a blogumn by Ryan Dixon

In Which The Stepfather Arrives, Usher Falls and Cleveland Still Sucks


Choosing Between The Stepfather and The Fall of the House of Usher

stepfather_1sht-336x500As I see it, if you’re in the mood for a gothic and gory tale of severe family dysfunction and death, you can either go to your local cinema, fork over ten bucks or so and see the newly released remake of The Stepfather or celebrate the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth by reading “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

While the original Stepfather was a deserving cult hit, this new version looks to offer very little of redeeming value except for the welcome presence of Sela Ward, a personal favorite since her days playing the rambunctious free spirit “Teddy Reid” on the very-much-missed television show Sisters. On the other hand, “Usher” is short, freely available and considered by most critics  a masterpiece of horror, despite the fact that Sela Ward is not involved.

For those of you who choose to curl up with “Usher“*, it will be apparent from the first sentence that the specter of familial tragedy hangs over the story like a thick, gag-inducing L.A. haze. And this shouldn’t be a surprise since the Raven of Tragedy came not-so-gently rapping at Edgar Allan Poe’s chamber door even in the earliest years of his life.

silawest_stuttle_HouseofUsherSmall500In 1809, the year he was born, Poe’s father, David performed the lead role in King Lear. A year later he would abandon the family and, in 1811, Poe’s mother Elizabeth died of consumption (the same disease that would snatch Poe’s young wife from the land of living in 1845). After his mother’s death, young Edgar was sent to a horrific foster family right out of Dickens and his despair slowly began to morph into a variety of mental maladies that would haunt him throughout his entire life.

Unlike the eponymous Stepfather, whose psychosis endows him with the ability to work out his domestic troubles through murder, Poe’s own neurological disintegration eventually allowed him to resurrect within the baroque sentences of “Usher’s” pages the dark, hazy memories of his first two years on the planet and the residual effects of being born in a household of actor parents.

Imagine then, an adult Poe conjuring up, in a opiate fueled state of delirium, phantasmagorical images of his long-lost father performing King Lear; kissing his infant son goodbye, taking the stage night after night in the guise of the supreme figure of failed fatherhood and descending into a madness and death, only to return to life and sanity as the curtain falls, then returning home, until the night he didn’t.

Much like how Lear’s exiling Cordelia is the engine that drives all the other tragic events in Shakespeare’s play, the ultimate tragedy of his parent’s theatrical double lives was the élan vital of Poe’s dramatic imagination and “The Fall of the House of Usher” is its literary apotheosis.

Everything in the story from the Madeline and Usher relationship to the house itself becomes living physical and mental embodiments of familial death and rebirth. When the decrepit grotesque form of the resurrected Madeline stands facing Roderick at the door, it’s as if Poe is giving his mother a final curtain call to enact everlasting, eternal revenge against the father and husband who abandoned them.

In the end though, “Usher” was a failed familial exorcism. While writing the story in 1850, Poe knew that if his illness — brought about by his lineage, upbringing, and in no small part by the large quantities of alcohol he consumed — was exposed to the public there would be no way he could continue his life and work. But the corpuscular decay continued and his drinking reached its zenith in 1840, one year after “Usher’s” completion, when he was fired from his job as an editor. Nine years later, a drugged and deranged Poe would take his final, wobbly bow and exit off this world’s stage forever.

* For those of you who haven’t read the story, here’s the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes:

  • Unnamed narrator arrives to house of his friend Roderick Usher, whose sister passed away two weeks previously and is entombed in the family crypt.
  • Strange shit begins to happen.
  • Roderick gets worried.
  • Even stranger shit begins to happen.
  • Roderick gets even more worried.
  • Roderick confesses that his sister was entombed alive. His sister bursts through the door and dies. Roderick dies of shock.
  • The narrator gets the f*ck out just in time to watch the house of Usher fall.


Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

I bet Cleveland didn't win this 1954 game either. Photo Credit: ClevelandSGS

I bet Cleveland didn't win this 1954 game either. Photo Credit: ClevelandSGS

The nice thing about football season is that when I’m at a loss as to what to include into this blogumn, I can just plug in a Steelers game and I’ll be good to go. Last weekend the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the very unmajestic Detroit Lions and now the 3-2 defending Super Bowl Champions welcome the Cleveland Browns to Heinz Field.

There have been more words dedicated to making fun of the city Cleveland (and their football team) than have been used to analyze the Bible, so I’m not going to pile on. However, for those unfamiliar with this classic football rivalry, let me recap its recent history:

Over this past decade the Washington Generals have given the Harlem Globetrotters more trouble than the Cleveland Browns have given to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quite simply, the Cleveland Browns haven’t been relevant since Howard the Duck arrived there.

Since I promised to refrain from any overt Cleveland bashing, I figured I’d let other people do it for me. Here is a brief sampling of the videos I discovered after searching Youtube with the keywords “Cleveland Sucks”:

The Rock:

God Hates Cleveland Sports:

Cleveland Sucks Rap:

Dark Days of Cleveland Browns:

You’re Pitiful:

Browns Suck:

The Cleveland Curse:

Browns 2007:

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