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HOUSE OF USHER (DEVILS ADVOCATES SERIES) ****

Written by Evert van Leeuwen.
RRP: £9.99. 97pp

Out now from Auteur publishing

 

The latest in the well-received DEVILS ADVOCATES series, which provides academic analysis of key films within the horror genre, this is the first to tackle one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations of the 1960’s. The ‘Poe-Cycle’ (as it has become known) is an influential series of films which, despite being inspired by the success of Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), DRACULA (1958) and THE MUMMY (1959) among others, managed to create it’s own unique dream-like atmosphere. Indeed, genre heavyweights such as Stephen King have praised the series, and it’s influence on Gothic cinema and literature can be felt far ad wide. Evert Jan Van Leeuwen’s book focusses on the first film in the franchise; HOUSE OF USHER and is a refreshing and unique look at a series already well covered by academia.

 

Usually, readings of the Poe-Cycle focus on the series as a whole, with only a few scattered essays here and there and tackling individual films.  Van Leeuwen largely avoids analysis of the other films in the series and takes USHER very much on its own terms. This proves an endlessly fascinating approach as Van Leeuwen is clearly an excellent researcher and analyst and there is much to explore in this one film alone. Drawing a range of links and conclusions between the works of key figures involved in the making of the film, Van Leeuwen comes up with a number of compelling arguments. In particular I enjoyed the section where Richard Matheson’s novel MAD HOUSE was discussed in comparison to his script for USHER, demonstrating a clear thematic connection thus making him the ideal writer for the project. like any academic study, at times this goes too far (I’m not sure anyone has ever compared the works of Poe to ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS) but these moments are rare and well-argued if, in this reviewer’s opinion, misguided.

 

The book is split into four chapters (excluding the introduction and conclusion) and each chapter is split into several sections, each well thought out and structured. The subjects of these chapters are compelling, focussing on; narrative discussions (some of which have been tackled by other scholars) the visual look and style of the film and (perhaps most interestingly) a chapter is given to the Usher’s themselves. Split into two sections (the first on Vincent Price’s Roderick and the second on Myrna Fahey’s Madeline) this (like the rest of the book) is a deep exploration, even going so far as to examine the portrait of Madeline painted by Roderick. However, these are not idle or surface level readings, but well-constructed arguments which have admittedly changed the entire way in which I now view this sequence in the film.

 

Van Leeuwen’s HOUSE OF USHER is another success for the DEVILS ADVOCATE’S series. Had these books been available when I was at University, I would have snapped them up and I hope that the burgeoning film scholars of today are taking advantage of such a well-researched series. Away from academia though there is much to enjoy here and I highly recommend both this entry and the series as a whole to anyone with even the vaguest of interest.

 

Reviewed by Callum McKelvie.

 

 

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