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In The House of Usher, the protagonist Philip Winthrop arrives at the House of Usher to visit Madeline Usher, the woman to whom he is betrothed. Philip is greeted unusually by a servant, who then leads him to the owner of the mansion Roderick Usher. Roderick is afflicted by seemingly many ailments. He is particularly sensitive to noises and tells of how certain sounds torture him. After some time in the mansion Philip begins to learn through Roderick what is happening; the mansion is decaying, along with the line of Ushers. Madeline and Roderick are destined to die, their bodies decaying like the bannister of the staircase or the forest around them. Eventually Madeline succumbs to death and Roderick braces himself for his fate. Philip, still unsure of the truthfulness of Roderick’s story regarding Madeline’s death, continues to investigate. When he is finally ready to leave, more disturbing truths are revealed and we see a deranged and empowered Madeline attempting to kill Roderick. Suddenly the Mansion is destroyed while Philip escapes, watching the house sink into the marsh.

There is something to be said for the setting and film style of gothic horror. There are a few differences between the film and the short story by author Edgar Allen Poe, some of which contribute to the array of storytelling elements. The first and most obvious one is the subtraction of narration in the film adaptation. The original story by Poe includes first person narration, allowing us into the mind of the protagonist. This is an important element to the story, because the elements are described through a perspective, not objectively as a movie normallly would do. In contrast, viewers are not privy to the protagonist’s private thoughts, unless stated directly in the dialogue.

Dialogue is something that translates much differently on the screen. We don’t have a formulation of thoughts that we can read about, as in a narrated story. We are forced to do one of two things: either overdub dialogue of the protagonist narrating to allow us into their thoughts, or have additional expositional dialogue. Most of the time it seems that films will use the latter, opting for expositional dialogue to explain situations and feelings. This is especially true of stories that are translated into film. The House of Usher is no exception, as more dialogue is needed to explain the longer plot that Mr. Corman took liberties with.

We run into more problems as we expand the story, adding to the character development and expanding the relationships between the main characters. Unfortunately this leads to some emotional and developmental differences between the book and the movie. As an article in the New York Times states, “but even when Mr. Corman is being reasonably faithful to the stories, the rhythms seem all wrong, too stately and deliberate for the hurtling, breathless narrative style that makes Poe’s tales such intense, even deranging, reading experiences” (2012). Truly it is a different kind of story, focusing more on deep visual impact to move the audience emotionally, rather than the vaguery and darkness Poe uses to keep the audience off-kilter. “This fault isn’t unique to Mr. Corman. Poe’s work, full of murder, madness, ghosts and febrile passion, is irresistible to filmmakers because of its bold imagery and powerful emotional impact. But despite these sensational qualities Poe is not nearly as movie ready as his writing seems. The big problem is that he wrote almost exclusively in short forms, and his stories’ effects are highly concentrated” (2012).

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/movies/the-tough-job-of-adapting-edgar-allan-poe-to-film.html

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