Not surprisingly, Netflix has put little effort into assembling a lineup of horror movies for Halloween. Aside from the generally reviled Elm Street remake and a handful of Final Destination movies, the streaming giant seems disinterested in spooky season. Thankfully Mike Flanagan is back for what’s as close to a Netflix Halloween tradition as we can hope. Following up on his other critically-acclaimed Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass, Flanagan returns with his take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Flanagan has shown a knack for putting moderns spins on classic tales. And the eight-part series looks to have plenty of references to Poe’s works. Its first episode, A Midnight Dreary, introduces us to the ruthless pharmaceutical giant Roderick Usher and his vile family.
A Midnight Dreary Wastes Little Time Establishing The Driving Narrative
Mike Flanagan wastes little time setting stakes for The Fall of the House of Usher’s first episode, A Midnight Dreary. In the opening moments, Flanagan introduces us to the narrator, ultra-rich Big Pharma CEO, Roderick Usher. Tapping into a classic horror narrative structure, we start at the end – or close to it – with Usher burying three of his adult children. In a voice-over, Usher informs us he’s actually buried all six of children in the last two weeks. During the church ceremony, Usher catches just a momentary glance of a woman looking down from a balcony, wearing a raven’s mask. It’s just one bit of early storytelling teasing that Usher may be an unreliable narrator.
Yes, Flanagan drops several references to Poe’s classic works while also contemporizing The Fall of the House of Usher.
For the remainder of the episode, A Midnight Dreary skips back and forth through time, introducing us to Usher’s largely vile family and his principal antagonist, an Assistant District Attorney named Charles Auguste Dupin. Yes, Flanagan drops several references to Poe’s classic works while also contemporizing The Fall of the House of Usher. And the conflict that seemingly drives Usher’s narration is no less than 73 criminal charges against the Roderick family and their pharmaceutical company. The death of his children, however, prompts Usher to invite Dupin to his crumbling childhood home where he promises to confess to everything on one condition – Dupin must listen to his life story, hence the existence of the mini-series.
A Midnight Dreary Introduces Us to The House of Usher
From this point onward, A Midnight Dreary spends the rest of its runtime doing two things. One streamline of the episode spends time introducing us to each of Roderick Usher’s children – both legitimate and illegitimate. Assistant District Attorney Lupin sets the introductions in motion with a surprise courtroom announcement. Apparently, Lupin has a surprise witness – a mole in the Usher family – whose prepared to testify. Not much turns up in the episode to give us any idea who, if anyone, is in fact feeding the state information. But a cast of mostly regular Flanagan collaborators – from Henry’s Thomas incompetent Frederick Usher to Samantha Sloyan’s power hungry daughter, Tamerlane Usher – give us a good idea what to expect from the Usher children. Only T’Nia Miller’s ‘Victoria’ – one of Roderick’s children out of wedlock – seems like a somewhat decent person.
Apparently, Lupin has a surprise witness – a mole in the Usher family – whose prepared to testify.
For the rest of A Midnight Dreary, The Fall of the House of Usher shows us bits of Roderick Usher’s past. As children, Roderick and sister Madeline were raised by their devoutly religious mother, Eliza. A secretary for pharmaceutical head William Longfellow, Eliza forbids her children from visiting the Longfellow house, thus implying he’s secretly their father. When Eliza later becomes deathly ill, she refuses any medical help, seemingly dying in her own bed. The children bury their mother in the backyard, which ends about as badly as one might expect. In on the episode’s best pure horror moments, Eliza digs herself out from the ground marches to Longfellow’s home where she strangles him to death.
A Midnight Dreary Introduces Several Lingering Questions
Of course, A Midnight Dreary introduces several lingering mysteries. Aside from the identity of the mole – and what killed the Usher children – Flanagan leaves us with one last past scene. On New Year’s Eve 1979, Roderick and sister Madeline turn up in a small bar dressed for a big party. The only reason they’ve stopped at a local dive – to establish an alibi for something truly awful. It’s a past scene that also introduces us to Carla Guigno’s Verna, the bartender whose face has popped up in other quick flashbacks. What’s Verna’s importance to the story? And what did Roderick and Madeline do on New Year’s Eve 1979? Those are just a handful of questions that should keep audiences tuning in.
What’s Verna’s importance to the story? And what did Roderick and Madeline do on New Year’s Eve 1979?
By the episode’s conclusion, Roderick Usher collapses onto the sidewalk outside the church. Just above him, perched on a wrought-iron gate, a raven looks down on him as Usher repeats the same line over and over: It’s time. Not a bad way to transition into the next seven episodes that comprise The Fall of the House of Usher. Oh, and two other interesting tidbits turn up in A Midnight Dreary. Madeline insists that only one doctor can see her brother. And when Roderick meets with Dupin, he makes an offhand remark that Madeline is just down in the basement, which can’t be good.
The Fall of the House of Usher Promises to Mix the Contemporary with Classic Gothic Horror
As far as opening episodes go, A Midnight Dreary does a good job building anticipation for what’s to come while serving up entertainment in its own right. Maybe it’s a bit light on scares. One scene of a darkly lit figure lurking in the background reminds audiences of Flanagan’s apt eye for horror. Moreover, The Fall of the House of Usher seeps itself in old-school horror aesthetics. In addition to its numerous tips of the hat to Poe, Flanagan gives us everything from crumbling Gothic family homes to dark and stormy nights. An amazing cast of regular Flanagan collaborators promise to add some bite to the dark, snarky humor permeating the first episode.