17 Disturbing Edgar Allan Poe Easter Eggs in “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated screen adaptation “The Fall of the House of Usher” is finally here, just in time for Halloween. The limited Netflix series is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s eponymous 1939 short story but takes many more creative liberties as far as text-to-TV adaptations go, and it’s safe to say all the bold choices pay off splendidly in this case. Since its Oct. 12 release on the streamer, the eight-part gothic fictional drama has garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, drawing an impressive 7.9 million views in its first week of streaming, according to Variety.
However, it’s worth noting that Flanagan’s dark, twisted take on Poe’s bodies of work isn’t restricted to the titular piece by the 19th-century Gothic fictional genius. In fact, the Netflix iteration deftly taps into the many archival pieces of Poe to reimagine – with occasional rehashes – the subversive and gory tale of the infamous fictional Usher clan. Steeped in psychological terror, the overarching story, along with its many individual character arcs and plot points, mines more than a dozen literature pieces penned by Poe to create something truly original by expanding on the source materials. But that’s not the only way the show creators pay homage to Poe’s intricately unique and innovative literary legacy. Plenty of clever references and Easter eggs are sprinkled across the eight episodes as a love letter dedicated to the rich tapestry of one of the greatest literary giants.
Whether it’s a direct quotation culled from his poetic writings, a nod to his personal life, or a subtle usage of imagery and dark prophecies prominent through Poe’s literature, we’ve rounded up all interesting Poe references we spotted in “The Fall of the House of Usher” ahead. Read on to learn all about the cryptic hints in Poe’s work you might’ve missed during your first watch of the latest supernatural drama – because there are so many.
Each Episode Is Based on a Different Edgar Allan Poe Work
As you might have noticed from the episode titles, each chapter is named after a different work of Poe that informs its corresponding central plot. For instance, the premiere episode and the season finale, which bookend and bridge the present and past lives of the Usher siblings, Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline (Mary McDonnell), are called “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Raven.” (We’ll get to the remaining six episodes in detail in a bit.)
Every Character Name Is Derived From Various Edgar Allan Poe Pieces
While Roderick and Madeline Usher‘s names are directly taken from the titular short story by Poe, everyone else’s names – and we mean everyone – have also originated from the mind of Poe, albeit picked from a wide range of fictional stories and poems. Most of the six Usher siblings get their peculiar names from the particular Poe source materials that inspired their character journeys (more on that ahead).
The writers even made sure to pay attention to details when it came to naming the side characters. For instance, the Usher family PR powerhouse Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel) sheds a spotlight on a subtle nod to “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” in a brief moment in episode three, when she expresses exasperation at her assistant Toby (Igby Rigney). “Damn it, Toby! Toby, damnit,” she yells, the second time echoing the character named Toby Dammit from the 1850 Poe story. Similarly, C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly), the assistant US attorney, is a recurrent investigator featured in Poe’s many works over the years, including “The Murder in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.”
Vic’s (T’Nia Miller) partner and the surgeon, Dr. Alessandra Ruiz (Paola Núñez), also has a character’s name that appeared in an 1835 play written by Poe, “Politician.” Similarly, Tamerlane Usher’s (Samantha Sloyan) husband and fitness guru William T. Wilson’s name has been picked from an 1839 short story by Poe, “William Wilson.”
Many Edgar Allan Poe Poems Are Recited in the Show
The series pays tribute to Poe’s timeless poetry at several points in the story, reciting his verses verbatim from his memorable catalog. For instance, the opening moment of the drama shows the priest reading aloud a sermon as the family send off their last three offspring (Vic, Tam, and Freddie) in a joint service. The sermon in question seamlessly distills two of Poe’s poems (“For Annie” and “Spirits of the Dead”) as well as two of his stories (“The Premature Burial” and “The Imp of the Perverse”), the latter two of which are explored further in the episodes that follow. In episode seven, Verna also utters the verses of “The City in the Sea” to Madeline, while Roderick speaks aloud “The Raven” in parts as he works his way through his confession to Auguste.
Edgar Allan Poe's Personal Life Also Lends Many Details to the TV Adaptation
The writers of “The Fall of the House of Usher” have incorporated several elements from Poe’s real life into the show as an admiration borrow. Roderick and Madeline’s mother is named Eliza (Annabeth Gish), which also happens to be the name of Poe’s mother. Other hard-to-spot Easter eggs include house numbers that are relevant to Poe. In the flashback scenes, the childhood home has the house number “1849,” which happens to be the year Poe died. Their full address appears on Verna’s pseudo persona Pamela Clemm’s ID, reading “1849, Reynolds Street,” which further serves as another nod to Poe’s last moments. It’s fabled that the writer kept repeating the name “Reynolds” in a state of delirium right before he passed away. However, what exactly that means remains a mystery all these years later. Furthermore, Clemm was the maiden name of Poe’s wife and first cousin, Virginia Poe, whom he married when she was only 13 while he was a 27-year-old.
Similarly, the house of William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet), the former CEO of Fortunato, has the number “2640” affixed to it, a swift nod to the home address where Poe lived in his final years – 2640 Grand Concourse, The Bronx.
Additionally, a few of the characters’ names are real-life people Poe knew. The judge overseeing the present-day trial against the Usher family is named John Neal (Nicholas Lea), which was the name of the critic who helped put Poe on the map. On the other hand, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow inspired Mr. Longfellow’s name. He was a fellow writer whom Poe accused of rehashing his original work.
Verna Personifies the Raven
The raven imagery is prevalent throughout the series, and Verna, the shapeshifting supernatural entity doling out karmic justice, is but an anagram for “Raven.” In episode three, when Verna takes on the guise of a night security guard at the RUE testing facility, her ID badge reads her name as Le Bon, a winking nod to the protagonist of Poe’s 1832 short story “Bon Bon.”
In an Instagram post, the series’s production designer Laurin Kelsey also revealed that the bar in the 1979 New Year’s Eve flashback where Roderick and Madeline first meet Verna is chock-full of Easter eggs referencing Poe’s sources. Behind the bar counter, there are stained glasses with icons from various Poe stories, including “The Black Cat,” “Eldorado,” “Metzengerstein,” and “The Raven.” A framed picture of Poe also makes it into the shot, along with the “Oculus” mirror from Flanagan’s 2013 horror mystery film.
Arthur Pym's Story Borrows Several Elements From "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket"
The Usher family fixer, Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), is a man of mysterious past who gets his name from an 1838 novel by Poe, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” Though the original story echoes the same themes of rough survival circumstances, on the show, it’s modernized in the context of the Transglobe Expedition that Arthur was a part of. In the novel, the titular character gets stranded at sea while on a whaling ship and has to fend for himself. The whaling vessel in question is actually named “The Grampus,” which is Lenore’s (Kyliegh Curran) nickname for her grandfather Roderick on the show. It’s also alluded to in episode two, when Lenore makes a wooden ship in a bottle, and her father, Freddie (Henry Thomas), suggests she name it “The Grampus.”
At another point in the series, Arthur cheekily says he’s “having Richard Parker for dinner,” which, in the original source material, was the name of the character who was cannibalized by his fellow sailors, including, you guessed it, Arthur Pym.
The highly addictive painkiller that helps Fortunato build a billion-dollar empire is called Ligodone on the show. The name is supposedly derived from Poe’s 1838 short story “Ligeia.” However, Ligodone could very well have been inspired by the real-life opium laudanum, which Poe tried to overdose on in the year prior to his death. The show also reveals the name of the scientist who came up with Ligodone to be Metzer, which is short for “Metzengerstein,” a likely allusion to Poe’s first published story that came out in 1832.
Lenore's Origin Lies in "The Raven" and "Lenore"
It’s fitting that Poe’s “The Raven” is recited by Roderick in a voice-over as he mourns the death of his beloved granddaughter, Lenore. In the poem, the narrator grieves over the lost love of his life, also named Lenore, but that wasn’t the first time the name Lenore was used in Poe’s work. In fact, the name dates back to the 1843 poem “Lenore,” which touches on themes of loss and sorrowful mourning as the titular woman who arrives in heaven after her untimely demise, much like the onscreen Lenore on the show. Another detail connecting Flanagan’s version of Lenore to Poe’s sources are the AI-generated texts that Roderick keeps receiving throughout his final night, each a jumbled-up variation of the word “Nevermore,” which is echoed throughout “The Raven.”
"The Black Cat" Inspired Leo's Brutal Demise, but With a Twist
The 1843 short story “The Black Cat” follows a drunkard who, blinded by a violent fit, kills his wife’s pet cat. Though he replaces the cat with a similar-looking feline, he again inches toward hurting the cat. When hindered by his wife, he ends up killing her instead. He hides his wife’s dead body behind the wall, which doesn’t last long, as the police trace it once they hear a cat’s meows coming from inside the walls. Though Flanagan’s version of “The Black Cat” includes a vicious cat in the form of Verna, Leo’s (Rahul Kohli) ending differs vastly. He thankfully doesn’t murder his boyfriend, Julius (Daniel Jun), but he does end up killing Julius’s pet cat, Pluto, while in a stupor under the influence. Even though he quickly replaces Pluto, he’s driven to insanity by the seemingly psychotic cat that keeps physically agonizing him. In the end, he swings his hammer off the balcony in an attempt to get rid of the cat but accidentally ends up plummeting to his death.
Perry and "The Masque of the Red Death"
Prospero “Perry” Usher‘s (Sauriyan Sapkota) story arc resembles an 1842 short story by Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death.” In the original story, Prince Prospero invites a group of noblemen to a masquerade ball in his castle while a plague called the Red Death is at its peak. However, the elite group are wiped out once a mysterious figure cloaked in red (the Red Death) enters the venue. In the Netflix series, the event that Perry invites his select few privileged guests to is a rave orgy at a condemned testing site for Fortunato. Much like the Red Death, the figure that appears in this iteration is Verna, who’s there to give him a final warning that unfortunately goes unheeded.
As an added touch, the passages from “The Masque of the Red Death” are scrawled across the walls of the building, as shared by the production designer Laurin Kelsey on her.
Madeline's Fascination With Immortality Harkens Back to "Some Words With a Mummy"
In Poe’s 1835 satirical short story “Some Words With a Mummy,” he discusses Ancient Egypt and its customs, told by a revived mummy. Madeline is just as fascinated by immortality and has a known fondness for the Ancient Egyptian rituals. So much so that Roderick, in episode eight, gives her the send-off he thought she would’ve liked. He uses the artifacts Madeline collected for her “Immortal Collection” and replaces her eyes with sapphires, much like the Egyptian Queen Twosret. But that isn’t enough to lay Madeline to rest, as she springs back up and keeps rummaging in the basement of their childhood home to find a way out. Her “revival” is similar to her mother, Eliza, in the show, who similarly digs back out of her grave in episode one. This, again, originates from Poe’s 1844 short story “The Premature Burial” and poetically brings it full circle.
"The Cask of Amontillado" Spells Out Rufus Griswold's Grim Ending
Poe’s 1846 short story “The Cask of Amontillado” seals the torturous end of the former Fortunato CEO, Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco), at the hands of the siblings Roderick and Madeline, who drug him and brick him inside a wall, alive. It’s worth noting that the spiked sherry Madeline offers to Griswold is labeled “Amontillado” in a foreshadowing moment, with “Eldorado” (another poem by Poe) scribbled beneath it. Interestingly enough, the name of the protagonist who dies in the original story by Poe is called Fortunato. Griswold is also wearing a jester costume at the time of his entombing, which haunts Roderick in many instances, as does the sound of the jingling bells stitched on it. This costume is a reference to an 1849 short story by Poe, titled “Hop-Frog,” in which a court jester exacts revenge on his ruthless and abusive king by murdering him, which tracks perfectly in the show’s context as well.
Camille L'Espanaye Meets a Similar Fate in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
In the 1841 “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” C. Auguste Dupin, a detective, investigates the murders of two mother-daughter victims, which, it turns out, were caused by a runaway orangutan. Camille L’Espanaye is the name of the daughter in the original story, and she suffers a similar fate as her onscreen counterpart on the show, who’s ripped apart by a chimpanzee pumped on adrenaline as she visits the R.U.E. – the Roderick Usher Experimental – a subsidiary of Fortunato Pharmaceuticals where animal medical testings are conducted.
Tam's Story Mashes Up "Tamerlane" and "The Gold-Bug"
Tamerlane Usher‘s name comes from the title of an 1827 poem by Poe, called “Tamerlane,” which explores the themes of loss and regret over giving up the love of one’s life, which parallels Tam’s fixation with success and work, as she pushes aside her husband, Bill, in the process. The golden scarab logo of Tam’s wellness and health company, Goldbug, is taken from another Poe source, the 1843 short story “The Gold-Bug.” Interestingly enough, Flanagan flips the central subject of “William Wilson,” from which Tam’s husband, Bill, gets his name. In the series, instead of Bill, it’s Tam who suffers psychologically, as she appears to be haunted by her look-alike, also played by Verna.
Morelle's Torturous Treatment Echoes "Berenice"'s Storyline
While Morelle (Crystal Balint) gets her name from an 1835 short story, “Morella,” her character’s journey is akin to the one shown in “Berenice.” In the latter, Poe paints a disturbing horror story of a man who rips out the teeth of his betrothed following her burial. Freddie brings Morelle back home after she survives the third-degree acid burns all over her body, having attended Perry’s orgy in episode two. As his increasingly dangerous coke addiction impairs his judgment, he starts drugging Morelle with a paralytic nightshade to torture her. In one of the most disturbing scenes, he takes pliers and rips out all of Morelle’s teeth, which is quite similar to the shocking revelation of “Berenice.”
Freddie's Gruesome Death Is Foreshadowed in "The Pit and the Pendulum"
The eldest son of the Usher family, Frederick or Freddie, gets sentenced to one of the most bone-chilling deaths. In the 1842 short story “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the protagonist, trapped in a cell during the Spanish Inquisition, narrowly escapes a similar death by a slowly lowering and swinging edge of a pendulum. But Freddie isn’t so lucky in Flanagan’s iteration. He faces harsher consequences by Verna owing to his increasingly disturbing treatment of his wife, Morelle. In the opening moments of episode seven, we see a young Freddie transfixed by a clock with a cat’s tail for a pendulum, which is just another piece of slow-burn foreshadowing on Flanagan’s part.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" Informs Vic's Unfortunate Fate
Though Vic gets her name from “The Premature Burial,” the similarities end there. Her ultimate ending aligns with the 1843 story “The Tell-Tale Heart” instead. After Vic fails to persuade her partner and heart surgeon Alessandra to join hands with her in performing a rushed trial on a human candidate (surprise, it’s Verna again!), she angrily smashes a heavy paperweight into Alessandra’s head. Though she claims it was an accident, she doesn’t hesitate to use her dead girlfriend’s body to implant her revolutionary cardiac equipment, whose incessant chirping drives her to the brink of madness. In the original story written by Poe, the narrator kills and mutilates the body of an old man into pieces and stores them under the floorboards. But, racked with guilt and the loud thumping noises he believes to be the old man’s heartbeat, he confesses to the police as the secret and the paranoia that come with it eat away at his mental well-being.