Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) braves a particularly desolate area of 18th century New England to arrive at the palatial but decaying House of Usher; he is seeking his fiancee Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey), who left Boston rather precipitously. The precipitation in this case seems to be her domineering brother Roderick (Vincent Price), who suffers from a hereditary disease peculiar to the Ushers: his five senses have grown so sensitive that he cannot bear any sound above a whisper, no light brighter than candles. Roderick feels not only is his sister succumbing to the disease, but that the Usher line is irredeemably tainted and evil... and he is willing to go to any extreme to ensure that the family perishes with himself and his sister.
This movie represents several turning points for American International Pictures. It marks a turn from low-budget drive-in fare to higher profile theatrical products. It is the studio's first feature in color and widescreen, and sparked a popular series of Poe adaptations, the most memorable of which were directed by Roger Corman and starred Vincent Price.
Though it bears the highest budget of any AIP film to that point, Usher is still the very model of economy: only four actors and one true exterior shot. It is also a model of gothic horror, which may be its downfall for a modern audience - it is about mood and mystery, not shocks and splatter, and may seem tepid and tame to filmgoers raised on the excesses of Craven and Carpenter.
The movie has certainly never looked better - I had the unexpected pleasure of watching it on a 16x9 TV and it looked awesome - razor sharp imagery and color you could eat with a spoon. In fact, it may be too good - the old age makeup worn by Harry Ellerbe, playing the manservant Bristol, is all too obviously paint-based.
As one of MGM's Midnite Movies line, I was expecting little in the way of extras, perhaps a trailer (yes, Virginia, there is a trailer), so imagine my surprise when I discovered it also carried a commentary track by Corman himself! Ken Begg has pointed out the perfect adjective for the director's track - "avuncular". Yes, listening to Corman is a lot like listening to your uncle drone on and on... but if you pay attention every now and then, you'll hear a couple of informative digressions on giving low-budget films high production values and applying psychological undertones and motive to film.
Dr. Freex, 1/21/2002