. The low budget is evident, but despite that the story is a slow build using many of Poe’s famous concerns such as premature burial and isolation in dangerous locations. While not scary in the same way as modern horror, and stretched out by a dream sequence and overture, it nevertheless works.
Given my particular angle on horror, I noticed the introduced religious aspects. While identification is difficult due to the lack of focus, there seem to have been two large, iconic Bibles in the story. Indeed, the Ushers have a private chapel in which Roderick prays over his dead (?) sister. The curse of the Ushers has to do with family evil that is being punished, causing Philip Winthrop to quote the Bible in his denial of the passing down of divine wrath. The paintings of the Usher ancestor as Roderick explains this are the scariest part of the movie. Not all Corman adaptions of Poe work well, but with the ministrations of Matheson and the rich ground for development from the original story, this is an atmospheric contribution to early horror. And it works if you only have a few minutes on a busy weekend for your favorite avocation.