Sunday, June 07, 2009


I've been slowly working my way through the three dollar charity store DVDs I bought a few months ago. The most recent was 1960's 'House of Usher', the first of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and a film full of rich, Cormany goodness. It opens with a dead and blasted landscape filled with smoke machines and boom mike operators.

I see the Teddy Bears' Picnic met with a little accident.

It is sometime in ye olde days of yore, and young Philip Winthrop rides through the forest on his way to visit the House of Usher.

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big... AAAAARGH! It's horrible! Burnt bits of stuffing everywhere! Little melted button eyes!

He’s traveling down from Boston to see his fiancé, Miss Madeline Usher, to whom he became engaged while she was in Boston for the social season. He has never seen the House of Usher, so he’s in for something of a surprise.

Judging by the house, the original Usher must have been some sort of cardboard magnate.

Matt paintings and dry ice aside, young Philip tethers his horse and prepares himself to be the last person ever to enter the House of Usher.

Wait a minute... this hitching post is made of cardboard! And so is my horse! And so is my acting!

The door is answered by an elderly servant known as Bristol, who makes every attempt to get rid of this young interloper.

Bristol: Miss Usher is confined to her bed.

Me: Ah, so you knew I was coming. Good man! Lead the way!

Unable to see Madeline, Philip demands to see her brother and guardian, Roderick Usher, so that he can find out what is wrong with his beloved. Roderick is a pale, effete man with a nervous disorder that makes him suffer if subjected to loud noises, bright lights or reality television.

Roderick: Madeline and I are like figures of fine glass. The slightest touch and we may shatter.

Me: Plus we both have ‘Made in China’ stamped on our asses.

It turns out that Madeline wasn’t quite as confined as we thought, and she soon shows herself. Philip declares his love and promises to take her away from the gloomy, crumbling house as soon as possible. Roderick doesn’t approve.

Hmmm, well, we all know who's been hogging the bleach bottle around here.

However Philip isn’t an easily dissuaded sort of person. He’s worried about Madeline and her preoccupation with morbid thoughts. She takes him down to the family crypt and shows him the coffins of her ancestors, explaining that she fears she will soon be joining them.

And this coffin belongs to my Great Uncle Edward. He... er... had some issues.

This only makes Philip more intent on getting her out of the house, but Roderick is stubborn and refuses to let her leave. In the meantime there is a series of mysterious accidents – a chandelier nearly falling on Philip, a fireplace threatening to set him on fire – that make it clear that even the house itself doesn’t want him around.

All comes to a head when Philip overhears Madeline and Roderick arguing violently, then, after hearing her scream, he bursts in to find her lying insensate on her bed. He checks her pulse and her breath and pronounces her dead. Then he makes the same sort of face that I made when I found out that ‘Firefly’ had been cancelled.

Nooo! They only screened 14 episodes, dammit! It just isn’t fair!

Roderick insists that she died of overwhelmed nerves, and as there isn’t a mark on her Philip is forced to accept that. He, Roderick and Bristol place her in her coffin down in the crypt with the rest of those wacky Ushers.

The next morning as Philip prepares to leave, Bristol makes a chance remark about Madeline suffering from catalepsy which awakens his suspicions. Philip rushes down to the crypt and breaks open Madeline’s casket, only to discover that she’s not there. He confronts Roderick, but the brother refuses to say what he has done with her or whether she is dead or alive. Philip ransacks the house until he collapses with exhaustion, but he still can’t find her. He dreams of being tormented by Madeline’s looney dead relations, in what appears to be a power ballad music video circa 1983.

As if it wasn’t bad enough being buried alive, it seems that Madeline also has to go through a total eclipse of the heart.

Eventually he manages to wrestle enough clues out of Roderick to work out where Madeline’s second coffin is, but when he finds it it’s open, and the inside of the cover is raked with claw marks and blood. Madeline was trapped in there for two days, and her fragile mind has shattered like a Star Trek nerd’s illusions upon meeting William Shatner.

Forget the total eclipse of the heart… she’s moved on to Bette Davis eyes!

After she’s had to claw her way out of her coffin, poor Madeline is crazier than a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. She hurls herself at her brother and, as her hands choke the life out of him, they both perish as the house finally falls apart and collapses. Then burns to the ground. Then sinks into the bog.

Well, it’s still a better fate than being converted into executive apartments.

And so it ends. Corman went on to make several other Poe adaptations, mostly with the same sets, the same costumes and the same Vincent Price. If only he had used his powers for good rather than evil.


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