Thanks to the video-pirate’s cove that is YouTube, I was able to watch last night the 1979 made-for-television version of The Fall of the House of Usher. Admittedly, the acting isn’t the greatest: Martin Landau hams it up as the hypersensitive Roderick, and Robert Hays (the protagonist Jonathan) is as wooden as the timber his character uses to reinforce the fissured façade of the Usher mansion. But Dimitra Arliss is a blood-crying, morningstar-wielding, white-haired nightmare as the resident menace Madeline. And while some of the alterations to the plot of Poe’s original story are borderline ridiculous (here the house becomes the embodiment of the Usher-cursing Devil!), the film does feature a thrilling and spectacular climax.
What really distinguishes this effort, though, is the setting. The House of Usher is an absolute Gothic marvel, replete with winding staircases, secret passages and hidden chambers, creepy portraits, copious cobwebs, and candelabras galore. This is as good as it gets in terms of Gothic mise-en-scène; Collinwood seems quaint and 1313 Mockingbird Lane looks ultra-modern by comparison.
I can remember being mesmerized as a kid watching The Fall of the House of Usher when it first aired, and I found myself surprisingly entertained seeing it again nearly forty years later. I wish more of such unabashedly, classically Gothic fare premiered on the small screen today.