So here we are at last. The House of Usher, the first in a series of movies that Vincent Price did based on Edgar Allen Poe stories. These movies, as the comments from the last film knows quite well, are a match made in heaven. Or Hell. They pair quite nicely. For those of you just coming in, this is our Vincent Price -a- thon where we are going to talk about all the horror films that Vincent Price was a part of. Before we talk about the film proper, a few small points. Firstly, did you guys know there was a film starring Vincent Price about Richard the third? Neither did I, but I am there if I can find a copy. There was another one I was excited about non-horror, but I can’t seem to find it. Anyways, the film. This is the first film I recall seeing thus far in color and this is a very important point. The only color I remember seeing is they did the blood to be red in The Tingler. The House of Usher is an Edgar Allen Poe story revolves around the House of Usher and the fall thereof, and that may seem self-explanatory but in the story the house falling down is merely the last piece of the puzzle. In the movie the fall is even more tied together, both in terms of the house and the family. I bring this up because the movie starts off with the main character, a young stud of a suitor, riding towards Usher place and all the trees are dead and warped. A thick fog hangs over the place, and not a healthy London fog either. More a stabbity stab stab dead prostitute fog over London. It really makes the neat riding coat and boots of the young man riding to the house seem quite out of place.
He knocks on the door and the manservant answers. You see, he’s a suitor and so he naturally wants to suit Miss Usher but that’s quite impossible sir. The reason I bring this up in such detail is that it took me the whole movie to realize that, barring one of two small scenes, there are only four or so actors in the entire film. There are no action sequences, unless you can’t a rather slow paced chase scene at the end. Almost no expositional dialogue of any note and the characters tell us very little about themselves or how their lives before we meet them at Chez Usher. You would think this would be an important detail given that Miss Usher and Mr. Suitor are suiting. So why does this movie hold my attention? It does atmosphere really, really well. The house is pretty much a character on its own. Dark, foreboding and mysterious, it has giant cracks in the walls and the whole thing just feels wrong somehow. The name of the suitor is Phillip Winthrop and apparently they are engaged. Note this for later, I will bring it up surely when we meet Miss Usher herself. Roderick Usher has apparently told the manservant that nobody is to see his sister so Mr. Suitor will go and see Roderick instead. Yes, I know he has a name, but I hate the name and so I will keep calling him Mr. Suitor.
The manservant himself, much like the house and the Ushers is an odd fish. He asks Mr. Suitor to give him his coat and boats. Once he has taken his boots off, the servant gives him a pair of shoes and takes him up to see Roderick Usher. I’m telling you this now and I mean it with all sincerity. I am about to describe to you my exact reaction to seeing Vincent Price in this film. And I can tell you right now that even though I have told you here and now you will still not be ready for this. The servant is about to knock on the door when Vincent Price opens the door. “Oh, sweet holy mother of God what the hell is that!? Vincent Price with blonde hair and no moustache! I thought his moustache made him look more evil, but really it was saving us. This is nightmare fuel right here.” He looks cruel and the kind of cruel, to be clear, that only someone born of generations of high aristocracy can be. The only thing that might save you is how ineffectual the character actually is, again like many people born of generations of high aristocracy. Roderick does let him and thus begins the first of our many conversations on the one subject that Mr. Suitor is willing to talk about. Taking Mr. Usher’s sister away from him so he can marry her.
In many ways this one running conversation, along with Vincent Usher reminiscing about the twisted and dark history of the house could pretty much sum up the movie. Is it worth it? Should I keep watching at this point? Yes, you fool! Press play and shut up! And now we find out why Roderick had Mr. Suitor take off his boots. The man hears all. Like the sound of Mr. Suitor riding up on his horse, climbing the stairs and the awkward laugh that died before it ever began when Roderick Price started to explain his malady. See, Mr. Suitor wants to see Madeline and Madeline is confined to her bed. Leave the house. I love how Vincent Usher keeps referring to the house as sick, which is a good choice of words. Finally, Madeline arrives on the scene and the music becomes romantic…ish. The house itself, much like a Tardis twisted house of fun mirrors, is bigger on the inside and creepier than all reason. I keep losing track of where things are and how many rooms there are, something that comes into play later. But the house clearly does not like Mr. Suitor and tries to spit fire on him. Vincent Usher comes back in and they start the weirdest conversation in the entire movie. You see, Mr. Suitor on occasion refers to himself and Madeline in Boston but the specifics are vague at best.
It really gets weird because apparently it never occurred to Mr. Suitor that they were not destined to be together as he puts it but later on Madeline seems surprised by the idea of leaving their ugly, sick and evil house and getting married. Dem Ushers, amirite? It’s during this opening one on one conversation with Usher that their other favorite topic of dispute pops up. You see, dear readers, it’s not just the trees, water, land, house and every other animate and inanimate object that are cursed. The whole line of Usher is tainted. But of course, love is one helluva drug so Mr. Suitor starts asking your basic questions. How do you know you two are dying? Examples please? No more questions, fool. Vincent Price is master of life and death and if he says he’s dying than he got a tip from the Grim Reaper. But he does start talking, which is kind of funny. For a man who, not two minutes ago, was telling Mr. Suitor to get out he seems remarkably willing to discuss intimate medical details with a complete stranger he’s known for like five minutes. It’s their senses, you see. They can’t take intense sound, touch, taste or even emotion. Hence the boot removal earlier. But apparently this comes with a perk. Live on mashed potatoes and wear silk long enough and gain superhuman strength. Seems legit.
Oh yes, and this is the first time we see Vincent Usher playing his stringed instrument which seems like it is very off-key. But it works for him. So Mr. Suitor gets taken to his room where he makes a shocking discovery. While getting changed for dinner, the whole building starts to shake. You see Mr. Usher doesn’t believe in paying Union people to do construction work on a house of evil and so he’s just letting it fall apart. When Mr. Suitor leans out the window to look it seems like someone picked up the whole house and dropped it a few times. But enough talk of life threatening structural damage easily and plainly visible to the naked eye, it’s dinner time! Dinner time with Vincent Usher, who already has admitted to living on a diet of mashed bland stuff. Oh, yippee. Chef the only servant in the house has truly outdone himself with tonight’s bland paste. But just in case you were getting bored, on the way down to dinner the House of Usher tries to murder Mr. Suitor with a chandelier. Dinner is a brief affair followed by some light entertainment. Mr. Price playing on his stringed instrument in melodic discordant tunes. Well, this party is just off the chain but I think I need to go to my creepy room and pray the house doesn’t collapse in on me while I sleep.
So at this point Mr. Suitor tries to butter up Mr. Usher by pretending to like his song and saying, “Please sir, may I have another.” He tries to tell Mr. Usher that if he is pretty much forced to leave than he is going to take his fiancée with him. So without really waiting for Mr. Usher, the man with the world’s greatest hearing, to at least go to sleep Mr. Suitor just shows himself into Madeline’s room and starts kissing her and telling her all sorts of sweet nothings. That’s right, Madeline. Everything will be fine once we leave this nightmare behind. Oh look! There he is now. Keep it down, you crazy kids! Those sweet nothings might as well be broadcasted over a megaphone and some of us are trying to sleep. But sleep doesn’t last long because apparently Madeline sleepwalks into the family crypt every night, solidarity and all that. So Mr. Suitor does eventually discover her and give the man credit where it’s due, he wanders around this creepy old falling apart house owned by ultra-evil Vincent Price and actually goes into the basement looking for her. Oh yeah, the house tries to kill him again on the way. Death by faulty railing Good God, it’s like this house has life insurance policies out on every single person in the house and they all pay double if they die in natural and yet somewhat suspicious circumstances.
My personal favorite part is where he wanders into a room and says, “Medline?” and then the door slams behind him as though the house were saying, “Over here, big boy.” “And how long has my fiancée been sleepwalking down to the creepy basement?” “Ever since she got back from Boston.” “Oh yeah, we were made for each other! Clearly!” The next morning Mr. Suitor offers to take her breakfast tray up to his fiancée. See, she eats gruel for breakfast so two bowls of gruel. Which they keep pronouncing gruueelll. Once he gets up and brings her breakfast even gruel seems too much for her, leading to one of my favorite lines in the entire movie. “Now Madeline, I’ll have no scrawny woman in my house so open your mouth!” That’s right, Madeline! Eat! Here’s comes the airplane right into the house of Usher. So he does try very hard to convince her to come with him and in response she takes him down to the crypt. You see she, this house, the land and Vincent Usher are all dying. So it’s date night at the crypt. Oh, I see why she brought him down to the crypt! Family reunion! Guys, check out this sucker that wants to marry me. Now granted, Madeline and her brother both have coffins but Mr. Suitor doesn’t have one made up yet. He can either share with her, or we can make one. What do you guys think? If you agree, say nothing and show up and in creepy drug fueled dreams tonight. Sounds good.
But when Mr. Suitor says come away with me apparently Grandma Miriam takes offense at this and shoves her box on the floor so she can give them both a disproving stare. Madeline faints and Mr. Suitor starts to carry her upstairs only to be intercepted by her brother who tags in at this point. Oh yes! Yes! As Mr. Suitor leaves the tomb he takes one last look at the skeleton in the coffin and the soundtrack goes full on House on Haunted Hill for like two seconds. So at this point, Mr. Usher decides to explain to Mr. Suitor about the horrible nature of the house, the land and everything. He goes on a long and rambling speech about how things used to be before the house of Usher went completely bats hit insane. Mr. Price goes through this gallery of horrors that he painted and lists off all his ancestors and their jobs. Which are all entirely awesome! Jewel thief? Assassin? Blackmailer? Is that even a legit job? You know what? Screw it, just sign me up for this family. Yeah, the blighted the land with their evil. Their awesome evil! I am so in. So this works about as well as you would think and Mr. Suitor runs off to grab Madeline and get the hell out of Usher.
But you see this doesn’t work because Mr. Usher gets there first and they argue. Though the door is locked and no violence seems to have been done to her, by the time Mr. Suitor gets in it is too late. So let’s go bury her in the crypt like now. I mean immediately. What? She already has a spot called down there and she sleepwalks into the creepy basement. I don’t see the problem. But while they pray for her downstairs in the creepy basement in the creepy chapel creepy creepy she starts twitching her fingers. Mr. Usher has the most priceless look on his face when he see it like, “Yeah. We have to put a stop to this.” It also has one of the best Vincent Price lines ever here. “Is there no end to your horrors!?” “No. None whatever.” So Madeline does, in fact, wake up and start screaming. Of course Vincent hears it. He hears it all, but my real shock is that Mr. Suitor does not. Now is time for Mr. Suitor to leave but he stops for one fateful cup of coffee on the way out. It is at this point that the servant drops the bomb on accident. She was not actually dead when they buried her. She had the epilepsy! That’s what happened. So now it’s a race against time to get Madeline out of her coffin. Even though it’s been a whole night.
The music is actually pretty awesome here. Now this is the part of the movie where things go into overdrive, but before we get into the dramatic, and I do mean ultra –crazy dramatic stuff at the end, we have a dream sequence. The best. Dream sequence. Ever. You see, in this dream sequence we find Vincent Price along with his sister Usher surrounded by the Ushers of awesomeness. They’re all in the chapel, waving at him like… “One of us, one of us, one of us, one of us…” They all look really encouraging too, like one of them is waving a knife around. Come on down, Mr. Suitor. Come on doooowwwn! But in this dream he watches Vincent Price put her in his secret place, where all the other Ushers who didn’t really deserve tombs go. Honestly? This movie is worth it for the dream sequence alone. After the dream sequence, things go into overdrive. Here is the storm too! I had my early tip off in the comments so I’ve got my eyes open for nightmare fuel. Of course, the soundtrack provided by Vincent Price doesn’t help. The description that Vincent Price gives of her waking up and his being able to hear it. It really is one of the most horrifying things in a Vincent Price movie yet. He finally manages to admit that she’s still alive and he tells Mr. Suitor that she has gone mad. Does that stop Mr. Suitor? Oh no, he’s in love.
So Madeline wanders off into the secret passages and Mr. Suitor follows her. While this is going on the house pretty much becomes bored with life or maybe all its policies were called in so it sets itself on fire. There’s a really great scene where Vincent can hear the screams of those Ushers that came before so he grabs a gun. I legitimately believe that Vincent Price could kill a ghost with a gun. The final climactic fight takes place in one of the upper rooms while the entire house burns and starts to fall down. I will freely admit that as the climax comes around, between the storm and the paintings and the Vincent Price, this right here is nightmare fuel. Oh lord, I remember this being less pantswettingly terrifying the first time I watched this. And thus Madeline and her brother Roderick die in the fire while she chokes him with the strength of ten men and Mr. Suitor gets out alive, barely. What a downer ending. THIS. WAS. AWESOME. Vincent Price is freaking amazing in this. You could call his performance a little over the top but he really does play it so straight that it comes full circle and actually is really terrifying. In terms of movies that we’ve seen thus far, the only one I might rate higher would be House of Wax because the ending to that one was pretty climactic too. I would say the same for House on Haunted Hill, but good God that soundtrack! Watch this movie like now.