THE HOUSE OF USHER
This version makes some interesting additions to the familiar story. It is now a girl rather than a male friend that comes to visit Roderick Usher who now keeps her a prisoner there so that he can breed with her and carry on the Usher line. Where in all other versions of The Fall of the House of Usher it is Rodericks sister that goes into a cataleptic fit and is buried alive, here it the heroines fiancee who is Rodericks nephew. For a time, this version of The House of Usher makes an interestingly concerted effort to get away from the 19th Century period setting of most other Poe films. The film gives us Romy Windsor as a modern girl who enters an Usher house that seems to still exist in the 19th Century and scenes where she is told not to wear perfume lest this upset Rodericks ultra-sensitive nose; where she says she is studying to be a hairdresser and he puzzles over why she wants to be a barber or at saying that her mother sells Avon. We get an interesting glimpse in these few scenes of a Poe that is struggling to come to terms with the modern world.
Alas, beyond a few superficialities, what we end up with bears little resemblance to Poes The Fall of the House of Usher. Moreover, the film turns into something quite different to what it started out as. At first, it seems like an imprisonment thriller along the lines of something like The Fanatic/Die, Die, My Darling (1965) but then in the last half-hour it turns into a variant on the creaky old mad-relative-in-the-attic tale with a dishevelled Donald Pleasence introduced and, for some reason, killing everybody with a power drill that he has attached to his wrist. None of this has any equivalent in the original short story.
The House of Usher comes from producer Harry Alan Towers who had bankrolled numerous films by the notorious exploitation director Jess Franco, as well as versions of classic horrors such as Dorian Grey (1970) and Edge of Sanity (1989) where the emphasis was placed on a crude sexploitation element. It is the same with The House of Usher. There are numerous scenes of gratuitous gore littered throughout Oliver Reed shoving the maids hand down onto the mincemeat grinder and we seeing ground meat coming out the other end, before Birkinshaws camera pulls back to show that it is just meat and not what we think. Elsewhere, we see a rat being applied to the treacherous doctor (Philip Godewa)s crotch; the maids head served up on a silver platter; Romy Windsors hairdryer gushing spouts of blood at the mirror and then she finding a severed head sitting there. Birkinshaws direction consists of cheap theatrics Psycho (1960)-styled strings that start screeching as Norman Coombes turns around in the front seat of the taxi; or where, as the house starts collapsing at the climax, coffins pop up and skeletons burst out trying to grab a fleeing Romy Windsor. Elsewhere, for no particular reason, the walls develop arms and start trying to grab people. It is a film where Edgar Allan Poe has been reduced to the level of cheap exploitation shocks.
Director Alan Birkinshaw, who is brother of celebrated British writer Fay Weldon, has made a number of other genre films including Killers Moon (1978), Invaders of the Lost Gold/Horror Safari (1982) and a horror Agatha Christie adaptation Ten Little Indians (1989), also for producer Harry Alan Towers, as well as the other modernised Edgar Allan Poe adaptation Masque of the Red Death.
Other adaptations of The Fall of the House of Usher include:- Jean Epsteins French silent version The Fall of the House of Usher (1928); The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), a short silent British version; a dreary and not very faithful British version The Fall of the House of Usher (1949); Roger Cormans The House of Usher (1960) starring Vincent Price; the inept tv variation The Fall of the House of Usher (1979) with Martin Landau; Jesus Francos cheap The Fall of the House of Usher (1983) with Howard Vernon; Harry Alan Towers cheap House of Usher (1989) with Oliver Reed; Ken Russells demented variation The Fall of the Louse of Usher (2002); 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).
Full film available online here:-