Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) tracks his missing fiancee Madeline (Myrna Fahey) to the decaying mansion where she is under the influence of her doom-haunted brother Roderick Usher (Vincent Price).
With this 1960 film, Roger Corman persuaded Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, cost-conscious heads of American International Pictures, to combine the budgets which would have covered two of the black and white monster pictures he had been making in the 1950s in order to make one colourful, decadent, widescreen gothic. Screenwriter Richard Matheson imaginatively elaborates on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous (and out of copyright) tale, and Vincent Price brings just the right degree of refined camp to his white-haired, velvet-jacketed anti‑hero.
Later, Price would be overly prone to winking at the audience, but here he plays it close to straight as the hyper-sensitive Roderick, who can hear every scratching rat in the walls of the house and the beating of his entombed sister’s heart. The plot covers burial alive, incest, monomania, a family curse and sadism, but the film is a masterly exercise in sustained weird atmosphere. Actually, four characters spend the whole film glooming around the vast interior of the decaying mansion, awaiting a last‑reel fire which brings the roof down on their heads as the maddened Madeline rises from the tomb to drag her brother into the flames.
A major commercial success, this established a format which would serve Corman, Poe and Price for five years' worth of similar classics: Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror, The Haunted Palace, Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia. Beware pan&scan TV prints, and insist on the correct aspect ratio: Corman and cinematographer Floyd Crosby were masters at using the whole of the widescreen oblong, with off-centre compositions and nervous tracking shots that convey the sense that things are terribly wrong in this old house.
Vincent Price starts his scary-reign in colourful gothic horror style