Mike Flanagan’s latest Netflix series, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” was released on Oct. 12 in theme with the spooky month, and for fans of the rising film creator and horror aficionado, it has been one of the most anticipated horror series in 2023. The loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “Fall of the House of Usher” pays homage to well-known Poe stories and poems, all interwoven with one another throughout the eight-episode anthology series that takes viewers on a haunted ride.
The show opens with “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd playing faintly in the background, followed by B-roll shots of a raven, a brick wall and stained glass from a cathedral. It quickly cuts to a scene of a funeral service, foreshadowing the gothic undertones, aural elements and core themes of the mini-series. True to Edgar Allan Poe, it centers around mystery, horror, the supernatural, a haunted house and elements of the macabre. Though there weren’t as many fright-inducing moments as with his previous Netflix series like “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” the storyline is sustained by the prose of Poe and Flannagan’s ability to do a story show-and-tell that doesn’t rely only on jump scares.
One of the key story spectacles is the House of Usher, which opens up in the first episode with US attorney, Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly), arriving to see Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood); a tortured-looking man in a withering house. A strong cinematic emphasis is placed on the house that is portrayed as cold, bleak and dreary-looking with empty eye-like windows as told in Poe’s short story. This image juxtaposes Dupin’s sharp suit and tie and pointed gaze as he nears the entrance of the decaying House of Usher.
Flanagan tends to work with a core of rotating ensemble of actors, similar to American Horror Story’s approach to recurring casts. This series included Carla Gugino as Lady Death Verna, Carl Lumbly as C. Auguste Lupin, Bruce Greenwood as Roderick Usher the titular character, Kate Siegel as Camile Usher, Rahul Kohli as Leo Usher, Zach Gilford as Young Roderick and Ruth Codd as Juno. The Newton brothers also returned and provided the musical score which is filled with eerie violins and mournful piano riffs, emoting a sense of dread with anticipation from the audience.
For those not familiar with Flannagan’s work, he is known for his adaptations of horror classics while also bringing his unique storytelling and visual style to the projects. His previous adaptations with Netflix include “The Haunting of Hill House,” based on the novel by Shirley Jackson and “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” based on Henry James’s gothic novella “The Turn of the Screw.” He also co-created 2022’s “The Midnight Club,” based on Christopher Pike’s teen horror novels.
Fans of horror come to the genre for fear and suspense with no consequences that end with cathartic relief. Mike Flannagan delivers with gory and melodramatic scenes rich with compelling themes centered around family, greed, madness, mortality, regret and lost love. Horror also offers fans thrilling mystery solving, and, conveniently, Edgar Allen Poe is credited for giving roots to modern-day murder mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. This might be why there are still so many questions even as the end credits roll.The series gave a compelling enough storyline that fans can come back to later and try to decipher.
The whole series is full of easter eggs such as the main antagonist, Rufus Griswold played by Michal Truco, who was Poe’s biggest enemy in real life. Another example is how “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” was Poe’s first novel, and Arthur Pym is also the name of the henchman to the Usher family. Each episode is named after one of Poe’s short stories which include: “House of Usher,” “Pit Pendulum,” “Goldbug,” “Tell-Tale Heart,” “Black Cat,” “Masque of Red Death” and “Murder In The Rue Morgue.” The one poem-based episode, “The Raven,” is the last episode of the series, and themes from the famous prose are woven into the narrative of the story.
Though the stories are immersive with brilliant monologues, the characters could have been further developed. No one really stands out except for Verna, the ethereal and sinister creature representing the grim reaper.
Over 150 years after Poe’s death, his stories and poems continue to bring in significant new readers and fans like Flannagan, who have brought his gothic chilling world to life in the 2023 film landscape.
Edgar Allen Poe’s essence in life and prose was self-destructive, melancholic and usually dressed in black. The show encapsulates this, making none of the main characters redeemable. Poe was renowned in American literature in the 1830s and 1840s, the era that gave rise to Gothic fiction literature, which most of the horror we love derives from. Poe’s work would go unrecognized until the first half of the 20th century, but now his work is revered in the writing, literature and film communities as an important influence on modern culture.