Edgar Allen Poe's tales of "mystery and imagination" inspired a memorable cycle of low-budget horror films in the 1960s, specifically the Roger Corman adaptations--including HOUSE OF USHER and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH--that have come to be regarded as classics of the genre. The early 90s
have seen another onslaught of Poe titles, with recent versions of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, MORELLA, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE BLACK CAT and even a second, less fortunate Corman run-in with MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. In this field of undistinguished entries, the 1992 video release THE HOUSE OF
USHER is especially disposable.
Set in the present day despite period costumes, it follows the perils of LA hairstylist Molly McNulty (Romy Windsor), when her fiancee, handsome young heir Ryan Usher (Rufus Swart), gets invited to visit the ancestral Usher estate in England. Some phantoms in the road cause Ryan to crash the car,
and the helpless Molly is carried into the cardboard-and-papier mache Usher mansion as a prisoner in the clutches of obsessed aristocrat Roderick Usher (Oliver Reed). He tells her Ryan was killed in the accident and that he, Roderick, must now impregnate Molly to continue the accursed Usher
bloodline. Later it transpires that Ryan was not killed, but purposely entombed alive in the family crypt.
Ryan's crazy father, Clive (Donald Pleasence), a frizzy-haired goof with a dinky hobbyist drill attached to one hand, subsequently escapes from his upstairs cell and goes on a psycho driller-killer rampage, as the "ancient" mansion crumbles around the terrified Molly. The sadistic butler, Mr.
Derrick (Norman Coombes), carries a large fish around at odd moments and castrates the family doctor with a hungry rat. His wife (Anne Stradi), a gaunt Billie Whitelaw type, utters the movie's best line to Molly: "I know you've got a lot on your mind, but while you're here--could you do something
with my hair." None of it makes very much sense, even less of it is scary, and the ending reveals it has all been a daydream. Quoth the viewer: "Nevermore!"
International Z-movie producer Harry Alan Towers previously purloined Poe's good name for a fistful of potboilers, including yet another MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. Like its companions, THE HOUSE OF USHER was filmed cheaply in South Africa with a few big-name actors involved. Here it's imposing
Oliver Reed, game for the role but totally miscast as the creepy Roderick Usher, a hypersensitive aesthete who can't tolerate strong scents, bright light or certain colors. Reed's just too robust for such a neurasthenic character, undercutting the concept of a mental and genetic defective bent on
perpetuating his justly extinct clan in the name of aristocracy.
Pleasence is at least in his element as a twitchy lunatic, but the part slips into embarrassment as he literally dances through the corridors with his dimestore power tool buzzing for victims. Repeated, painful closeups of the little drill bit poking through the walls emphasize that this HOUSE OF
USHER is only chintzy drywall and plaster, painted and stippled to resemble stone. Though some decor is eye-catching, carnival spookhouses have better production values. In fact, the most impressive acting is pert Romy Windsor's pretense that a styrofoam tomb lid is really heavy granite as she
strains to rescue Ryan.
From such low-budget orgins did Roger Corman once weave respectable gothic horror, and sometimes diverting camp humor. But New Zealand-born director Alan Birkinshaw shows little flair either way, and has a habit of holding shots for a few seconds longer than necessary to milk the few gore scenes
childishly for all they're worth. The sexual stuff is also very mild, despite a videocassete-box promise of eroticism. This THE HOUSE OF USHER isn't the worst thing that ever happened to Poe onscreen, but it's close enough. (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Edgar Allen Poe's tales of "mystery and imagination" inspired a memorable cycle of low-budget horror films in the 1960s, specifically the Roger Corman adaptations--including HOUSE OF USHER and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH--that have come to be regarded as class… (more)