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Rock musician Rod Usher (James Johnston) is sent to the insane asylum
for having murdered his wife Annabelle Lee (Emma Millions), then having
walled her up together with her black dog, a crime which he denies and for
which he admittedly had no motive. Eccentric Doctor Calahari (Ken Russell)
somehow doubts Rod is guilty as well, and suspects Rod's sister Madeleine
(Elize Russell) despite her airtight alibi, but he simply cannot lay his
hands on her, and even the one time she comes visit her brother, she makes
a daring escape rather than speak to the doctor.
However, the insane
asylum is a really insane place, and Calahari seems to be king of the
loonies for another reason than his professional qualifications: He tries
to keep poor Valdemar (Pete Mastin) alive after dead for no other reason
than to make a point, he keeps a mummy as his assistant, and his head
nurse (Marie Findley) is quite obviously a sadistic nymphomaniac, who
tries to seduce Rod more than once. Eventually, Calahari's staff revolts,
so he has them all rounded up and incarcerated. But they break out and
take over the loonie bin. For some reason, the head nurse convinces Rod to
fake his own death to make an escape. Rod succeeds, but when he finally
arrives at his mansion, he finds his sister has murdered herself over his
death - but she has left a confession: She has indeed murdered Annabelle
Lee - via a remote controlled gorilla. Now it's up to Rod to kill himself
to be with her. But the gorilla is already busy bringing up a new
generation of Ushers taking Rod and Madeleine's place.
Calahari - oh, he remains in the asylum, but as patient. But he is so
caught up in writing his memoirs he doesn't even realize he has switched
sides. And his head nurse is still always with him - a patient herself
There's one word that very accurately describes Ken
Russell's The Fall of the Louse of Usher, and that's mad.
And that somehow makes perfect sense in the context of Ken Russell's
filmography. Sure, the film doesn't look like the work of a 75 year old
respected artist who according to public opinion is deemed to repeat
himself over and over to not shatter his public image. Instead, The
Fall of the Louse of Usher looks like the film of a kid with a
videocamera, a bunch of motivated hands and a modest budget at hand making
a movie that goes berserk taking apart its source material. And apart from
the kid-part - Russell was really 75 when he made the movie - this
perception is absolutely right: Here is a director who has fun. Sure, some
times he goes too far, his humour is a bit of the hit-and-miss variety,
and the lack of budget might show a bit too painfully at times. But you
can also find something fresh, wild, mean, disrespectful in this movie ...
a form of disrespect a man like Edgar Allan Poe, who was known for his
quirky humour, would probably have loved.
And why does the movie make
perfect sense in Ken Russell's filmography?
Sure, the man might have
made serious arthouse flicks like Gothic
or The Music Lovers, which were serious investigations of
recognized works of art, but with films like the highly ironic musical Tommy,
the mad Lisztomania and the bizarre Bram Stoker-adaptation The
Lair of the White Worm, he also showed a wilder (and let's be
frank, more inventive) side.
That all says very little of The Fall of
the Louse of Usher itself though, and to be honest, it's not one of
the best works of Ken Russell, more of a collection of absurdities
revolving around Edgar Allan Poe's central stories like Fall of the House
of Usher, The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, Murders in the Rue
Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar and the like, while at the same time
also playing with pulp mainstays resulting from them, and creating dirty
jokes resulting from them. That all is good fun, even if the jokes are of
a hit-or-miss quality, but to be frank, we have seen Russell do better,