“Halloween Twenty-Fifteen”: A Review of “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1949)

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This movie is so good it doesn’t have a poster.

I lasted only 36 minutes before I had to start skipping through this sucker. Even if The Fall of the House of Usher was good, one would not be able to write such a review without at least drawing minor comparisons to Roger Corman’s 1960 version of the Edgar Allan Poe haunted house-story. But its not good. Not in any way. There’s a reason why this film has been buried over the years, hardly ever emerging except for a showing on TCM when they run out of other horror movies to show. While it is not poorly made, overall, it is nothing but a dud with a preposterous time-killing sidetrack. We have the House of Usher, cursed along with its family members. We also learn of how the curse was put on the family. The main character’s sister is suffering from some affliction, and much like other renditions, the story and ending is posited to us in a way that makes us wonder if she is really ill or is being driven to madness by her brother.

Decades earlier, Roderick’s father caught his wife cheating on him at some hidden temple (conveniently located within walking distance of their house). He managed to hack off the man’s head, but not before the cheater put a curse on him and his family. The head comes off, the murderer also dies, and then the wife goes insane and condemns herself to spend the rest of her life in the temple worshiping the severed head. She becomes maniacal with superhuman strength. The head, meanwhile, continues to age and never rots. The genius characters realize the only way to stop the curse (which is supposedly killing Roderick’s sister) is to destroy the head. This never happens, but a lot of things that don’t make sense do happen.

The list is endless. The story weaves in and out of Poe’s own words with the nonsensical fantasies of the director to present us with a hodgepodge mess. The eerie atmosphere is there, but that is about it. The addition of this psychotic woman character (who is really just a man in an ugly mask) make this rendition of The Fall of the House of Usher nearly unwatchable. The premature internment of the ailing sister is a nice touch, but after spending what seems like five minutes showing Roderick nailing the lid on in slow motion, it is rather anticlimactic when she literally just sits up in the coffin and the lid pops off. Nothing more needs to be said. Starring Gwen Watford, Kay Tendeter, and Irving Steen. Directed by Ivan Barnett.

2 out of 10 stars.

More articles in this special “Halloween Twenty-Fifteen” column can be found here

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