The Fall of the House of Usher from writer and director Mike Flanagan is another horror classic from this prolific creator of horror. This series is based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s short story titles are used as episode titles, with events in the episodes harking back to their macabre and gory roots.
The Fall of the House of Usher uses each episode to describe another loss for the house of Usher. I know from past horror excursions with Mike Flanagan that he loves the music of language. He lets Poe write the music here. Characters often quote from Poe’s stories or recite his poems. All the characters have names taken from Poe.
I wondered before I began the series if I should review Poe first. After all it had been many decades since I read his stories and memorized his poetry while in high school and college. However, the power and magic of Poe as a storyteller and poet stayed with me. I could still recite the poems with the characters. I remembered the plots of the stories and recognized what Flanagan was doing. Once you have Poe in your head, it doesn’t fall away. Nevermore.
The stories were modernized for the 21st Century. The Usher clan embodied evil in various ways. They were pharmaceutical giants selling murderous opioids. They peddled other expensive goods at great profit. Their stories illustrated the evils of greed, capitalism, privilege, and what happens when you have so much money you can do whatever you want without fear of consequences. There were scenes outlining the dangers of artificial intelligence.
Carla Gugino played Verna, a mysterious woman out of time and space. She existed in the past and the future. She existed everywhere. Her arrangement with the Ushers lead to their eventual downfall. Verna is a anagram of Raven. There are a lot of ravens about.
Verna came into the lives of the twin siblings Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood with Zach Gilford as Young Roderick) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell with Willa Fitzgerald as Young Madeline) early in their careers before they became billionaires. The series begins at the end, after Roderick and Madeline have been powerful and rich for a long time. We learn about the past in flashbacks.
Roderick learns he is dying, and the bills start coming due. Verna reappears looking just as she had 50 years ago.
The first few episodes were a slow slog. Roderick asked Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly with Malcolm Goodwin as the Young Dupin) to come to the Usher’s decrepit old mansion. Roderick was going to confess all his crimes to Auguste. Each episode is a story about how his crimes lead to the death of one of his children. The tension increased with each new death, each new twist and reveal.
Each of Roderick’s children got their own episode explaining their gory death. They were Frederick Usher (Henry Thomas), Napoleon Usher (Rahul Kohli), Tamerlane Usher (Samantha Sloyan), Victorine LaFourcade (T’Nia Miller), Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel), and Prospero Usher (Sauriyan Sapkota). Two of the children were born to Roderick and his first wife, Annabel Lee (Katie Parker). The rest were born to five other women and referred to behind closed doors in the family as “the bastards.” All of them were involved in the family business and had access to the family money.
All of them thought money gave them god powers and they could get away with anything. Roderick had one granddaughter, Lenore (Kyliegh Curran). Like her grandmother Annabel Lee, Lenore was a good heart, a kind person, and not like the rest of the family.
Long stretches of the story were contemporary drama about family, relationships, the ruthlessness of business, and the failings of modern life. The sexual preferences and peccadilloes of the characters were implicit in the story, but not shown in detail. What we got in detail was the gore. There were some good jump scares, spooky hallucinations, and standard horror tropes, but more of the story was about character and the temptations of evil.
The most powerful scene, to me, was set in Roderick’s office of the 72nd floor. After many conversations about all the people his opioids killed, literally millions of people, Roderick was forced to watch the bodies of people he murdered raining down outside his office window. Bodies falling, so many bodies. Like snow, like rain, like grains of sand – falling bodies that never stopped coming.
Mike Flanagan fans will recognize his favorite actors from past productions. New in this story were Mary McDonnell and Mark Hamill. They fit into the horror genre nicely. My favorite Flanagan series is The Haunting of Bly Manor, and my least favorite is Midnight Mass. The Fall of the House of Usher fits somewhere in the middle of those two on my personal ratings scale.
Netflix made the entire series available now. I always appreciate that. I’m sure they wanted viewers to be able to finish it before Halloween passes by. If you watch this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Leave a comment.