House of Usher [1960]

Genre: Horror
Vincent Price brings a theatrical flourish to the role of Roderick Usher, a brooding nobleman haunted by the dry rot of madness in his family tree. This being Poe, there's a history of family madness and melancholia, a premature burial, and a sense of doom hanging over this gloomy, crumbling mansion. Roger Corman sold stingy AIP pictures on the concept by claiming "The house is the monster," or so goes the oft-told story. True or not, Corman (with the help of his brilliant art director Daniel Haller and legendary cinematographer Floyd Crosby) creates an exaggerated sense of isolation and claustrophobia with the sunless forest and funereal fog that holds the house and its inhabitants prisoner in a land of the dead. It doesn't quite look real (some of the effects are downright phony, notably the apocalyptic climax), and none of the costars can hold a candle to Price's elegant, haunted performance (often speaking in no more than a stage whisper), but it's a triumph of expressionism on a budget. Shot in rich, vivid color and CinemaScope, from a literate script by genre master Richard Matheson, this is stylish gothic horror in a melancholy key. It was such a success that Corman reunited his core group of collaborators for the follow-up The Pit and the Pendulum the very next year. Corman's "Poe Cycle" was born. MGM's widescreen disc also features commentary by director-producer Corman, his first-ever such contribution. --Sean Axmaker

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