It’s not precisely the Edgar Allan Poe short story that emerges in House of Usher, but it’s a reasonably diverting and handsomely mounted variation. In patronizingly romanticizing Poe’s venerable prose, scenarist Richard Matheson has managed to preserve enough of the original’s haunting flavor and spirit. The elaborations change the personalities of the three central characters, but not recklessly so.
In Poe’s tale, the first-person hero is a friend of Roderick Usher, not his enemy and the romantic wooer of his doomed sister, the Lady Madeline. Matheson’s version, however, accomplishes this alteration without ruining the impact of the chilling climax, in which Madeline (Myrna Fahey), buried alive by her brother (Vincent Price) while under a cataleptic trance, breaks free from her living tomb.
Price is a fine fit as Usher, and Fahey successfully conveys the transition from helpless daintiness to insane vengeance. Hero Mark Damon has his better moments when the going gets gory and frenzied, but lacks the mature command required for the role. Harry Ellerbe is outstanding as an old family retainer.
The cobweb-ridden, fungus-infected, mist-pervaded atmosphere of cadaverous gloom has been photographed with great skill by Floyd Crosby and enhanced further by Ray Mercer’s striking photographic effects and the vivid color, most notably during a woozy dream sequence.