The House of Usher (1989)
While this may do nothing to erase the hold that the 1960 version of the Edgar Allan Poe classic starring Vincent Price has on me, it does give us a chance to watch Dear Oliver Reed brood and whisper his way through this Harry Alan Towers production while acting off against an over the top Donald Pleasence. Reed + Pleasence means I’m in for this silly bit of fun from the days when the VHS rental ruled my weekends.
The truth is that Ollie and Don have hired on to an inferior project that should come as no surprise to those familiar with producer Towers’ track record. Rather than making this a period piece, the script has updated the setting to the modern day English country side which is of course a great way to keep the budget tight. A young American couple played by Romy Windsor and Rufus Smart have traveled abroad where Rufus is to meet his sole remaining relative for the first time. Uncle Roderick as played by Ollie.
While nearing the English estate the young couple find themselves in a mysterious car wreck leaving Rufus seemingly dead and the lovely Romy falling under the care of Uncle Ollie. Romy is soon to realize she’s a captive understanding that Ollie has designs on her giving him an heir to continue the Usher lineage. She’s disgusted with the set up and even more so when the family doctor arrives to ensure she’s capable of having children. A couple of lewd remarks from the Doc towards Ollie ensure his gruesome demise at the hands of Ollie’s loyal butler played by Norman Coombes.
Romy is determined to escape her surroundings and soon discovers that Ollie has a demented brother living on the top floor. It’s a long haired, wheel chair bound Donald Pleasence. He’s got that crazy look in his eyes and a drill strapped to his wrist for creating sculptures and defacing those who stand in his way as we’ll see before the final curtain falls on the Usher mansion. Donald was prone to playing a good nutter every now and then and here he once again let’s loose his inner ham which is probably for the best giving this nasty little effort a bit of life though it’s rather sad that such a fine actor as Donald was, resorted to these low grade productions.
Ollie on the other hand had probably burned far too many bridges by this time with his off screen hell raising that the majority of his final appearances were of this nature. Here he plays Usher the only way he can. Oliver Reed style. Brutish, scowling and prone to outbursts of violence that was a trademark of Ollie’s screen presence. There’s one scene within when he slaps Romy. It looks so realistic I had to worry for the poor girls health despite noticing the trajectory of the smack was upward and away from her cheek.
Catacombs, gore, a crumbling mansion and Reed vs. Pleasence are featured down the stretch of this rather crude, forgettable effort that saw the two leads on screen together once again. They both had appeared in the same film as far back as 1955’s Value For Money. A 1978 Canadian production, Tomorrow Never Comes and even a Disney feature, The Black Arrow in 1984. Reed would go on to appear in another Poe tale though strictly a cameo for 1991’s Pit and the Pendulum.
Donald Pleasence must have been contracted for a few productions under the exploitation king, Mr. Towers. He appeared in three productions released in the same calendar year for Harry. House of Usher, Ten Little Indians and The River of Death which was easily the most enjoyable of the three.
Another name that can be spotted in the opening sequence is executive producer Avi Lerner. Avi has an enormous list of titles he’s been connected to as producer over the years. Mostly low budget fodder though he has had some successes including the big screen Expendables series and other titles of varying quality.
As for this take on the Edgar Allan Poe classic, it’s far from noteworthy and more of a curio for us fans of Ollie and Donald who do our best to see everything they appeared in. Both the good and the bad.