By Bob Grimm
It’s been a long time since I’ve read the works of Edgar Allan Poe, back in my high school and college days—so long that I forgot just how messed up and morbid his stuff could be.
Director-producer Mike Flanagan hasn’t forgotten, as evidenced in his scary, twisted, modern take on Poe in The Fall of the House of Usher, another great horror series from the man who gave us Midnight Mass and The Haunting of Hill House.
Flanagan takes the works of Poe and weaves them into a story about modern business greed, the opioid crisis and things that are simply freaky and scary. The eight episodes, most titled after the works of Poe, aren’t thorough retellings of Poe’s stories, but his spirit runs throughout them—and when characters, especially Bruce Greenwood’s Trump-like Roderick Usher, quote Poe directly, it’s a spectacular thing.
Greenwood’s Usher is at the center of this gothic universe, as the series deals with his pharmaceutical empire, his six kids and their odd deaths. Roderick calls his old nemesis, C. Auguste Dupin, to his dilapidated childhood home for a sort of confession: Roderick has just lost all of six children, who died within weeks of each other, and he’s going to tell Auguste the whole story, starting in the ’50s, about how he wound up in this perilous place.
The eight episodes take place in two timelines—one in 2023, where Roderick and Auguste are conferring, and the other depicting a younger Roderick (Zach Gilford as a young man, and Graham Verchere as a teen) and twin-sister Madeline (played younger by Willa Fitzgerald and Lulu Wilson, and in the present by Mary McDonnell) throughout the traumas of their youth and young adulthood. The twins started out virtuous, but their deeds became more treacherous as the years went by.
The supporting cast is excellent, including Carla Gugino as Verna, a seemingly ageless woman who plays a part in nearly everything that happens. Henry Thomas, finding a nice secondary career for himself in Flanagan projects, is superb as Frederick, the eldest, and seemingly nicest, of the Usher siblings (until, well, he isn’t). Mark Hamill distinguishes himself as Arthur Pym, a grizzly henchman for Roderick and his drug empire. It’s perhaps the best acting Hamill has done outside of the Star Wars franchise.
Poe’s works, including “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Telltale Heart” and, of course, “The Raven,” appear in delightfully horrific ways. Flanagan, who co-wrote the scripts, has many original ideas and themes at play here, and they all tie together neatly in the end as a wonderfully sick tribute to the legendary Poe.
The Fall of the House of Usher is now streaming on Netflix.