Roger Corman adapts two stories by Edgar Allen Poe: House of Usher (1960) and Pit and the Pendulum (1961). Both of these films narrate a very similar story, which is quite clear from the author of the stories. Edgar Allen Poe was very well known in literature for his darker themes, such as suspense, horror, and thrillers. In both the films, the audience can note a very similar beginning: a protagonist appears in search of a loved one.
The House of Usher:
The film, The House of Usher (1960) was adapted from Edgar Allen Poe's story The Fall of the House of Usher, written in 1839. The setting and the mood are very indicative of an ominous tone, of the unpleasant nature. The opening setting is very dreary, dark, and soundless. This film and story had a heavy usage of supernatural events and edgy personalities of each character. Each of the three characters are very gloomy and suffer from degrees of madness. Poe's famous theme of death and darkness pervade through the story and film. Poe immediately sets the mood of the story by having the narrator describing it as "coldness, sickening of the heart, in which I could discover nothing to lighten the weight I felt. What was it, I asked myself, what was it that was so fearful, so frightening in my view of the House of Usher?" There is an element of eeriness, suspense, chills, and thrill while watching the film. The slow music and the camera angles of the house, add to the feeling as well.
The protagonist is Phillip Winthrop, played by Mark Damon, who arrives at the House of Usher to visit his fiancé, Madeline Usher. Phillip encounters the owner of the home, Roderick Usher, played by Vincent Price. Roderick has many illnesses and fragile health. He says he suffers from noises, as he is sensitive to noises, he feels tortured by them. He is has extreme sensitivity with all five senses. The gothic dialogues and strange occurrences in the film seen to symbolize the thoughts of the Usher House residents. There is mention of fungi and physical deterioration of the house, symbolizing the physical deterioration of the Usher family, Madeline and Roderick. There are other notable instances of symbolism. The grim images hanging inside the home of deteriorated faces symbolize the worsening and decline of the Ushers for their sins. The overuse of spider webs and dust throughout the mansion symbolize how their health is unkept and doomed to dust. There once used to be a clear crystal creek that turned murky and dirty after the "plague" over came the House of Usher. Seems as if the Ushers not only suffer physically, but mentally as well. The overall theme of the house and of the film reeked of death. The constant blood red coloring of furniture, household items, and wardrobe of the Ushers showed hints of the deaths.
The pivotal point of Phillips visit was when Roderick shows him the family photos hanging on the walls, each described with the sin that led them to their death. But, what is symbolic is when Rodrick tells him that the real evil is the house itself. The evil in the colors and style of painting shows how sinned these ancestors were, seems as if all the Ushers are doomed to sinning, since the house is filled with evil. This leads the viewer to question which sins Roderick and Madeline succumbed to?
These are some examples of the directors usage of blood red objects around the mansion. The Ushers are dressed in red, the candles of the chandelier are red, even their wine glasses are red. Looks like a whole theme of bloodiness and death.
This blood red is connected even to the end when Roderick kills his sister, she emerges from her tomb, bloodied. He dies after seeing her, and the entire house crumbles into the tarn. The deaths and decline of the last two Ushers, causes the House of Usher to collapse. Phillip escapes and lives to tell the story, but seems like he as a narrator is not in his best senses anymore. The effects of the old, musty home seem to have had a toll on Phillip Winthrop, too.