The Fall of the House of Usher (1928 American film)

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For the 1928 Jean Epstein version of Fall of the House of Usher, see The Fall of the House of Usher (1928 French film)
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher1928filmshot.png
A scene from the short film
Directed by James Sibley Watson
Melville Webber
Produced byFilm Guild
Written by Edgar Allan Poe (story)
Melville Webber (screenplay) [1]
StarringHerbert Stern
Hildegarde Watson
Melville Webber
Music by Alec Wilder
CinematographyJames Sibley Watson
Melville Webber
Release date
  • 1928 (1928)
Running time
13 min.
CountryUnited States
Languages Silent film
English intertitles

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) is a short silent horror film adaptation of the 1839 short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. The movie was co-directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, and starred Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, and Melville Webber (who also wrote the screenplay). [1] It tells the story of a brother and sister who live under a family curse. An avant-garde experimental film running only 13 minutes, [1] the visual element predominates, including shots through prisms to create weird optical distortion. [2] There is no dialogue in the film, though one sequence features letters written in the air moving across the screen.


A music score was written in 1959 for the film by the directors' friend, composer Alec Wilder. His 1959 score was his second attempt (after the score for winds, brass and percussion which he did for them originally in 1929), and he composed it for a recording of the New York Woodwind Quintet and a percussionist, conducted by Leon Barzin. The film and the 1959 score were later synched together by James Sibley Watson, and this was the version that was placed in the National Film Registry in 2000. Various new scores have been composed to accompany the film, including American composer Jean Hasse's version (2010) for the UK ensemble Counterpoise (violin, trumpet, saxophone, piano), this version available to view on YouTube.


A traveller arrives at the desolate Usher mansion to find that the sibling inhabitants, Roderick and Madeline Usher, are living under a mysterious family curse: Roderick's senses have become painfully acute, while Madeline continues to get weaker with time. When Madeline apparently dies, Roderick has her buried in the family vault, not realizing she is merely in a catatonic state. Madeline awakens in her tomb, and realizing she has been buried alive, descends into madness as she escapes her coffin and seeks revenge.



Film historian Troy Howarth comments: "The use of superimpositions, canted angles and tracking shots combine to create a sense of delirium....(the film) jettisons any pretense of plot and character and focuses instead on the presentation of Expressionistic visual effects. The actors have little opportunity to make much of an impression, and ultimately the film is a minor footnote in the canon of Edgar Allan Poe." [1]


In 2000, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. [3] [4]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era. Midnight Marquee Press. p. 323. ISBN   978-1936168-68-2.
  2. Smith, Don G. The Poe Cinema: A Critical Filmography. McFarland & Company, 1999. pp. 5758 ISBN   0-7864-1703-X
  3. "Librarian of Congress Names 25 More Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  4. "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved June 16, 2020.