It is, of course, an adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher". In this version, handsome young Phillip Winthrop arrives at the crumbling Usher mansion to see his fiancee, Madeline Usher. 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 for Phillip to see. When Phillip finally succeeds in getting in to see Madeline, she seems perfectly fine, and she agrees to go back to Boston and get married. Roderick refuses to let his sister leave, and eventually tells Phillip why: the Ushers are "tainted", a family of evil—murderers, slave traders, maniacs. 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 in artistic ambition for Corman's company, American International Pictures. It was the first of eight Poe adaptations between 1960 and 1965 directed by Corman and starring Vincent Price.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- In the Blood: 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.
- It's Going Down: Ends with the same ending as the Poe story, namely, the Usher house collapsing and sinking into the tarn.
- 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.
- Promoted to Love Interest: In the story the narrator is a Flat Character; in the movie he's Madeline's boyfriend.
- Sins of Our Fathers: Why Roderick says the Usher line has to end, because of all the evil of the Usher family.
- 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.
- 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.