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Film / House of Usher

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A tragic dishwashing accident.

House of Usher, aka The Fall of the House of Usher  both titles were used in advertising  is a 1960 horror movie directed by Roger Corman, written by Richard Matheson. It is, of course, an adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher".

In early 19th-century Massachusetts, handsome young Phillip Winthrop (Mark Damon) arrives at the crumbling Usher mansion to see his fiancée, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). He runs into an obstacle in the person of Madeline's brother, Roderick Usher (Vincent Price). Roderick at first insists that Madeline is too ill to take visitors, but when Phillip finally succeeds in getting in to see her, she seems perfectly fine, and agrees to go back to Boston with him and get married. Roderick refuses to let his sister leave, and eventually tells Phillip why: the Ushers are "tainted", a family of evil  thieves, slave traders, maniacs, murderers. Roderick and Madeline are the last of their family line, and he is determined that the house of Usher will go extinct, no matter what.

House of Usher represented a major leap forward in artistic ambition for Roger Corman and for his studio, American International Pictures. It was the first of eight Poe adaptations made between 1960 and 1965 directed by Corman and starring Vincent Price.


  • Agent Scully: Phillip is dismissive of Roderick's claims of a family curse and of the house itself being alive, not believing in such supernatural occurrences.
  • Big Bad: Roderick Usher, who is willing to do anything to end his family's evil legacy.
  • Blue Blood: The Ushers are a twisted example. An old family that, at least at one point, was very wealthy, and still possesses a large (if crumbling) mansion...with a long history of villainous deeds.
  • Buried Alive: Roderick knows that Madeline isn't really dead, but buries her anyway.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Phillip bolts upright in bed in classic style after a freaky blue-tinted Dream Sequence in which he interrupts some sort of evil ritual at Madeline's funeral.
  • Color Motif: Red, likely to symbolize the repressed passion and violence in the Usher bloodline. In any case, the upholstery is red, the curtains are red, Roderick wears a red robe, Madeline wears a red dress, and the candles are red.
  • Disease Bleach: It is unclear whether Roderick has albinism or simply this trope, but he has white hair along with being very pale.
  • Downer Ending: Madeline is driven mad and kills her brother as the house collapses around both of them. The relatively kind butler perishes with them, and Philip only barely escapes himself.
  • Empathic Environment: A violent thunderstorm rolls in for the final confrontation between Phillip, Roderick, and an insane Madeline.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: Madeline does this in her casket as she's awakening from catalepsy. Phillip doesn't see it. Roderick does, and slams the coffin lid shut before Phillip can notice.
  • Fisher King: Roderick says that the land around the house used to be beautiful, but became grim and barren as a result of the evil of the Usher family contaminating it.
  • Fisher Kingdom: By the present day, the Usher house and the land around it seem to have become this, affecting the health and sanity of those who live there. Madeline was apparently healthy in Boston but becomes weak and frail as soon as she returns to the house, and starts to sleepwalk, though how much of this is supernatural vs the effect Roderick's belief that the family is cursed has on her mind is unclear. It seems to only affect family members, though, as the butler has been in the house for 60 years and is unharmed.
  • Genius Loci: In the Poe story it's sort of hinted that the house is alive. In this movie it's more direct, as Roderick says "the house itself is evil now", and cites all of Phillip's narrow escapes (the handrail that gives way, the falling chandelier, the fire spitting out of the fireplace, the tumbling casket) as the house itself striking out at Phillip.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Phillip, talking to Roderick in a perfectly well-lit room, says "I think you need some light in this house." Roderick then lights two candles that do nothing.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Roderick believes he is justified in burying his sister alive because that's what he had to do to stop Madeline from leaving with Phillip and continuing the Usher bloodline. As a crazed Madeline is strangling him, he repeatedly gasps "It was the only way."
  • It's Going Down: Ends in the same manner as the Poe story, namely, the Usher house collapsing and sinking into the tarn.
  • Minimalist Cast: Has four characters, plus some extras in a dream sequence.
  • The Misophonic: One of Roderick's many issues. Everyone has to take off their shoes and only wear slippers in the house because the sound of footsteps causes him pain—even with the slippers the sound is extremely loud to him. He speaks in a whisper for most of the film and flinches in pain whenever Phillip raises his voice. The only sound that isn't painful to him is the sound of a lute (even though he mostly just improvises tunelessly on it).
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the Poe story the narrator doesn't even get a name, and is basically a Flat Character who exists to provide the narration and give Roderick someone to talk to. In this movie he's named "Phillip Winthrop" and he's Madeline's fiancee.
  • Old, Dark House: The creepy, cobweb-covered, mouldy, decaying old Usher mansion, which may also be alive.
  • Ominous Fog: The grounds around the Usher mansion are swathed in creepy ominous fog, setting the mood.
  • Pastimes Prove Personality: Roderick paints disturbing, hallucinatory images, and plays the lute, composing his own dissonant-sounding pieces or just improvising tunelessly, never even attempting a recognisable tune. He's a particularly unstable example of the tortured artist, and his creations being reminiscent of the most incomprehensible-seeming types of modern art rather than anything that was popular in the time period the film is set makes him seem isolated and set apart from normal 19th century society, living in his own strange and disturbing world.
  • The Place: House of Usher
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In the story the narrator is a Flat Character; in the film he's Madeline's boyfriend.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Roderick is physically frail and thin, mentally unstable, and very emotional. He's a tortured artist who paints and plays the lute. As he suffers from Sensory Overload, he whispers most of his dialogue. Phillip is physically healthier and stronger, is introduced riding his horse outside while Roderick is The Shut-In, doesn't share Roderick's artistic tendencies, and tends to be more blunt, outspoken, and loud (often shouting at Roderick). Roderick believes in the supernatural and lives in fear of it; Philip is dismissive of the idea. Overall despite being an antagonist to Phillip, Roderick is portrayed as a tragic and vulnerable figure, rather than an aggressive threat.
  • Sensory Overload: Roderick gets this from even ordinary light and sound (unfortunately for him, Phillip spends much of the film yelling at him). Madeline has similar but less severe issues.
  • The Shut-In: Roderick has spent all or most of his life isolated in the titular Old, Dark House, with (since the deaths of his parents some unspecified time before the film begins) only his sister and the butler for company. Despite being convinced the house is evil and sentient, he does not attempt to leave and is convinced he will die there (which he ultimately does). In fact, he seems to consider escape impossible, referring to "the agony of trying to escape" when his sister wants to leave (though she had left the house in the past and gone to stay in Boston where she met Phillip). The combination of his mental illness, the extreme pain that light and sound cause him, and his belief that he deserves all this suffering have likely prevented him from ever leaving the house much. Vincent Price said he played him as someone who had been in the house his whole life and never seen the sun, hence his extreme pallor and white hair.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Why Roderick says the Usher line has to end, because of all the evil of the Usher family.
  • Spooky Painting: The family portraits Roderick shows Phillip while describing the Ushers' history are seriously creepy-looking.
  • Super-Senses: Deconstructed. Roderick has extremely acute senses: for instance, he can hear even the quietest sounds from a long way away. This means he's constantly suffering from Sensory Overload and is in severe pain as a result; it's one of the many factors contributing to his mental instability.
  • Tragic Villain: Roderick Usher. A man who takes no pleasure in hurting people and is horrified by the evil actions of his ancestors. As far as we know he had never harmed anyone before the events of the film, but his growing mental instablity, and conviction that his family is cursed and inherently evil, leads him to the conclusion that the only way to end the evil of his family is to end the he buries his sister alive to stop her getting married and having children. He is tormented by guilt over his actions, and his sister eventually kills him.
  • Trail of Blood: Madeline claws her way out of her coffin but cuts her hands up pretty badly in the process. Phillip eventually finds her by following her trail of blood drops.
  • Undying Loyalty: Bristol, the butler, is extremely loyal to the family, having worked for them since he was a young boy and continuing to do so despite the various sinister occurrences and dark family history, and the fact the house is literally falling down. He cares about both Roderick and Madeline, and defends Roderick's actions when speaking to Phillip (with the glorious understatement that Roderick is "just highly overwrought"), sounding genuinely concerned for him. In the final scene, he even runs into a burning room to try and save Roderick (and possibly Madeline as well), with no concern for his own safety as the building starts to collapse, dying in the attempt.
  • Video Credits: There are only four characters in the movie Roderick, Madeline, Phillip, and Bristol the butler and they're all seen in video credits at the end.
  • Villainous Lineage: Roderick tells Phillip that the Usher bloodline is "tainted" and the whole family line is an uninterrupted string of murder and depravity. That's why he doesn't want to let Madeline get married.
  • White and Red and Eerie All Over: Roderick is extremely pale, with white hair and pale blue-grey eyes, and spends much of the film wearing a red robe. The contrast makes him look even more sickly and unnerving.
  • The X of Y: House of Usher