Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 19th, 2013
BluRay released: August 26th, 2013
Approximate running times: 79 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £13.99 (UK)
Synopsis: The last remaining male descendant of a cursed family refuses to let his sister marry that man she loves because he believes that the only way to end his families curse is by ending their blood line.
House of Usher was directed by Roger Corman who would go onto direct seven more films that were adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Well technically six more, since The Haunted Place is a Poe adaption in name only and story has been adapted from a story written by H. P. Lovecraft.
Key collaborators on House of Usher include screenwriter Richard Matheson (‘The Twilight Zone’, I am Legend), Composer Les Baxter (Black Sabbath, Baron Blood) and cinematographer Floyd Crosby a frequent collaborator of Roger Corman’s.
When Roger Corman embarked on series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He was primarily known for directing about rebellious teenagers and schlocky B movie monster films. With the most notably of these pre Poe films being Little Shop of Horrors.
Besides the increased budgets, the other area that stands out head and shoulders about Corman’s films starting with House of Usher and beyond is his marked improvement as a filmmaker. And I am not talking baby steps or a slight transformation. Virtually overnight (literally over the course of one film) he formulates a distinctive visual style that he would become synonymous with him from here on out.
Though he was not first and most definitely would not be the last filmmaker to venture into the Gothic horror film genre. It is interesting to compare the striking similarities in Poe films with the Gothic horror films that Italian filmmaker Mario Bava was making around the same time half way around the world. It should be noted that even though AIP released many Bava films. They would not release their first Bava film until about one year after House of usher had made its theatrical debut.
In true Corman fashion with House of Usher, he takes a story that requires the bare minimum actors and takes place in primarily in one main location. And the end result of a film that far exceeds and feels much grander than the sum of its parts.
Visually there is never a shortage of atmosphere. In fact there is so much atmosphere on display here that is could fill multiple films. Also though these are Poe adaptations, there is no need to worry about being familiar with his literary legacy or have a familiarity with the story at hand to fully enjoy what Corman is putting forth on the screen.
Being that this film a rather intimate affair it should not be too surprising how much of a role the performances of this film’s three main actors play in the success of this film. First and foremost to be acknowledge is the performance of Vincent Price (The Witchfinder General) in the role of Roderick Usher the last living male descendant of a cursed family. He gives a utterly convincing performance of a man who has long since lost grip with reality. The other two main cast members include Myrna Fahey in the role of Madeline Usher and Mark Damon (Naked You Die) in the role of Madeline Usher’s suitor.
The most telling fact about Roger Corman’s House of Usher is how well it holds up to the film’s which will follow it in his cycle of Poe themed. It was after all his first foray into the world of Poe and yet the end result easily ranks high when compared the films which make Corman’s Poe film cycle. And in this humble reviewers opinion there is actually only one film that I would rank higher then House of Usher and that film would be The Masque of the Red Death.
House of Usher comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Colors look vibrant, flesh tones look accurate, black and contrast levels look superb throughout. Details look crisp, there are no issues with compression and grain look healthy and natural throughout. It is hard to imagine this film looking any better than it does for this release.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD Mono mix in English. For a film of this vintage this film far exceeds my expectations and then some in regards to the audio mix included with this release. The score sounds robust, ambient noises are well represented and everything sounds balanced throughout. Also inlcuded with this release are removable English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 30 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), a eleven minute audio essay about the film, a playful interview with actor Vincent Price from 1986 (11 minutes 26 seconds – 1080 Progressive 1.33:1 aspect ratio), interviews with author Jonathan Rigby (32 minutes 58 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) and filmmaker Joe Dante (26 minutes 47 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) and a informative audio commentary with director Roger Corman.
Topics discussed in the interview with Joe Dante include his first near encounter with Roger Corman and how many years later he became a trailer editor and eventually as a feature film director for Corman, establishing a style as a director, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series and composer Les Baxter. Topics discussed in the interview with Jonathan Rigby include the film House of Usher, Roger Corman and other film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe. Rounding out the extras is a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Tim Lucas and an extract from Vincent Price s long out of print autobiography, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. It should be noted that the audio commentary is the same track that originally appeared on MGM’s North American DVD release for the film. Overall House of Usher gets an exceptional release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.
Note: Arrow Video are also releasing this film in a steel book edition.