Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) visits the House of Usher, a decaying mansion in a murky swamp, to see his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). Madeline’s brother Roderick (Vincent Price) is opposed to the relationship. He tells Philip that the Usher family is cursed and all their ancestors went mad, and the house itself has brought desolation to the surrounding countryside. Roderick believes that a marriage between Philp and Madeline would only continue the cursed bloodline into future generations. Philip is desperate to get Madeline out of that house and away from her insane brother, and she agrees to leave with him.
During an argument with her brother, Madeline falls into catalepsy and appears dead. Roderick knows that she is not dead but convinces Philip that she is. He works quickly to place her in the family crypt beneath the house. But just as Philip is about to leave, the butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) mentions that Madeline is cataleptic.
Philip tears open Madeline’s coffin and finds it empty. He searches throughout the passages in the crypt but eventually collapses, exhausted. Madeline revives inside another coffin and finds herself buried alive. She goes mad and breaks free. She confronts her brother and strangles him. Fallen coals from the fire set the house on fire and it collapses in flames. The Usher siblings and the butler are consumed and the family and the bloodline ends. Philip escapes and watches the house burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp. The story ends with Edgar Allan Poe’s words: “…and the deep and dark tarn closed sullenly and silently over fragments of the House of Usher.”
This dark, gloomy, and emotionally overwrought movie was directed by schlockmeister Roger Corman and written by SF- and horror-master Richard Matheson, based on the 1839 short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was advertised as House of Usher or Fall of the House of Usher apparently at random. There were eight Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe films and this is this was the first. American International Pictures had been making low-budget black and white films and was falling on hard times, so they decided to make larger-budget color films. Vincent Price was a stalwart of this project and starred in many of them. Higher budget it may have been, but it was shot in fifteen days for $300,000 dollars. A third of that went to Price and was well spent. The dark, gloomy, gothic, melodramic world of Poe fit him like a glove. Reviews were mixed but now it has 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The House of Usher sets and props cost $2,500. The twisted trees surrounding it were real burned trees in the Hollywood Hills. They burned down a barn that was about to be demolished in Orange County to get the close-ups of the fire, which were used later in several films. In the Summer of 1960, the film made a million dollars. The house was dressed up with a good ten ghosts in a dream sequence, most of the actors uncredited. Les Baxter wrote the music in one day. Vincent Price dyed his hair blond, shaved his mustache, went on a diet, and kept out of the sunlight to portray Roderick Usher. The cinematographer, Floyd Crosby, was the father of David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The Ancestors of the Usher family mentioned in the film—thieves, forgers, assassins, harlots, smugglers, and mass murderers—did not come from the Poe story but were invented by the scriptwriters.