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House of Usher$
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Evert van Leeuwen

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781911325604

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781911325604.001.0001

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The Look of Usher: Picturing a Story of Death

The Look of Usher: Picturing a Story of Death

(p.45) Chapter 3: The Look of Usher: Picturing a Story of Death
House of Usher

Evert Jan van Leeuwen

Liverpool University Press

This chapter analyses the artistic aspects of House of Usher (1960) to reveal how Roger Corman's crew managed to successfully fuse the dark Romantic tradition to which Edgar Allan Poe belongs with a more expressionist horror film aesthetic that made the film more directly appealing to 1960s horror-movie audiences. Used in the context of low-budget horror films, expressionism should be understood as a term denoting ‘art which depends on free and obvious distortions of natural forms to convey emotional feeling’. House of Usher is not expressionistic because its frames resemble the art of Edvard Munch, but because its mise-en-scène is not naturalistic but functions as a visual vehicle for the expression of subjective states of mind and emotions. In developing House of Usher, Corman told his crew: ‘I never want to see “reality” in any of these scenes’. The décor of the Usher mansion is not designed for verisimilitude, but to give the audience a glimpse at the fear that lurks in the darkest corners of Roderick's psyche.

Keywords:   House of Usher, Roger Corman, dark Romantic tradition, Edgar Allan Poe, expressionist horror film, low-budget horror films, expressionism, mise-en-scène

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