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Outside the circle of genre devotees, horror films rarely get the kind of respect they deserve. Sure, the genre is replete with horrible horror movies, but there are those motion pictures worthy of praise because they are either great films or they make a significant impact on the genre itself. Fans will immediately point to the Universal horror movies of the thirties and forties, as well as the Hammer horror movies of the fifties and sixties as the films that had the most significant impact on the genre. Also during the sixties, American International Pictures released an impressive series of gothic horror movies that were based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The "AIP/Poe" pictures as they are sometimes referred, are richly atmospheric horror movies that left their mark on the genre because they starred Vincent Price in the roles that made him a legendary genre icon. It’s nice to see the "AIP/Poe" movies starting to get the recognition they deserve on DVD, instead of being overlooked, as many of the genres most important films continue to be.

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER ($15) is the first film to be adapted from the works of Poe. Celebrated fantasy writer Richard Matheson fleshed out Poe's story to create a tight an effective screenplay that blended both real and psychological horror. In THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (titled HOUSE OF USHER on the actual print), Vincent Price portrays Roderick Usher, a man who believes that he is dying from the corruption that has tainted his family line for generation. Usher also believes that the taint of corruption extends to his sister Madeline (Myrna Fahey), as well as into the barren land surrounding their estate and into the very house itself, which is on the verge of crumbling. Usher's malady manifests itself in a painful acuteness of the senses, which is why he has cut himself off from the sights, the sounds and smells of the outside world. Unfortunately, Usher's limited peace is brought to a screeching halt by the arrival of Philip Winthrop, who is Madeline's fiancé. Usher is appalled by the notion that his family line will continue beyond the current generation and does everything in his power to dissuade Winthrop from marrying his sister. Unfortunately, Winthrop sees nothing wrong with Madeline, other than her brother's bad influence, so he decides to take her away from the House of Usher. What follows is premature burial, madness, death and destruction.

Although it runs a brisk eighty minutes, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER has an unrelenting sense of doom that only broken up by a number of effective shocks. Vincent Price underplays the melancholy, albeit slightly mad Roderick Usher, who looks forward to the end of his suffering, with the coming end to his tainted family line. With his shocking platinum hair, Price's Roderick is a sight to behold- like a living extension of the house; he is prematurely old shell of a man who teeters on the brink of mental and physical collapse. Corman's direction is efficient, although the pacing never seems rushed. The compositions make excellent use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, plus the film greatly benefits from Floyd Crosby's excellent cinematography, which makes the film look far more expensive than its $200,000.00 budget.

MGM Home Entertainment has made THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that recreates the film's 2.35:1 theatrical proportions, in addition to being enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is very nice, offering a relatively crisp and well-defined image. Certainly, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER doesn't look as finely detailed as a new movie, but for a film that is over forty years old and produced on a miniscule budget, the picture is pretty pleasing. There are more blemishes on the film element than I'd care to see, but none of them are particularly large or bothersome. Colors are strongly rendered, although the flesh tones sometimes appear a little pale. The film makes great use of color filters to create nightmarish monochromatic effects, which are rendered without any form of distortion. Blacks appear very accurate, although shadow detail is limited, leaving some of the darker sequences looking a little murky and lacking in depth. However, the murkiness works to the films advantage, since the viewer never knows what’s lurking in the dark. Contrast is smooth and the image has pretty good depth in well-lit scenes. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight during the presentation.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack definitely gets the job done, but it isn't what anyone would refer to as high fidelity. Dialogue is crisp and fully intelligible, although the voices sound a tad thin in places. The sound effects have a bit more oomph in the lower registers than I was expecting, but nothing ground shaking to be found here. Les Baxter's atmospheric music sounds fine, although this is an area where the age of the recordings becomes most noticeable. A tiny bit of hiss and distortion creeps in on occasion, but most viewers probably won't notice it a average listening levels. A French monaural soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have Spanish and French subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Director Roger Corman is featured on a running audio commentary insightful, reverent and fairly entertaining. Fans of the "AIP/Poe" series will certainly enjoy Corman's talk. Also included on the DVD is a theatrical trailer.

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is a minor genre classic that fans will definitely want to own because of the Vincent Price factor, as well as it's bargain price, 16:9 enhanced transfer and Corman commentary.


The Fall of the House of Usher


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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