THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
The film radiates an appalling cheapness, from the bad colour processing to the cardboard facade of the exterior of the house. Even the reading of the Poe story seems second-hand, taken more from the classic Roger Corman film adaptation The House of Usher (1960) than the actual Poe story. Like most of the film adaptations, a number of changes are made to the story. This version follows the general path of the Poe story and does retain elements from it such as having the narrator and Roderick Usher as boyhood friends. On the other hand, the narrator is now given a name and arrives at the house accompanied by his wife. The film also copies the 1960 Roger Corman version in giving us the backstory of the house where it is imbued with a physical evil due to the crimes conducted there added to the usual moral crimes are now the standard cliches of devil worship.
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story is a masterpiece of mood and desolation. This could not be a version of the story that is more lacking in mood, especially when compared to the Roger Corman and previous versions (see below). The sets look like standard period sets from a tv studio and fail entirely to ooze with gloom, despair and decrepitude. James Conway directs standard tv set-ups without any feeling for the story.
The casting is downright laughable. This was Martin Landau in the days after Mission: Impossible (1966-72) and Space: 1999 (1975-7) and before he turned his career around in the 1990s and won an Oscar, where he was subsisting on an income derived from parts in B-movies and giving performances that had him in strong contention for being one of the world’s worst over-actors. Here he plays the tortured Roderick Usher with a grotesquely overwrought hamminess that is fascinating to watch. Bubble-gum vacuous Dallas (1978-91) bimbo Charlene Tilton is equally miscast as the heroine. Even funnier is the casting of the boyishly cute Robert Hays who speaks of knowing Usher twenty-five years before something that would surely have placed him in diapers.
Director James L. Conway directed and acted as producer for many of the abovementioned Schick Sunn Classics films. He also directed their handful of ventures into science-fiction the UFO films Hangar 18 (1980) and Earthbound (1980), and one horror film The Boogens (1981). These days, Conway works in tv and has been a regular director on all the modern tv incarnations of Star Trek, among other shows, and producer of the tv series Charmed (1998-2006).
Other adaptations of the Edgar Allan Poe story are: Jean Epsteins French silent version The Fall of the House of Usher (1928); a dreary British version The Fall of the House of Usher (1949); Jesus Francos cheap The Fall of the House of Usher (1983) with Howard Vernon; Harry Alan Towers equally cheap The House of Usher (1989) with Oliver Reed; the low-budget modernised The House of Usher (2006); David DeCoteaus softcore gay House of Usher (2008); and as an episode of the animated anthology Extraordinary Tales (2015).
Clip from the film here:-