The Fall of the House of Usher
HE BURIED HER ALIVE... TO SAVE HIS SOUL!
When exploitation maestro Roger Corman decided to raise his game by hiring Vincent Price to star in an adaptation of a classic tale by Edgar Allan Poe, he set in train a series of Poe adaptations that would redefine American horror cinema.
When Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) visits his fiancée Madeleine Usher (Myrna Fahey) in her crumbling family mansion, her brother Roderick (Price) tries to talk him out of the wedding, explaining that the Usher family is cursed and that extending its bloodline will only prolong the agony. Madeleine wants to elope with Philip, but neither of them can predict what ruthless lengths Roderick will go to in order to keep them apart.
Richard Matheson's intelligent, literate script is enhanced by Floyd Crosby's stylish widescreen cinematography, but it's Vincent Price's anguished conviction in one of his signature roles that makes the film so chillingly memorable over half a century on.
Continuing to go through MGM’s American International Pictures library, Arrow Video presents Roger Corman’s first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Fall of the House of Usher on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The new high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz. This Blu-ray is locked to Region B and North American viewers will require equipment that can play back region B content.
These Arrow release of AIP’s library are all just rather astounding so far, but House of Usher may be the most impressive one yet. Short of print issues this high-definition transfer is just about perfect. Colours are vividly delivered with stunning saturation, and black levels are deep and inky without any crushing. The reds that appear throughout pop as well and look to be flawlessly rendered. The transfer delivers a wonderful amount of detail and the image remains sharp and crisp with excellent definition around all objects when the source allows. Film grain remains and I didn’t spot a single artifact.
The transfer was made from a 35mm interpositive and overall it is in mint condition. It shows a few flaws ranging from debris to thin tram lines in only a small number of places, and there’s a moment where some discolouration is apparent in the frame. The quality of the print also does shift negatively on occasion from shot to shot, maybe an issue with the cheap production and a different film stock was used or it is possible these few frames or short sequences were ultimately taken from another source. When this shift happens the image becomes noticeably softer and/or grainier, and crushing becomes a problem. But these instances are very few and as a whole the video presentation is a revelation for the film. All those involved with this one really hit it out of the park.
The lossless PCM 2-channel mono track is also another splendid shock. Surprisingly robust, it delivers exceptional range and volume levels, perfect for the jumps that occur during the film. Dialogue is clear and always articulate, the music doesn’t present any edginess or other issues of the sort, the ear-piercing screams are loud but never that harsh, and the track even delivers some bass when needed. It’s strong for a mono track and perfectly effective for the film.
Arrow has put together a fairly comprehensive edition for the film in term of supplements, first offering an audio commentary from the man himself, Roger Corman. I’m not entirely sure when it was recorded so I can’t say if it has appeared on any other release (the MGM DVD, which I do not own, does come with a commentary by Corman as well) but whatever the case may be it’s a rather fascinating track, with the man recalling the production, working at/with American International Pictures, working with Price, his stylistic choices, changes to the story, and the many tricks to delivering an expensive looking cheap movie. It has some dead space and he can drone a bit at times, but I still found it to be a valuable addition.
Next Arrow delivers easily one of the coolest features on here, second coolest at least: an interview with director Joe Dante, who spends a wonderful 27-minutes talking about his idol and mentor Roger Corman. Dante first recalls a fan club he made up before moving on to actually working in the business and for Corman, first starting out as trailer editor. He talks about all of the things he learned from the man about filmmaking, especially low budget filmmaking. From here he then talks about House of Usher, how it came about, its look and feel, the use of colour, and the rest of the Poe films and Cormans work with (and attempt to break away from) AIP. It’s a wonderfully insightful and gushing interview with Dante explaining the huge influence Corman had on him and many other prominent filmmakers. Wonderful.
A little dryer but worthwhile is an interview with Gothic horror history Jonathan Rigby, who goes over Corman’s Poe films (and earlier adaptations) and other horror films of the time, in particular the Hammer horror films. He makes comparisons and valid criticisms against the Corman films, with the actors, other than Price of course, being his one big criticism against Corman’s films, where he cast very American performers whereas the Hammer films had more distinguished actors who could pull of the Gothic feel far better. (He does get a little hard on poor Harry Ellerbe, though explains why a Hammer actor would have elevated that role.) He talks about the representation of the house, the psychological aspects, and how they represent gothic horror. It runs about 32-minutes.
Now for what is the coolest feature on here: an archival interview from 1986 with Vincent Price. It was filmed for French television so French subtitles are burned in. In the unfortunately short 16-minutes Vincent talks about his career, laughing about some of the horrible films he made (convinced at least one he did with James Whale is probably one of the worst films ever made) and fondly recalling his work with Corman, who he speaks absolutely positively about. There are absolutely no pretensions to the man and he doesn’t take himself at all seriously. He talks about being in on the joke in terms of his onscreen persona, which allowed him to narrate Tim Burton’s short feature Vincent. But what’s most wonderful about the interview is how proud he is of his voice work in The Great Mouse Detective as the villainous Radigan (who he points out doesn’t like to be called a rat but a rather a “large mouse.”) He also proudly displays the model of the character that Disney gave to him. It’s such a wonderful, joyful interview with the man and I’m so happy Arrow dug it up.
The disc then closes with a video essay created by filmmaker David Cairns called Fragments of the House of Usher where he looks at the film’s visuals and how it relates to Poe’s story. It’s a fine scholarly addition, with excerpts from the story, but it’s primarily made up of some quickly edited clips from the film that feel a little haphazardly placed. At least to me. It runs about 10-minutes.
Arrow then includes what looks likes like a standard definition upscale of the theatrical trailer, featuring the odd tag line “The Foremost Delineator of the Draculean” that Rigby picked on in his segment. The set also includes a great booklet featuring an essay on the film by Tim Lucas, as well as a segment from Vincent Price, His Movies, His Plays, His Life where Price humourously reflects on some of his work. A great read in all.
Overall this is another fantastic set of supplements put together by Arrow. Fans will certainly be thrilled with the material.
Another lovingly assembled edition from Arrow, this is easily the definitive release of the film. With some fantastic supplements and an impressive transfer, this release comes with a very high recommendation.