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Unpacking the dark true stories behind The Fall of the House of Usher

Netflix's latest series from horror maestro Mike Flanagan has arrived, and here we sift fact from fiction to tell you The Fall of the House of Usher true story.

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Is Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher based on a true story? Mike Flanagan is a master of the dark and twisted, and now his final collaboration with streaming service Netflix has arrived.

The Fall of the House of Usher is being heralded as one of the best TV series from Flanagan’s career (not least in our own The Fall of the House of Usher review), and that’s high praise given that he’s the man behind Midnight Mass and The Haunting of Hill House. Certainly, it’s the best horror series of the year so far and has arrived at the perfect time for the Halloween season of pumpkins and spookiness. But what is The Fall of the House of Usher based on, and is it inspired by a true story? Join us as we delve into the origins of one of the best Netflix series of recent times.

Is The Fall of the House of Usher based on a true story?

Mike Flanagan’s new Netflix series The Fall of the House of Usher is not directly based on a true story and is instead an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional short story from 1839.

However, Poe’s story is widely thought to have been inspired by some real-life events, and additionally, some plot points from Flanagan’s Netflix series are also based on actual social issues afflicting the US and other countries today. First of all, let’s deal with the inspiration for Poe’s own story.

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The real-life influence behind Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher

Academics and Poe devotees claim that his The Fall of the House of Usher (which you can now read for free online) took inspiration from the Hezekiah Usher House, and is based on the events surrounding it.

The Hezekiah Usher House was a building on the Usher estate in modern Boston, located only a couple of blocks away from where Poe himself was born. The building, which was constructed in in the 17th century, was torn down in 1830: nine years before the publication of Poe’s story. Legend has it, when the building was brought down two bodies were found in the basement, locked in an embrace. The reason for the two bodies being there, and their identities, remains ambiguous.

While the plot of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher is fiction, it’s widely believed that his story was inspired by this Usher House and the legend surrounding it. Certainly, the dates line up, and it’s not hard to imagine Poe’s twisted imagination being ignited by the idea of these two interlocked individuals buried underneath a grand, creaking house. That does, at least in part, make its way into his story in some form and certainly features in the TV series.

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The Fall of the House of Usher’s inspiration from the opioid epidemic

A core aspect of Flanagan’s The Fall of the House of Usher which isn’t in the Poe story relates to the US opioid crisis.

In The Fall of the House of Usher, Roderick Usher’s pharmaceutical company (named Fortunato, in a sneaky Poe reference) manufactures and distributes an opioid called Ligadone which is marketed as none addictive.

Actually, though, Ligadone is addictive, and deadly, and has created a new wave of the opioid epidemic and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths while making the Usher’s one of the richest families in the country. Ring any bells?

Clearly, for his story, Flanagan has taken inspiration not just from Poe but from the real-life opioid crisis in America and the role of the Sackler family in it. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma and some members of the family have faced lawsuits for the over-prescription of addictive drugs including OxyContin, which has had extraordinary social side-effects across the US. The lawsuit faced by the family, and the reasons behind it, mirrors the lawsuit faced by the Usher family which acts as a central plot point in the series.

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So, while The Fall of the House of Usher doesn’t tell us that it’s ‘based on a true story’ it almost certainly is both through Poe’s own inspiration from the real Hezekiah Usher House and through inspiration from the Sackler family and the opioid crisis affecting America. The fact that Flanagan is able to construct such a supernatural tale or horror for his Flanaverse from real-life groundings, and make it so entertaining, is supremely impressive.

To learn more about the Sackler family’s role in the US opioid crisis, check out the drama series Dopesick, and the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. For more on Flangan’s new series see why there won’t be The Fall of the House of Usher season 2, learn about the Usher family tree, and see what’s new on Netflix too. For something that’s still dark, but with a bit more humor, you can learn about what’s going on with Wednesday season 2.