The Fall of the House of Usher
:35 In Cinemascope! With Vincent Price!
:39 The Fall of the House of Usher. 1960s classic.
1:14 Dreary landscape, dead trees, lone rider on horseback. This isn’t going to be a happy sunny story, kids.
1:36 Incredibly creepy mansion. Any doubt as to who wrote the story this film is based on should be banished by the opening alone. This is totally an Edgar Allen Poe masterpiece.
3:05 Philip Winthrop is handsome. Engaged to Miss Usher, you say? Dashing. Such a dashing young man.
4:20 So the old butler who asked the dashing Winthrop to remove his boots just disappeared. Into thin air? What?
4:54 Nope, he’s just very stealthy. He almost literally vanished then reappeared with slippers. As one does.
5:51 AAAAAHHHH! Vincent Price with blonde hair!! Creepiest thing yet.
7:04 Plot thus far: Vincent Price is Roderick Usher. Dashing Winthrop is engaged to Madeline Usher, Vincent Price’s sister who is apparently bedridden with illness. Except that she just appeared - so not bedridden - and looks radiant.
8:38 If I were Winthrop I’d strongly question my decision to join with this family. Even the fireplace is out to get him.
9:42 Vincent Price’s reaction to Winthrop’s hope for children is roughly the same as mine.
10:50 The Usher siblings apparently suffer from “the most morbid acuteness of the senses”. Soft cloth - grating! Boots on the floor - clatter! Doorknob turning - knife point!
13:55 This whole sensitivity of the senses thing does explain why the butler moves like such a shadow.
14:19 A tremor? Earthquake? Winthrop sees a candle skidding across the floor and looks outside to see giant cracks in the house exterior.
15:31 The hallway looks crooked. I might be projecting. I’m trying very hard not to inject spoilers from my many readings of Poe’s oeuvre into this live blog.
16:00 The chandelier tried to kill Winthrop Phantom-style. Maybe - conjecture - the house just isn’t stable. You know? Maybe a foundation issue.
17:26 Winthrop: “It was probably the trembling of the house that caused that chandelier to fall.” Vincent Price: “Do you really think so?” See, this is why Vincent Price is the master of suspense. There couldn’t be five more innocuous words but the way he utters them is profoundly unsettling.
18:43 Not for nothing, but if I had acute sensitivity to sound, that lute playing would drive me mad. It’s doing a good job now, honestly.
19:17 The way Vincent Price stands is profoundly unsettling.
19:38 “Good night, Philip.” Translation: “I wish I could make out with you and wrestle your clothes off but my profoundly unsettling brother is here and I daren’t.”
20:29 See? Winthrop snuck into Madeline’s room and planted a deep kiss on her and she loved it.
24:41 Winthrop is searching for Madeline in the middle of the night but she’s not in her bed and a series of slamming doors can be heard. Whither Madeline?
25:15 The house tries to kill him again as the bannister on the upper floor stairwell gives way.
25:51 Doors are opening and closing with eerie creaks all around, it seems. Winthrop, to his credit, doesn’t frighten easily. He’s every bit the dashing hero. Though, if I know anything about Vincent Price and Poe, that won’t help him much. (You in back with the book in hand - no spoilers!)
27:34 Madeline is laying asleep in the chapel? I think it’s a chapel? The butler informs Winthrop that Madeline walks in her sleep and mustn’t be woken.
28:57 The fact that the butler cooks in a giant cauldron over an open fire is awesome. Very Macbeth.
30:37 The house isn’t stable, you guys. And the butler says it doesn’t worry him because “if the house dies I shall die too” which absolutely isn’t creepy at all.
31:35 Hot gruel. Yum. That’s totally my dream of what Tom Hardy would dashingly serve me in bed too, Winthrop.
32:36 “Madeline I’ll have no scrawny women in my house. Now open your mouth.” I really must... not... comment.
33:34 I only just realized that he has more product in his hair than she does. It’s like the 80s only more dashing.
36:08 This tour of the Usher crypt reminds me of Morticia walking Fester through the Addams graveyard in The Addams Family only so much less festive. “Sic gorgiamus subjectatos nunc. We gladly feast on those who would subdue us. Not just pretty words.”
37:45 And now a filled coffin tries to kill Winthrop. Take the hint, man! Take the damn hint!
40:32 The tales of woe told by a thousand protagonists/antagonists in stories about how the land was once full of plenty and then died because of plague or fire or whatever never explain why the people endure in the land once it’s dead. Why not just move? Is that too simple? I feel like staying out of some intense desire for self-flagellation is defeatist at best and insane at worst.
41:22 This tour of Usher portraits while Vincent Price explains how corrupt each one was also reminds me of The Addams Family. Except of course in that tour it was a positive to be a serial killer or pirate and a rather awful curse to be an accountant.
43:43 Vincent Price tries to sell Winthrop a line about the house trying to kill him and Madeline being the embodiment of evil which Winthrop totally doesn’t believe. He’s all “crazy jerk, leave me alone with your stupid horror stories and let me marry your sister”.
47:05 Winthrop overhears some argument between the siblings then finds Madeline unconscious on a bed and Vincent Price creepily standing at the window. Okay, fine, he was just standing. I promised not to project.
48:12 “Her heart could not withstand the strain you put upon it.” Vincent Price, what even? He’s claiming Winthrop’s love killed Madeline who is, you know, apparently dead and not unconscious.
49:45 Winthrop: “Is there no end to your horrors?” Vincent Price: “No. No there is not.” That is pretty much an apt summation of his entire career. And god bless him for it, too.
50:38 Madeline’s fingers moved. She is not dead. She is so not dead.
50:42 Vincent Price closes the coffin lid with dramatically wide eyes.
53:16 As they leave the crypt, the camera closes in on Madeline’s name on the coffin and we hear breathing and a scream from inside it. It must be said that Poe did tend towards an obsession with premature burial and/or madness.
54:48 Honestly the butler is meant to have been with the family for sixty years. This actor is hardly a day over forty with wickedly bad old-age makeup and white-sprayed hair. Was there no actor in the sixties who was actually sixty? I find that impossible to believe.
55:57 Winthrop has seized on the idea that Madeline’s been buried alive. Which the butler is trying to tell him is crazy but of course is actually the truth.
56:29 Real talk, guys: nobody padlocks a coffin shut unless the person inside is a) alive, b) a vampire, or c) a zombie. In at least two of those instances you don’t want them released.
57:10 Winthrop busts the padlock open and flings the coffin lid up to see that Madeline is neither alive, vampire, or zombie. In point of fact, she’s gone. So... ghost? My bad, I missed an option.
58:08 Vincent Price is at his spooky best when he tells Winthrop he’s hidden Madeline and she’ll never be found. He’s preternaturally calm. He admits to burying her alive and then assures Winthrop she’s definitely dead now. Oh Poe, you were so sadistic. Thank the raven you never changed. You weirdly horrific wondrous man.
1:00:07 Winthrop is not in good shape. If he survives this house and this family it will be nothing short of a miracle.
1:00:32 He dreams of a blurry blue fog and badly-aligned film set windows.
1:02:04 The ghosts of Ushers past are inexplicably lit with lavender light in this dream. And the soundtrack is a chorus of people moaning in classic sheeted-ghost style.
1:04:44 Whatever else happens in this movie, I dearly hope that damn lute bites the big one.
1:06:40 Vincent Price is fucking with you, Winthrop. Madeline is dead, no alive, no dead, no screaming from inside a coffin... man, leave the house. Leave. The. House.
1:07:25 Quick cut to a shot of a chain-wrapped coffin with a woman’s bloodied hand clawing out of it.
1:08:30 I’d ask why all the skeletons are out of their coffins and posed like they’re lounging on couches but as that’s the least weird thing that’s happened in this movie, I won’t.
1:09:53 So now the line is that Madeline is free and wandering around mad? Butler and Vincent Price, you two need to get your stories straight.
1:11:32 While Winthrop is running through secret corridors and eyeballing rats, Vincent Price is standing armed in front of the most amazing “mad” impressionist portrait of Madeline ever. I would totally hang that portrait in my home. I am not kidding.
1:12:41 Blood trail!
1:12:50 Bloody doorknob!
1:13:33 And Madeline appears. Hands bloody, eyes wide and staring, she attacks Winthrop.
1:14:38 She tries to kill Winthrop again in the portrait room then the fire leaps out of the fireplace and catches the rug on fire. Just as Madeline launches herself onto Vincent Price, basically the entire house explodes into chaos and is consumed in flame.
1:16:09 Winthrop runs around and the fire has spread honestly so damn fast. All the portraits are burning individually and apparently moaning.
1:17:06 Winthrop staggers out the gate as the House of Usher burns down and, yes, falls behind him.
1:17:20 “-- and the deep and dank tarn closed silently over the fragments of the House of Usher. - Poe” Best. Last. Line. Ever.
Well that was disturbing, as all Poe tales are, but a decent filmed version. Suitably creepy. And of course still leaves the ultimate end of the story in delicious uncertainty - was that actually Madeline? A reincarnation of Madeline? Her ghost back to exact revenge on Roderick? The other half of his personality bringing his prophecy of his own death to fruition? Either way the fall of the House of Usher is both figurative and literal for as Roderick dies, his line dies with him and the house’s actual descent into the tarn takes everything literally down.
Brilliant. Poe, you were brilliant.
- Corinne Simpson