Monday, October 26, 2009

La Chute de la maison Usher

(1928) *1/2

A traveler receives a letter asking him to visit his childhood friend, as his wife has been ill lately. The drunk guys in the bar all refuse to take him to the house of Usher, which should be a good sign that his childhood friend has become substantially creepy over the years. The traveler shows up, and his wife is indeed ill. Mr. Usher is painting a portrait of his wife, and, the more lifelike and realistic the portrait becomes, the sicker his wife becomes.

This is the third adaptation of Poe's tale I've seen this month. The biggest difference among these is how the roles of the three characters constantly change. Here' the breakdown...

The original short story:
The traveller is FRIEND to Roderick Usher who is BROTHER to Madeline Usher

1960, Vincent Price version:
Traveller is FIANCEE to Madeline Usher who is SISTER to Roderick Usher

2006, modern version:
Traveller (female this time) is EX-GIRLFRIEND to Roderick Usher who is INCESTUOUS BROTHER to Madeline Usher

1928, French version:
Traveller is FRIEND to Roderick Usher who is HUSBAND to Madeline Usher

Of all these manipulations, none successfully translate the Gothic chill of Poe's original tale to the tale. Poe's tale is short on character details - a bulk of the story is devoted to setting the stage of the house and the atmosphere around these unhappy people. Thus, the adaptations are open to translation, and while each may have some artistic merits, none make for a very good horror movie. This French film, in particular drags well past its 66 minutes. Making Roderick Usher the husband just gives him the opportunity to act out a lot of grievous wretching (shown above).

At least it was fun trying to figure out the French subtitles though.


Octopunk said...

So I guess this doesn't qualify as an example of the new wave of French shock horror then?

It sounds like adapting Poe's stuff (or at least this story) comes with the same hazard you get when trying to make an H.P. Lovecraft movie. The characters aren't fleshed out enough to fill the role of movie characters, so the filmmakers have to add stuff and usually wind up diluting the author's vision.

"Grievous wretching" sounds like "Gretchen."

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I've been concentrating on French horror this year and this movie was on the list. I'm relieved that you tackled it so I don't have to!

Are there any good Poe adaptations? I've seen a couple of turds (FU Vincent Price) but I haven't come across anything that captures the source material.

Catfreeek said...

Maybe it's just not possible Johnny.

Thanks for taking one for the team Trevor.