Sunday, September 23, 2012


Today's installment of THE SOUND OF HORROR is another by guest poster Tim Ferrante. The review originally appeared in THE PHANTOM OF THE MOVIES' VIDEOSCOPE magazine.

HOUSE OF USHER Music composed and conducted by Les Baxter. 15 tracks, 62:39, Intrada Special Collection Vol. 159 $19.95.

House of Usher (1960) was director Roger Corman’s first of several AIP screen treatments for Edgar Allan Poe horror tales. It was also the first time he worked with composer Les Baxter who was busy reaping the rewards of best-selling exotica record albums, pop and show tune arrangements and steady B-movie composing assignments. Usher’s Technicolor opulence and Baxter’s varied musical background formed a creative foundation on which the film series would rise.

Usher’s sets were darkly flamboyant; great gothic dressings crisply filmed by Floyd Crosby in widescreen. It was both dreary and colorful; giving perfect contrast to Poe’s spiraling Roderick Usher, a shattered noble who’s convinced his house has come alive and is out for revenge. Early theatrical prints carried an Overture running 3:03, a mood-setting composition that was thought to be lost. It, however, is the lead track and was fully restored separate from the Intrada mastering. It is a large orchestral statement that sets the musical table, presenting themes and passages soon to come.

Baxter’s skillful knitting of evocative thematic elements is clearly evident here. Track two opens with his uplifting AIP logo fanfare (a simply magnificent 13-second ident that was repeatedly utilized) gives way to a Main Title with a bold dose of harried strings and brass that quickly segue into a melodic romantic theme snippet before entering its darker tones. Standout tracks such as “House of Evil”, a splintering and otherworldly cue accented by ghostly chorals and “Buried Alive”, a poking and prodding musical and choral irritant which accompanies Philip Winthrop’s (Mark Damon) nightmare torment are showcases of the composer’s ability for structured fear and clamor.

A bootleg CD has been in circulation for some time and if you happen to own one you can toss it away. The Intrada release is a complete overhaul. All of the short cues have been assembled into longer listenable ones and every note recorded for the film is intact (remarkably, it’s a 62-minute score for a 79-minute movie!). Limited to a scant 1200 pressing run, House of Usher was an instant sellout. Baxter went on to write the music for three more of the Corman/Poe titles, but it is this seminal Usher score that established the film series’ musical basis.

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