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The Accolade

REVIEW: Netflix’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic short story ‘ushers’ in an intriguing horror-verse

In+the+second+episode+of+Netflixs+take+on+Edgar+Allan+Poes+gothic+short+story%2C+The+Fall+of+the+House+of+Usher%2C+an+unexpected+visitor+shows+up+to+haunt+one+of+the+children+of+main+character%2C+Roderick+Usher.+The+eight-episode+series+--+rated+TV-MA+--+was+released+Thursday%2C+Oct.+12%2C+just+in+time+for+those+looking+for+a+Halloween+treat.
Image used with permission from Eike Schroter/Netflix
In the second episode of Netflix’s take on Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” an unexpected visitor shows up to haunt one of the children of main character, Roderick Usher. The eight-episode series — rated TV-MA — was released Thursday, Oct. 12, just in time for those looking for a Halloween treat.

For Netflix subscribers looking for even gorier scenes to watch for their Halloween treat than the ones from such horror flicks as “Scream” or “Annabelle,” look no further than the recently released, eight-episode series, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Titled after Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, the adaptation from series creator Mike Flanagan (“Midnight Mass”) has only a skeletal resemblance to the original as it has kept the names of its main characters intact: twins Roderick (Bruce Greenwood, “Batman: Death in the Family”) and Madeline (Mary McDonnell, “Walking With Herb”) Usher.

Besides the dramatic change in plot, Flanagan creates a whole new “Usher”-verse, giving the brother a family of six children from previous affairs and marriages – many of their names cleverly based on Poe’s other classic works. For example, in the first two episodes viewed for this review, we are introduced to the eldest, Frederick (Henry Thomas, “Pet Sematary: Bloodlines”) based on Poe’s first published tale; Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan, “The Midnight Club”) based on the author’s poem of the same name; Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota, “The Midnight Club”) based on “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Roderick Usher’s children out of wedlock include the eldest, Victorine Lafourcade (T’Nia Miller, “The Diplomat”) from Poe’s story, “The Premature Burial; Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel, “The Wrath of Becky”) from the writer’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”; Napoleon (Rahul Kohli, “Next Exit”) from the narrator in Poe’s “The Spectacles.”

Such references to Poe’s writings deserve praise as series creator Flanagan succeeds in mixing in so many easter eggs related to the writer and the characters and plot in his works. But for those ignorant of Poe’s stories and poetry, the series creator provides enough mystery and suspense for such viewers to keep watching to see what Flanagan has to offer through the last episode.

Before going into what Flanagan presents in the first two episodes – “A Midnight Dreary” and “The Masque of the Red Death” (all but the first episode is again, intelligently named after one of Poe’s literary works) – it’s also important to remind viewers interested in a scare that the series is rated TV-MA.

Expect to hear a huge amount of profanity – on a 10-point scale, it’s a 7 – and be prepared for the director to splash six scenes of sexual content and nudity within these two episodes alone.

Even though teens today are used to a sex scene here and there from watching other Netflix series like “Fear Street Part One: 1994” and “Stranger Things,” at times, it feels unnecessary for us to see the perversion of some of Usher’s children, especially since the original story – usually read in high school English classes – never even addresses this topic. 

Which leads us to what Flanagan has set up in creating the “Usher” world (all eight episodes were released on Thursday, Oct. 12). In the first episode named after the opening line of Poe’s classic poem, “The Raven,” Roderick and Madeline Usher and the former’s teenage grandaughter Lenore (Kyliegh Curran, “Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation”) – a name that pops up in “The Raven’s” second stanza – are seen sitting in a church, attending the funeral for three of the Usher children.

Viewers then learn that Roderick Usher has a mental agitation when he begins hallucinating about a woman wearing a raven mask named Verna (Carla Gugino, “Leopard Skin”), another of the slight references to the original “Fall of the House” story. When Lenore asks what’s going on, Roderick only says, “She’s here.” 

Greenwood pulls that line off so well that it gives us a spine-chilling sensation. 

We then see a corkboard decorated with thumbtacks and several newspaper clippings, including those reporting on the deaths of all six of the Usher children as well as their family lawyer, Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill, “The Machine”). This is the office of United States attorney Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly, “I’m Charlie Walker”), who becomes the nameless first-person narrator in Poe’s version summoned to visit Roderick Usher at his mansion in Vancouver. 

Carl Lumbly plays U.S. attorney C. Auguste Dupin, who stands in front of the Usher mansion in the first episode of Netflix’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” (Image used with permission from Eike Schroter/Netflix)

Upon Dupin’s arrival, Roderick Usher proceeds to tell his visitor the backstory of his mother and father along with how he founded a company aptly named Fortunato Pharmaceuticals in reference to one of the characters in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” Then as a bonus, the mentally suffering owner of the home tells the lawyer how all of his children died. 

At the beginning of this episode, viewers get six flashbacks, including a courtroom scene in which we learn Dupin is the chief prosecutor who has charged Roderick Usher of 73 felony counts of murder.

Another reference to the past leads us to the most frightening scene, which involves someone coming back from the grave. Flanagan pulls off quite a scare with visually timed lightning strikes along with the song “Mother” by The Newton Brothers. 

In the second episode, the focus shifts to Flanagan’s adaptation of another of Poe’s classic tales, “The Masque of the Red Death.” For those who have never read this short story, it’s all about a prince named Prospero who decides to lock himself and his friends in his castle in an effort to save themselves from a plague that causes “sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.” While Prospero organizes a costume party (reminding us of the title, a “Masque”) for his guests, an unexpected visitor arrives at the end for Poe to teach the lesson that no one can escape death.

Crystal Balint plays Morella Usher (left), the wife of Frederick Usher. The woman greets her husband’s younger brother, Prospero Usher, played by Sauriyan Sapkota, at his party. (Image used with permission from Eike Schroter/Netflix)

This story allows Flanagan to set up more visually frightening scenes as the director introduces how Roderick Usher’s youngest, Prospero aka “Perry,” dies during an orgy that he’s organized. The gruesome ending of this sequence reminds “Stranger Things” fans of the season three episode titled, “Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?” when a new monster in the sewers is created from the bones and flesh of the rats inhabiting the place.

Setting aside the TV-MA material in Netflix’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” those who decide to stick with it until the eighth and final episode may end up going back to Poe to read his stories and poems, which Flanagan would deserve credit for if that was his original intent in creating the series.

With the series scoring an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and remaining at No. 3 on Netflix as of Monday, Oct. 30, it wouldn’t be surprising that Flanagan’s complete makeover of Poe’s “Fall of the House …” could usher in more modern adaptations of other famous gothic literature for the next Halloween season.

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Pricilla Escobedo, Staff Reporter
Junior Pricilla Escobedo spent her first year as a staff writer for The Accolade in her sophomore year. This year, Escobedo returns to continue improving her reporting and formatting skills and looks forward to contributing to The Accolade newsletter. She has won two Best of SNO awards for her articles. Outside of The Accolade, Escobedo participates in several clubs and is an Advancement Via Individual Determination student. She strives to be more involved in school and is a part of Link Crew this year. Escobedo hopes that the print publication of The Accolade does not lessen in popularity against online media.
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