There’s at least one death in almost every episode of The Fall of the House of Usher. Well, in seven out of eight, if I have to be specific. There’s also a lot of cynicism, self-reflection, long monologues, both in prose and poetry, and a whole lot of Edgar Allan Poe in it. As you all know by now, the series is an adaptation of Poe’s famous short horror tale of the same name, by modern-day horror master Mike Flanagan. But it is more than just that, as Flanagan has folded in a lot of other macabre horror tales of Poe, as well as so many references and easter eggs.
If you are familiar with Flanagan’s style of adapting classic horror into morbid, deeply moving sentimental pieces, then this should not surprise you. However, Poe’s work is unlike anyone else’s, and Flanagan has done total justice to that here. All the usual Flanagan-verse things (and the actors) are very much present here, but it still feels very different from his Haunting shows and Midnight Mass. Not only do you not bother crying buckets of tears for these characters, but you also sort of enjoy their horrible fates. It is made in a way that you have a whole lot of fun, and then you are left with a never-ending dread, like a classic Poe horror short. In this article, we’re going to try our hands at exploring the Poe-ism of the series.
Considering this is the title of the first episode of the series, it’s a good place to start. The word “dreary” refers to things that are dull or repetitive, which very much sets a somber mood to start with. The phrase A Midnight Dreary comes from the very famous Poe poem titled The Raven, which not only happens to play an essential part in the series but also happens to be the title of the final episode. And in case you haven’t noticed, an anagram of the word “Raven” just happens to be “Verna”; the only supernatural entity of the series. The bird is a symbol of death here, of course. All the children of Roderick Usher have died already, and the raven is coming for him, presumably. And it works wonderfully as a great setup for a confession, as well as looking back at how things happened, by the only remaining Usher. Well, Roderick’s twin sister Madeline and Morelle, wife of his eldest son Frederick, are still alive at this point, technically.
Masque Of The Red Death
A prince named Prospero hides from a deadly plague called the “Red Death” in a secret monastery, along with a lot of other rich and powerful men, in Poe’s story. A masquerade gathering is arranged, where a strange man appears as the plague itself and confronts Prospero, and eventually, everyone ends up dead.
In the Netflix series, Prospero Usher, the youngest of Rodrick Usher’s offspring (they’re all named after Poe characters, by the way), pitches the idea of a no holds barred nightclub to his father. After getting rejected, he goes ahead with this exclusive party at a deserted Fortunato Pharmaceutical building (owned by the Usher family). He brings in all kinds of privileged individuals, including his own sister-in-law, to his debauchery-filled party, where Verna visits him as “Red Death.” It ends with Prospero and everyone else dying in the worst possible manner, when the sprinklers are turned on, and poisonous, acid-like chemicals literally fry them all to death. Flanagan’s adaptation of the short is very faithful to the source material and covers the central theme of it, i.e., the inevitability of death.
Augustus Dupin, Camille, And The Murders In The Rue Morgue
Kate Segal plays Roderick Usher’s illegitimate daughter, who is named Camille, a character from Poe’s “The Murder in the Rue Morgue,” who gets killed by an orangutan inside a morgue. The same story also introduces the detective Augustus Dupin, a character that eventually inspired the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. I thought it was a very smart, creative choice to introduce Dupin’s character as a fraud investigator who makes bringing down Fortunato Pharmaceutical for all their crimes the sole purpose of his life.
Camille, on the other hand, gets mutilated by Verna, this time appearing as both a security guard of the RUE morgue (which becomes an animal experimental facility here) as well as a chimpanzee. Unlike “The Masque of Red Death,” which was a more direct adaptation, this one takes the essence of the main story, and Flanagan reinvents it, which works out really well.
Black Cat and Tell-Tale Heart
Both “The Black Cat,” which happens to be my personal favorite short by Poe, and The Tell-Tale Heart deal with the subject of guilt. Flanagan adapts these two tales in two separate episodes, where he makes a considerable amount of changes from the original texts in order to fit things into the series’ narrative.
In Poe’s “Black Cat,” a man develops a hatred for pets, kills his own black cat, hangs the body of the animal from a tree, brings another almost identical-looking cat, and when the new cat scratches him, he tries to murder this one with an ax. When the wife tries to stop him from the killing the animal, the man kills the wife instead and hides the body. In Flanagan’s version, the man is Rodrick Usher’s illegitimate son Napoleon, aka Leo, played by Flanagan regular Rahul Kohli, who accidentally kills his pet cat during a hazy, drug-fueled night. He goes to an animal shelter and brings another very similar-looking black cat in order to cover up what he did, for the sake of his rather caring boyfriend. Verna masquerades as the woman who runs the shelter. The new cat makes Leo’s like a living hell, which is a manifestation of his guilt. Leo eventually succumbs to insanity and dies while trying to kill the cat with a replica of Mjolnir, which he apparently got from Chris Hemsworth himself. Just like the original story, Flanagan also sheds light on substance abuse causing insanity.
Roderick Usher’s other illegitimate daughter, Victorine (T’nia Miller, who is brilliant, as always), seems to be busy with experimentation on chimpanzees at the RUE facility in order to find out whether the new pacemaker-like device manufactured by Fortunato is good enough to keep a human with a faulty heart alive. An opportunity to do a human trial falls into Victorine’s lap when Verna introduces herself as a helpless woman with a heart disease. Victorine convinces her to have surgery, which is to be done by her partner, one Doctor Ruiz. But Ruiz backs out, and in a moment of confusion and rage, Victorine accidentally murders her. She goes into a full denial mode but ultimately gets consumed by her guilt, which leads her to kill herself with a sharp razor in front of a baffled Roderick. Other than the denial and the razor, there isn’t much of a similarity between what Poe wrote and what Flanagan shows us, but that’s quite alright.
While we are at it, I should mention that the name Napoleon comes from Poe’s comic short story The Spectacle, and Victorine happens to be a character from The Premature Burial.
What Is A Gold Bug?
Goldbug, the sixth episode of The Fall of the House of Usher, focuses on Tamerlane Usher, Rodericks’ daughter with his first wife, Annabel Lee. The name Tamerlane comes from Poe’s poem of the same name, which tells the story of a man who sacrificed love in order to achieve power. On the other hand, Poe’s short story “Goldbug” happens to be about a man’s fixation and eventual obsession with a strange golden-colored bug.
Flanagan takes material from both the poem and short story and conjures up a fascinating modern-day horror tale with another one of his regular collaborators, Samantha Sloyan, at the center of it. Goldbug gets turned into a lifestyle brand, the brainchild of Tammy, which effectively drives her to obsession and sleeplessness. It also makes Tammy ruin her marriage by driving her supportive husband, fitness guru Bill, who is the face of Goldbug, away from her. Verna fits into the narrative as a woman from an escort service who regularly visits Tammy and Bill to satisfy Tammy’s unconventional erotic tendencies. The series is great as a whole, but this particular episode is the standout amongst the whole batch.
The Pit And The Pendulum
Poe’s controversial horror short gets the Flanagan treatment in the penultimate episode of The Fall of the House of Usher. This is also not exactly a straightforward adaptation but a reimagination of the original story, which deals with human torture and its consequences. Henry Thomas, another Flanagan regular, dons the hat of the good-for-nothing Frederick Usher, the eldest child of Roderick and Annabel, and the heir to the dynasty. When Fredrick finds out that his wife Morrel went to the ill-fated party thrown by his deceased half-brother Prospero, he goes bonkers and tortures his burnt, bed-ridden wife in the worst possible manner. However, Frederick gets what he deserves when he goes to destroy the same building where the party happened and gets literally sliced by a pendulum that was supposed to bring the building down, thanks to Verna’s interference. Frederick also happens to be a character from the Poe short “Metzengerstein,” who is particularly known for his cruelty, a character trait that can be seen in the series’ version as well.
The Ballad Of Annabel Lee And Roderick Usher
Poe’s final poem, Annabel Lee, a tale about a man who falls in love with the titular character at a very young age and never gets over her even after she dies, finds its place in Flanagan’s narrative with the story of Roderick and his first wife, Annabel. A young Roderick is shown as a working-class man devoted to his family and deeply in love with his wife, for whom he writes poetry as well. Flanagan uses the Poe poem as the one written by Roderick, which goes really well here. Anabelle also represents the moral conscience of Roderick and indicates that there was good in this ruthless man, once upon a time, when he had love in his life.
The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket
You probably never imagined a Mike Flanagan-Mark Hamill collab, but here we are. And for Hamill, Flanagan had to do something iconic. So he takes the central character of Poe’s only finished novel and makes him the Usher family fixer, who is respected by everyone, including Roderick himself. Flanagan retains the character’s wild, adventurous backstory, which Hamil narrates in the only monologue he gets here.
What’s The Deal With Rufus Griswold And Henry Wordsworth Longfellow?
Here’s where things get tricky. Edgar Allan Poe had an infamous beef with Griswold and Longfellow, both renowned American poets. In the series, Longfellow and Griswold are both Fortunato Pharmaceutical bosses. Longfellow is the man who fathered Roderick and Madeline, thanks to an extramarital affair with the mother of the twins, who used to work as a secretary with the company. Griswold, the evil, abusive boss of Roderick at the same company, snatches away his million-dollar idea and makes a fortune out of it. Longfellow gets strangled by Eliza, Roderick and Madeline’s mother, who is named after Poe’s mother. And Griswold gets buried alive behind a wall by the twins as a coldly served dish of revenge.
Nevermore, And Other References
Lenore Usher, the grandchild of Roderick, who bears a striking moral resemblance to Annabel, dies as it was written in her fate. After her death, an unfinished AI version of Lenore, developed by Madeline Usher, gets activated and keeps sending the text Nevermore to Roderick. In The Raven, the bird continues to utter the same word, which frustrates the main protagonist. The character of Camille’s assistant Toby is taken from Never Bet the Devil Your Head, while the character of Fredrick’s wife originates from the Poe short story Morella, which is a tale of reincarnation, which is thematically similar to what happens to the character in the series.
How Similar Is The Series To The Original Story?
Roderick Usher summons the narrator, a friend of his, to his family home to help him with a sickness. Much like the original story, Augustus Dupin, who used to be a friend of Roderick, is called upon by Roderick on a stormy night. Dupin is here to hear Rodericks’ confession, which is basically the series of all the Poe tales that we get to see in the series. Madeline, Roderick’s twin sister, doesn’t appear initially, but it is eventually revealed that Roderick has killed her and gouged out her eyes, in an attempt to make her immortal. However, Madeline is not dead yet, and she eventually kills her brother in anguish, in front of the narrator (in the story) and Dupin (in the series).
The core of the story is kept the same, and themes of insanity, love, and bonding between twins are explored in the series, which makes it a great adaptation of a rather difficult-to-adapt short story. And by bringing other works and characters of Poe into the mix, Flanagan has only given a fitting tribute to the original master of American horror literature.