The Big Picture
- The Fall of the House of Usher is an upcoming horror series on Netflix, adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story.
- Director Mike Flanagan has successfully adapted other literary works into TV shows, using them as inspiration rather than a direct adaptation.
- The story follows an unnamed narrator visiting his friend Roderick Usher, who lives in a gloomy and decaying house with his ill twin sister Madeline. The events that unfold reveal horrifying secrets and result in the demise of the Usher bloodline.
Horror director Mike Flanagan‘s newest project for Netflix, The Fall of the House of Usher, is set to hit the streaming service on October 12th. Expectations are high for the adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s 1839 short story, given how Flanagan successfully adapted The Haunting of Hill House, based on the Shirley Jackson novella, and Henry James‘ The Turn of the Screw as The Haunting of Bly Manor for Netflix. In both of those projects, Flanagan deftly used the source material as inspiration as opposed to a verbatim adaptation, a wise creative choice that allowed for the stories to be played out over multiple episodes, and therefore the freedom to explore the themes that lay under the horrors. This is the same direction Flanagan is taking with The Fall of the House of Usher, which comes with its own challenges, given that it is a short story as opposed to a slightly larger source. Time will tell, naturally, but what we do know is that the series is only the latest in a long line of media adaptations of Poe’s library. But just what is the actual story behind Flanagan’s latest?
‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ Begins With a Visit to a Friend
Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” short story begins with an unnamed narrator who has received a letter from an old friend, Roderick Usher (played by Bruce Greenwood in Flanagan’s upcoming series), who lives in a secluded location across the country. In the letter, Roderick, in the throes of an unspecified illness, implores the narrator for his help. The story begins as the narrator arrives at the Usher house, having traveled many miles to help his friend. As he walks towards the house, the narrator makes note of the gloomy, decaying grounds, which even appear to have infected the house itself. He.notices a thin crack, one that begins on the rooftop, goes down the front of the house, and into the nearby lake. Unnerved by the evil atmosphere, he enters the house and is greeted by Roderick. As they talk, Roderick reveals the strange symptoms he is experiencing, which includes his senses becoming acute, meaning there are certain textures he can’t wear, certain foods he cannot eat, and even the faintest of lights bother his eyes. Furthermore, Roderick’s behavior swings drastically from joyful to melancholic, and he is wracked with a perpetual fear of something terrible forthcoming.
Roderick’s twin sister, Madeline, is also ill, and lately has been prone to going into deathlike trances as her body falls into an unnatural rigidity. As Roderick is explaining Madeline’s illness, the narrator sees her walk through the room, a ghostly sight that suggests the narrator won’t see her alive again. The narrator takes notice of Roderick’s many paintings, impressed by his friend’s artistic talent. He then attempts to lighten the darkness that has befallen Roderick by reading with him and listening to Roderick’s musical compositions, one of which is called “The Haunted Palace” (fun fact: “The Haunted Palace” is a poem by Poe that was published separately in April 1839 before being incorporated in the story). The diversion is short-lived, as Roderick shares with the narrator how he believes the house to be alive, a byproduct of the vegetation and masonry around it. He also believes that, as with any great haunted house story, the house has some control over those who live in it, and that his fate — and the fate of the Usher bloodline as a result — is intrinsically tied to the house itself.
Madeline’s Death Brings About Horror in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
After a number of days, Roderick announces that Madeline (played by Mary McDonnell in the upcoming Flanagan series) has died, and seeks the narrator’s help in placing her body in a tomb — a small, damp, dungeon-like vault — beneath the house. After setting the coffin down, they open the lid, and the narrator sees that Madeline is smiling, and her cheeks are rosy, almost as if she were still alive. In the days following her death, Roderick begins acting unnaturally. He is enveloped with madness and hysteria, neglecting his work, and wanders around the house, staring vacantly at nothing in particular. This new behavior shakes the narrator to his core, filling him with a dread that causes him to suffer insomnia. Then late one night, Roderick goes into the narrator’s room, and after a few moments of silence he aks, “And you have not seen it?” With that, he opens the window and reveals to the narrator that the house, the grounds, everything is enveloped in a strange, glowing cloud. Puzzled, the narrator chalks it up to some sort of electrical phenomena produced by a nearby storm.
The narrator tries to calm Roderick down by reading from a medieval romance, The Mad Trist. It’s the story of a knight by the name of Ethelred, who escapes an oncoming storm by breaking into a hermit’s dwelling. Only it’s more than it appears on the outside, as Ethelred finds a palace of gold guarded by a dragon. Ethelred swings his mace at the beast, who dies with an ear-piercing shriek. Then, as he goes to take a shiny shield off the wall, it falls to the ground, clattering loudly. Frighteningly, the sounds that the narrator describes from the book reverberate throughout the house of Usher, with a loud cracking that accompanies the knight’s entry into the home, a loud shriek that mirrors the death scream of the dragon, and an ominous, metallic clanging that rings just as the narrator reads about the shield hitting the ground.
The narrator stops reading as he notices that Roderick is rocking in his chair, muttering to himself. As the narrator nears Roderick, he begins to make out what it is that Roderick is saying. He learns that Roderick has been hearing sounds for days now, and that the sounds are from Madeline… who they buried alive. Roderick’s confessions horrify the narrator, who backs away. Just then, Roderick jumps up and yells, “Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!” With that, the door swings open to reveal Madeline, her white nightgown awash with her blood. She attacks Roderick, and by the time they hit the floor, both are dead. The narrator immediately flees the house, and as he leaves the grounds, he turns around to see the house rendered in two along the crack he noticed before, and as the two halves sink into the black lake, a ghastly scream is heard, the death cry of the House of Usher.
It won’t be long until we see just how closely Flanagan’s new series will follow Poe’s original story, but if there is one thing Flanagan is known for, it’s for turning classic literary works into bone-chilling TV masterpieces. Read up on everything we know so far about Flanagan’s Fall of the House of Usher here, from the cast and crew to plot details.