Saturday, October 15, 2011


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, cosmological*


Directed by Hayley Cloake, the 2006 HOUSE OF USHER isn't literally true as an adaptation of the famous Poe novella "Fall of the House of Usher." However, compared to the 1989 adaptation by director Alan Birkinshaw, the Cloke version at least touches on some of the themes Poe invoked in the original "Usher."

This time the naive visitor to a modern-day Usher mansion is a young physical therapist named Jill (Izabella Miko). She receives news that an old friend, Maddy Usher, has died. Upon attending the funeral, she becomes reacquainted with Roderick, aka Rick, Usher, with whom she had a past love affair. However, apparently neither Maddy nor Rick ever told Jill much about their background. Soon Jill re-commences her love affair with Rick, even though he suffers from the disease of neurasthenia and has some odd habits-- talking to himself while he writes, seeking surcease from his hypersensitive nerves by immersing himself in an isolation tank. The Usher house also boasts a wizened old housekeeper who repeatedly warns Jill to get lost.

One online reviewer commented that Cloake's USHER felt more like suspense than horror. That's somewhat justified, in that Cloake spends about eighty percent of the film having Jill moving along dimly-lit corridors or being tormented by the housekeeper's admonitions or by her own growing suspicions. However, what keeps this film from being mere suspense is that Rick isn't just a rich oddball. Jill learns (SPOILER again) that the Usher family is obscurely cursed in that the entire line consists of twins continually giving birth to twins. This alone is enough to propel the flick into the "weird families and societies" trope, although admittedly not much overtly horrific happens throughout the story..

It's questionable as to how much Poe consciously meant to invoke the spectre of incest in his "Usher." At the very least, the image of the original Roderick and Madeleine living together in a dark old mansion suggests a potential taboo-violation. In the prose story, Roderick conveniently forgets Madeleine's tendency to experience deathlike seizures, and prematurely buries her; she then claws her way free of confinement and strangles Roderick to death. Cloake references this comeback late in the film, but without the burial-motif. Not content with aping REBECCA's mean housekeeper, this USHER also borrows from JANE EYRE, revealing at the eleventh hour that Maddy is still alive. She apparently faked her death to avoid being sucked into the curse-pattern, but her avoidance simply caused Rick to go looking for new breeding-grounds. In a denser psychological tale, the author might exploit more resemblances between Jill and Maddy, but Cloake isn't up to that task.

Aside from Isabella Miko, most of the performances are dull. The ending does have a slight twist that I for one didn't see coming.

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