Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe
Written by: Richard Matheson, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by: Roger Corman
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 79
Date: 03/19/2013

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Monstrous 'House'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When we hear about Roger Corman, it's usually in reference to the numerous filmmakers and actors he's bestowed careers upon, such as Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, and Jack Nicholson, among others. You might also hear Corman referred to as the "King of the B's," or the "Drive-in King of America." But how many have actually seen a Corman film? Now, thanks to MGM Home Video, three vintage Roger Corman films have been released on DVD for the first time: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963). The movies themselves are fun and professional looking and peppered with great moments, but the real treasure here is the full-length Corman commentary track on each disc.

Though Corman began his career in 1954 with ultra-cheap black and white exploitation movies, by the early 60s he graduated to more expensive (but still cheap), full-color widescreen movies. The first of these was The Fall of the House of Usher (1960, MGM/UA, $14.95), which kicked off Corman's Edgar Allan Poe series. These eight films almost always featured Vincent Price and were always loosely based on a Poe story (very loosely). House of Usher begins with Mark Damon arriving at the title house, where Roderick Usher (Price) and his sister (Myrna Fahey) live. The Ushers suffer from heightened senses, wherein they cannot eat strong-tasting food, cannot wear rough clothing, cannot see in bright light, etc. Damon begins poking around and uncovers the Ushers' terrible secrets, eventually causing the house itself to come crumbling down. When Corman pitched the project to his superiors at American International Pictures, they asked, "where's the monster?" Corman quickly replied, "the house is the monster." Whether that's true or not is up for debate, but there's no doubt Corman was a quick thinker and a savvy businessman.

Now in his 70s, Corman commentary tracks for all three DVDs tell amazing stories of how he cut costs and how he got his movies made against all odds. He even admits shyly that Ray Milland once named both "The Lost Weekend" and "X" as the two movies he was proudest of. Corman's voice occasionally goes up an octave with sheer glee as he looks back on his wild days, making all three commentary tracks keepers. Each DVD comes with trailers, lobby cards, and special "prologues," which once ran in theaters and drive-ins before the features. With these extras and the excellent commentary tracks, the $14.95 price tag is a steal.

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