Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

House of Usher (1960)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

House of Usher (1960) (aka The Fall of the House of Usher)

In legendary director Roger Corman's and AIP's low-budget Gothic horror film, inaugurating a rash of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations by Corman - this one (the first of eight) was based on Poe's 1839 short story "The Fall of the House of Usher", followed by Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), the Poe-titled poem but H. P. Lovecraft adapted The Haunted Palace (1963), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964):

  • the mood-setting, atmospheric central location - the isolated, decayed, fogged-in House of Usher located in a burned-out and parched forest with blackened soil in New England (a physical embodiment of evil evident over many generations); the House itself was prone to crumbling and violent tremors - with a visible crack that ran from the foundation to the roof
  • the House's main master - morose, stand-offish, hyper-sensitive and brooding aristocrat Roderick Usher (Vincent Price), the last living male descendant of a cursed family, and the older brother of doomed Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey) - possibly engaged in an incestuous relationship
  • the arrival of Madeline's well-meaning Bostonian suitor-fiancee, Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon), who made an obsessive effort to remove the sickly Madeline from the darkened and oppressive House
  • the curse upon the entire Usher family's bloodline - both Madeline and Roderick suffered from an incurable, hereditary affliction that hyper-affected all of their senses; in a brilliant monologue, Roderick described the symptoms of the curse to Philip - heavy drapes-curtains were hung to keep out sunlight, and efforts had been made to dampen noise from loud footsteps by the wearing of slippers: "Madeline and I are like figures of fine glass. The slightest touch and we may shatter. Both of us suffer from a morbid acuteness of the senses. Mine is the worst for having existed the longer, but both of us are afflicted with it. Any sort of food more exotic than the most pallid mashes - unendurable to my taste buds. Any sort of garment other than the softest is agony to my flesh. My eyes are tormented by all but the faintest illumination. Odors assail me constantly, and as I've said, the sounds of any degree whatsoever inspire me with terror... And even so I could hear you coming. Every footstep, every rustle of your clothes. I could hear your horse approaching, hear the clatter of the hooves across the courtyard. Your knock. The grating of the door bolt was like a sword struck to my ears. (whispering) I can hear the scratch of rat claws within the stone wall! Mr. Winthrop, three-quarters of my family have fallen into madness, and in their madness have acquired a superhuman strength, so that it took the power of many to subdue them"
  • the sequence of Madeline taking Philip to the family crypt where her 'mad' ancestors were laid in various coffins - and pointing out her own empty labeled coffin - and suddenly, the shocking fall of one of the caskets labeled "MIRIAM USHER" (Madeline's mother) that shattered and spilled out her mother's rotting skeletal corpse
  • the tour conducted by Roderick for Philip (who didn't believe that "the sins of the fathers (are) visited upon the children"), along a row of sordid, tortured portraits (drawn by Burt Shonberg) of members of the Usher family - as he described how evil passed down through generations of Ushers and ultimately into the House itself: "This house is centuries old. It was brought here from England, and with it every evil rooted in its stones...Evil is not just a word. It is reality. Like any living thing, it can be created and was created by these people. The history of the Ushers is a history of savage degradations. First in England, and then in New England. And always in this house. Always in this house. Born of evil which feels it is no illusion. For hundreds of years, foul thoughts and foul deeds have been committed within its walls. The house itself is evil now"
  • Madeline's catalepsy (the appearance of death) - with body rigidity, trancelike states, loss of muscular control, and decreased bodily functions, almost indistinguishable from death; and her alleged demise from her cursed condition, and her premature interment (buried alive) by Roderick in the family crypt beneath the House
  • the disquieting brief funeral scene in the family chapel of Roderick and Philip mourning the 'death' of Madeline - while sitting on pews behind her open coffin, she began to move her fingers; Roderick responded by rising and closing the casket's lid; the sequence ended with a closeup of her name on the tomb
  • during Philip's hallucinatory dream sequence (shot with different colored filters including light blue and purple), when Philip was haunted by the Usher ancestors, and Roderick accosted Philip for trying to free Madeline from her premature burial by sledge-hammering the lock on her casket - she screamed and he awakened
Philip's Hallucinatory Dream Sequence
  • Roderick's description of how he was in agony as he heard the entombed Madeline helplessly pound and scratch the inside of her sealed coffin cover: "Do you know that I could hear every sound she made? That I heard her breathing in her casket? Heard her first gasps as she awoke? Her first scream of terror? Did you know that I could hear the scratching of her fingernails on the casket lid?" - and the sight of Madeline's empty coffin; she had escaped to prowl as a deranged mad woman through the secret passageways and corridors of the House of Usher - to avenge herself upon her brother Roderick who knowingly had buried her alive
  • the spectacular fiery finale and conclusion - the crumbling and burning down of the House of Usher, while the two crazed siblings (Roderick and Madeline) fought with each other to the death; Philip escaped and watched the unstable and flaming inferno of the House swallowed up in a dark moat (the words of POE were seen in a final subtitle superimposed over the ruins of the House: "...and the deep and dark tarn closed silently over the fragments of the House of Usher")

Roderick Usher
(Vincent Price)

Arrival of Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon)

Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey) - Philip's Fiancee

The Family Crypt Scene

Tour of Usher Family Portraits

Madeline's Alleged Demise and Interment in the Family Crypt

The Entombed Madeline

The Fiery Finale - Two Siblings Fighting to the Death


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