Fall of the House of Usher, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus changes into his quiet shoes and enters the House of Usher...
This Roger Corman 1960 adaptation of the short story " The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe, tells the tale of Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) as he travels to the House of Usher, a desolate mansion surrounded by a dying forest and a murky swamp, to meet his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). Madeline's brother Roderick (Vincent Price) opposes Philip's intentions, telling the young man that the Usher family is afflicted by a cursed bloodline which has driven all their ancestors to madness. Roderick foresees the family evils being propagated into future generations with a marriage to Madeline and discourages the union. Philip is dubious of the family curse but when the house itself seems to want him dead the sinister goings on in the house begin to be devastatingly real.
This classic tale of madness (which comes with a screenplay written by Richard Matheson by the way) is a fantastic voyage into darkness. Vincent Price's central sound sensitive, strong but vulnerable performance is great in every way and as he slowly begins to reveal to Philip the goings on in the house, everything becomes more and more manic.
Told in classic Gothic ways, the film isn't so much about visuals, gore, or monsters as it is about mood. There’s lots of intense stares and suggestions of deeper meanings within heated conversations. The mystery of what’s actually happening to the family in the creaky old house is consistently intriguing and the the slow unravelling of that mystery is at every turn a well paced affair.
This is quite a short film, clocking in at just shy of eighty minutes and it’s that short run time that keeps this relatively slow burning affair working. It takes it time with the creeps and never festers for too long once you've got the point of the scene. The secrets are revealed in grand and dramatic ways (largely thanks to Vincent Price) and the classic horror story vibe feels pure throughout right up until it’s devastating finale.
The depth to image is immediately felt as Philip travels through the House of User’s creepy grounds. There’s plenty of tree layers as Philip moves through on horseback and this is a pretty solid image for the film’s age.
Once the film gets going the gorgeous colours immediately inform you of this HD upgrade. There’s a technicolor look to the visuals with lots of blues and reds in the costume designs and a slightly bronzed skin tone to the actors faces. The sets look wonderfully sharp and fresh and full of life despite their dusty old house design and it’s presentations like this that remind me of the joy I get from seeing old films handled well on Blu-ray.
Sure, there are more than a handful of soft elements in an otherwise sharp and detailed image. These usually come about when scenes transition, which comes with the territory of this era of film but the odd zoomed in close up can appear a lot more grainy and soft than the rest of the film's good looks.
With that said, the big selling point here is the lighting which is a great part of this HD presentation. Shadows are nice and dark, faces are covered in texture, rooms are alive with rich detail and any elements with fire really glow as a natural light source. This one is another Arrow release that feels fresh and new while retaining the film’s age and charm.
There’s a slight hiss to the PCM track and it can rise and fall with intensity from scene to scene but luckily the crisp dialogue is strong enough to out reach this quibble. The eerie score sits behind the dialogue unless it wants to add drama and in those cases it’s a well placed score but not as powerful as you might be used to with modern films.
There’s not many layers to the track but it doesn't prevent the presence of the music from being felt in all the right ways, especially the rumbling elements that merge with the manor shaking its foundations. All sound effects elements work well and don’t feel too disconnected from the visuals, as is sometimes the case with these old horrors and as the intensity of the film builds everything holds together and never gets too shrieky, even with the limited audio source.
The commentary with Roger Corman is full of life, loaded with technical facts, stories of the shoot and it’s all told in short bursts of what is popping into Corman's mind as he watches. It’s a very easy listen along.
Joe Dante (26:47 HD) reflects on Roger Corman and his films. He talks of their interactions over the years and how much he learnt from the prolific director.
Jonathan Rigby (32:58 HD) is a discussion with the author who we’re told has written a couple of Gothic books. He talks of the book, the connections to Edgar Allan Poe and the film itself. There's a lot of film history, a lot of Poe history and generally this is a featurette packed with detail.
Vincent Price (11:26 SD) is a 1986 interview with the film legend (around the release of Basil The Great Mouse Detective) and it highlights the filmstars enjoyable presence and his looks at his career in a general overview.
'Fragments of the House of Usher' (10:47 HD) is a narration regarding what the story of The Fall of the House of Usher is actually about. Cut together with clips suggestions are raised over the the films villain. Is it the house itself? The fog? Or just plain madness. Lastly we get the film’s trailer.
I really dug The Fall of The House of Usher. Its eerie mood is great and it never really lets the audience go until the bitter end. The presentation is fantastic, with minor issues in the gloriously coloured visuals and only a slight forgiveable hiss to the audio. Once again, this Arrow release comes loaded with interesting extras and once again they make this release an absolute solid recommendations for fans of the film, the era it was released, the genre it lives in or anyone involved with Roger Corman and his work.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 26th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Commentary, Interviews, Featurette, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey
Genre: Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 79 minutes
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