Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Fall of the House of Usher

An article in the latest issue of Hastings Town (No.121 February 2018) on the film The Fall of the House of Usher made on location in Hastings between March 1946 and November 1947.  The director was Ivan Barnett and the article provides some useful background information on the director, provided by his son Adrian, a professional photographer.

When I contacted Adrian during the writing of the first edition of Netherwood his father was still alive but very frail (he died in 2013), and my questions  about the film were conveyed to him by his son. The results form one of the sections of the Netherwood book. They also very kindly allowed me to use a number of stills from the film as illustrations.  Many scenes were filmed inside Netherwood (the House of Usher was the exterior of the guesthouse) and most famously Aleister Crowley was present during the filming, as the director confirmed to me (he found the Great Beast 'very polite...pleasant and amenable'). The article repeats the claim that one of his paintings appears in the film, although I've been unable to confirm this, having viewed the film a couple of times. An unusual monument in Beauport Park - now a caravan park - appears in the film and can still be found in situ.

While the article is interesting, there is no indication that the author has read, or even heard of, Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley (which does not really surprise me, as it's had no coverage locally, despite some efforts on my part, such as contacting the local newspaper - to no avail - this is definitely one of the plus points of social media and the internet, which enable these traditional gatekeepers to be bypassed). Coincidentally, I watched the Roger Corman Vincent Price 1960 version of Usher last night, before I knew about the recent article.

Also there's no mention that the author of the article has actually seen the film, which I initially saw on a DVD purchased online that had probably been burned on someone's laptop.  More recently the BFI has restored the film and it can be viewed on cheap subscription on their website here.  It looks considerably better, clearer and sharper, and I enjoyed it much more on second viewing in its enhanced format ( a missing reel has been restored to make the running time 70 minutes, rather than the 60 of the DVD).  Vernon Symonds, proprietor of Netherwood and amateur actor (Crowley ended up at Netherwood following an enquiry from one of Symonds' fellow actors) also appears in the film. Recently critical opinion has been brought to bear on it - Jonathan Rigby in the latest edition of his excellent English Gothic (2015) - my British horror film bible - declares it 'a compellingly weird and atmospheric one-off.' Worth checking out.

No comments: