Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Ushers' modern-day fall.


Stolen from the internet
I've been a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe's writing since I was a little kid. I thought I'd told this story here before, but I couldn't find it just now in a search, so here goes: When I was in elementary school, a collection of Poe's short stories was among the paperbacks my mom bought me. I loved a whole bunch of those stories, but "The Masque of the Red Death" was my favorite. I actually read it aloud one day to a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood in our backyard. (They were all younger than me. I had to kind of explain the part about how there was nobody in the costume.)

So when I heard that Netflix was doing "The Fall of the House of Usher", I was psyched. And I'm here to tell you that this show is definitely worth watching.

This production is not a modern-day retelling of the short story; it's more of an homage to all of Poe's work. There is a "house of Usher", but it's not a mansion -- it's the crumbling two-story house with a basement where Roderick and Madeline Usher grew up. In this version, the siblings are twins; their single mother was impregnated by her boss, an utter asshole who lives in a real mansion down the street and who never claims the kids as his own. Dad owns a company called Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Eventually -- the turn of events is laid out in detail in the series -- their sperm donor dies and they gain control of the company. Then they proceed to manufacture an opiod painkiller that supposedly isn't addictive -- except, of course, it is, and lots of patients die. When the company -- and the Ushers -- are finally put on trial for their part in those deaths, they also start dying, and Roderick's six offspring are the first to go. Each one dies in a different way -- all gruesome, all with a reference to one of Poe's stories, and all orchestrated by a mysterious woman named Verna. We don't find out who she is until the last of the eight episodes, and even then, her exact identity is shrouded in mystery. Suffice it to say that the Usher twins sold their souls to some kind of demon to gain their success, and the bill has now come due.

Apparently the director, Mike Flanagan, is well known for turning out creepy stuff. I'm not much of a fan of modern-day horror, either movies or TV shows (I realize that's a weird admission, coming from someone who has written horror in her time), and so I don't think I've seen anything else he's done. But I may have to check out some of his other work now, because I really liked this series. It's a little gorier than I prefer, but none of the gore seemed gratuitous. It all made sense, given the plot.

Judging by a couple of reviews I've read of this series, I guess Flanagan uses a stable of actors in his work. I only recognized two in this show: Mary McDonnell, from the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and Mark Hamill. And I can't say I actually recognized Hamill. His portrayal of Arthur Gordon Pym, Esq. -- aka the Pym Reaper, the Usher family's lawyer -- was astonishing. If I hadn't known, going in, that it was him, I wouldn't have known who it was. That's how far from Luke Skywalker this character is.

Anyway, regardless of whether you're a fan of Poe, if you like creepy stuff, I highly recommend that you check out The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix. And if you are a fan of Poe, have fun noting all the names and situations that have been borrowed from Poe's work. Either way, you won't be disappointed.


These moments of creepy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! Blessed Samhain and happy Halloween!

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