The movie The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) is a silent horror film that delves into the eerie and macabre world of the Usher family. Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, this avant-garde adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale presents a story steeped in gothic elements and psychological terror. The film follows an unnamed traveler who arrives at the desolate Usher mansion, greeted by the sight of Roderick and Madeline Usher, siblings living under a mysterious family curse that heightens Roderick’s senses and saps Madeline’s vitality.
As the plot unfolds, the traveler witnesses the strange and unsettling events that occur within the mansion’s walls. The movie The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) portrays Roderick’s obsession with preserving his sister’s essence, which leads to her premature burial in the family vault. Madeline’s subsequent awakening and descent into madness culminate in a climactic and haunting conclusion that reflects the story’s themes of decay, fear, and the supernatural.
The film’s experimental nature is evident in its use of prismatic shots and optical distortions, creating a visually disorienting experience that mirrors the characters’ psychological disintegration.
- Herbert Stern as Roderick Usher
- Hildegarde Watson as Madeline Usher
- Melville Webber
- Friedrich Haak
- Dorothea House
The film is known for its Expressionistic visual effects, including superimpositions and canted angles.
Luis Buñuel, who was the assistant director, left the production after disagreements with the director over the interpretation of Poe’s story.
The film has been placed in the National Film Registry and has had various scores composed to accompany it, including one by New Wave musician Tom Verlaine .
“I was struck, watching the film recently on a new DVD, by how completely it engaged me. Some silent films hold you outside: You admire them, but are aware of them as a phenomenon. With “The Fall of the House of Usher,” I barely stirred during the film’s 66-minute running time. A tone, an atmosphere, was created that actually worked. As with Nosferatu, the film seemed less a fiction than the realization of some phantasmagoric alternative reality.” – 
“This film contains some striking imagery, most famously Madeline’s veil trailing from the coffin as it is rowed to its final/not-so-final resting place. I also liked the incorporating of Roderick’s musical obsession as a means of coping. We see guitar strings snapping of their own accord as he imagines the sound of nails being driven into the casket.”