Public Domain Movie: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Horror Movie Review

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

This silent movie version of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale The Fall of the House of Usher has a runtime of just thirteen minutes and, although only short, the movie offers an interesting interpretation of the story.

Viewers who are already familiar with Poe’s story will probably have a better understanding of what is going on, but even those who have never read The Fall of the House of Usher should still enjoy this little slice of cinematic history.

The movie has a surreal feel to it and some interesting effects are created by tilting of the camera, which is just one of many ways used to offers a distorted picture of reality in the House of Usher.

One of the best scenes occurs about four minutes into the movie. Looking very dazed and confused, Madeline Usher is wandering the corridors and stairways of the house. She appears to be almost sleepwalking.

Madeline sees a coffin leaned against the wall and, at this point, several things happen at once. Madeline slumps her shoulders and, seeming to be filled with despair, collapses in front of the casket, resting her hand against it. Meanwhile, at the top of the screen, the shadow of a hammer appears, rising and falling and obviously representative of the fact that she will soon be nailed inside the coffin. At the same time, the screen is framed to the left and the right by an overlay of some stairs. They are angled at about forty-five degrees and dropping downwards in an escalator-like fashion, possibly symbolic of Madeline being caught up in the machinations of the house. And all of this is happening under the covert scrutiny of a white-faced man (the traveller), who is dressed in black and very creepy-looking.

This version of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is filled with symbolism and it seems likely every viewer will have his or her own interpretation of what everything means but, make of it what you will, the movie is a true gem.


Additional Information

Directed by James Sibley Watson & Melville Webber

Cast

Herbert Stern … Roderick Usher
Hildegarde Watson … Madeline Usher
Melville Webber … A Traveller

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